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South Slavic: July 29, 2004

29 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 25



A program by Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: In former Yugoslavia, professional soldiers were involved in politics although it was not widely publicized. Zoran Dragisic of Belgrade's Faculty of Civil Defense tells us that, according to today's democratic standards, the political role of the army and its professional soldiers was mind-boggling.

Zoran Dragisic: The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) was a privileged social caste in terms of salaries, housing, health care, summer resorts, mountain resorts, etc. The army enjoyed a privileged social status and had a very active political role.

The League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ) had a branch organization in each republic and one separate branch for the JNA. That means that the JNA effectively acted as Yugoslavia's seventh constituent republic, which has mind-boggling implications.

RFE/RL: Shortly before the beginning of the fall of Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s, the army abandoned any pretense of being apolitical. The army leadership tried to save what could not be saved by creating a political party and forcing officers to join it.

At the time, Ljubodrag Stojadinovic was an officer and director of the JNA's Information Service. Today he is a columnist for the Belgrade daily "Politika."

Ljubodrag Stojadinovic: When it became obvious that the SKJ was about to disappear, Defense Minister Veljko Kadijevic gave the unconstitutional order that all officers must become members of the rechristened League of Communists -- Movement for Yugoslavia, or be discharged.

RFE/RL: The wars during the 1990s, after the fall of Yugoslavia, meant new political opportunities for many generals, who often sought to keep their influence after the war.

One of the most dramatic cases emerged in Croatia in 2000, when 12 active or retired generals and admirals publicly objected to the official policy of cooperation with the-Hague based war crimes tribunal. President Stipe Mesic immediately retired seven generals and admirals. Zlatko Gareljic was deputy minister of defense in Ivica Racan's government at that time.

Zlatko Gareljic: Prior to that time, generals were obliged to be members of the ruling party [the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)] and were so, in practice. Their primary loyalty was thus not to the state but to the ruling party and the president, who was at the same time their supreme commander.

RFE/RL: In the late 1990s in the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), Army Chief of Staff and General Nebojsa Pavkovic presented a classic example of a political general.

Zoran Dragisic: Following [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's 1999 attempt at rebuilding the military and repairing wartime damage, many high-ranking Army officers, especially the chiefs of staff, could be seen attending meetings of his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Yugoslav Left (JUL) [of his wife, Mirjana Markovic], in conjunction with the official openings of bridges reconstructed after the NATO bombing.

RFE/RL: During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina one of the most popular generals of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was Jovan Divjak [who was a Serb in a mainly Muslim army]. Even today the extent of his popularity remains almost hard to believe. Have you ever considered getting involved in politics?

Jovan Divjak: Never. [Emigre millionaire Adil] Zulfikarpasic [once] urged me to become vice president of his Bosnian Muslim Party (MBO) [which had a program that was explicitly nonreligious]. After more than two hours of talking with me he realized that I had no intention of getting involved in politics.

RFE/RL: Have you ever talked to your colleagues who did get involved? Why did they do it?

Jovan Divjak: I have never contacted my former colleagues and never discussed their political activities. We never discussed politics, and I do not maintain contacts with those with whom I served in the JNA.

RFE/RL: Goran Svilanovic, the former minister of foreign affairs of Serbia and Montenegro, and retired General Blagoje Grahovac, who was until recently President Svetozar Marovic's adviser, said on separate occasions this spring that Milosevic's state security services remain essentially intact.

Little is known about the possible political activities of their commanders, since these bodies are out of public view. Individual former military men remain active in politics in Serbia and in Bosnia, but the military as a caste has no major influence there any more.

That is not the case in Croatia, however, where former officers can be found in the parliament, political parties, various associations, the foreign service, and as political advisers. However, in comparison with other states of the region, Croatia has distinguished itself by adopting very precise laws regulating professional soldiers' political involvement.

Zlatko Gareljic: Bearing in mind our bad experience [during the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman] in the 1990s, we adopted a law forbidding active military personnel as well as civilians working for the armed forces to be members of political parties or candidates for representative bodies at either local or national levels.

RFE/RL: What makes professional soldiers go into politics after successful military carriers? Tarik Kulenovic's field of research at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb is the sociology of the military and of war.

Tarik Kulenovic: Organizing, motivating, and directing people comes naturally to such men, many of whom retired at the peak of their careers and talents. They have no desire to sit around waiting for old age and death.

Zlatko Gareljic: After years of war, many of these men are used to the limelight and want to preserve their popularity, either for their own purposes or to help their political party.

Tarik Kulenovic: Generals make attractive candidates because they convey the image of someone who did his job well in the war. This inspires confidence and wins votes.