Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

After the news that we had last Saturday, that Radoslav Brdjanin, a high-ranking wartime official from the Bosnian Serb government, was released from prison, the day before yesterday we received the news that he had passed away. From the media, we could hear that this Hague convict was serving his 30-year sentence in a prison in Denmark; that after he met the conditions for early release according to local laws, he was transferred back to the prison unit of the International residual mechanism for international courts in the Hague, and then let go prematurely and returned to Bosnia & Herzegovina, where he died. What we couldn’t hear much about, however, were Brdjanin’s wartime “accomplishments” that landed him in prison in the first place.

According to the information on the case available on the Hague tribunal website, Radoslav Brdjanin was head of the Crisis headquarters of the political creation known as the Autonomous region of Krajina (which included multiple municipalities in North-West B&H, like Banjaluka, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kljuc, Donji Vakuf), while also performing other duties inside the government of AR Krajina and government of the Republic of Srpska.

Brdjanin was sentenced for aiding and abetting various acts of torture committed by Bosnian Serb forces as part of armed attacks against non-Serbian cities, villages and areas from spring until the end of 1992. The torture included deliberate affliction of physical pain to Bosniak and Croatian civilians, sexual abuse, rape, brutal beatings of prisoners in police stations, army barracks and other locations. For example, this often included electric shocks administered by connecting the wires of car batteries to the fingers and toes of prisoners.

Furthermore, Brdjanin aided and abetted Bosnian Serb forces in shelling cities and villages primarily inhabited by Bosniaks and Croats. The army entered cities and villages, looted and set fire to Bosniak and Croatian apartments, houses, and businesses, in order to create fear and force non-Serbs to leave their homes for good.

Finally, Brdjanin aided and abetted Bosnian Serbs in committing multiple murders, including the mass murder of 140 Bosniak and Croatian civilians in Kozarac on May 24, 1992, and the mass murder of at least 300 Bosniak and Croatian men in the village of Biscani on July 20, 1992.

His support for these crimes had many forms. For example, on June 1992, under his guidance, the Crisis HQ of AR Krajina established the Agency for relocation and exchange of population in Banjaluka, which aided in the implementation of ethnic cleansing policies. He also regularly and dutifully gave inciting and discriminatory public statements during the period of some of the most severe crimes against the non-Serbian population of Krajina.

The first-degree verdict mentions some of those statements:

In a TV interview just after September 15, 1992, regarding the implementation of the Strategic plan of the Bosnian Serb government, Brdjanin said: “Everyone needs to understand that we must create a national Serbian state. All those who think that we should forgive our common Muslim-Croatian enemy for the third time, I don’t think they will get much support among the people. We are not a wild people. But, I wish we had been smart enough to put up barbed wire in 1918 between us, Croats and Muslims. We would have prevented this third slaughter and attack against our people”. This statement encompasses the essence of the plan of Bosnian Serb leaders to have the Serbian people living alone in B&H, on ethnically clean territory, separated from Bosniak and Croatian parts of the country. Another statement by Brdjanin is also cited to support of this conclusion: “I am in favor of relocation of people, I am in favor of accepting the facts as they are”.

The verdict further states that Brdjanin kept referring to the non-Serb population in derogatory terms, like “balije” (for Bosniaks), “ustasha” (for Croats), “Shiptar” (for Albanians), “vermin”, “filth”, “infidels” and “second-class people”. At one rally in Banjaluka in 1993, he said: “Those left forces that keep offering us a return to living together need to know that the obligation of all Serbs for the next one hundred years is to wipe their shoes of all the filthy infidels who have made this land of ours unclean”.

In a TV appearance on August 29, 1992, Brdjanin said: “All those Croats and Muslims who are not loyal to us should leave and all those who are loyal to us are free to say. Like Seselj said about those 7,000 Albanians in Kosovo, we should preserve our 1,200-1,500 Muslims and Croats. We should learn from Hitler, Stalin and Churchill – they all had work camps, why shouldn’t we? People, we are at war”. 

It’s difficult to list all Brdjanin’s statements that contributed to the horrors inflicted on the non-Serb population of Bosnian Krajina. The Hague archive also recorded his answer to one of his associates when he asked him what they should do with children from mixed marriages: “We will throw them into the river Vrbas. Whichever one floats is surely a Serb”. In October 1992, when he was trying to be funny, he said that it surprises him “that the Muslims keep buying wood for winter, as if they think that they will still be here come winter”.

The statements of two witnesses from his trial in the Hague best speak about the consequences of his statements:

“It was horrible… to see ordinary people who used to live together and had no criminal urges, within a couple of weeks or months turning into killing machines, all thanks to the horrible power of the media, which were completely under control and being used as propaganda instruments to spread hate” (protected witness BT-19).

“I heard Mr. Brdjanin numerous times, both on the radio and on television. I can honestly say that he was the loudest public figure, the master of life and death in that region. And he used media extensively. I can say that a lot of people, including myself, had trouble sleeping after his appearances on TV and radio. Already in 1992, a lot of people would make the decision to run away from that area the morning after one of Mr. Brdjanin’s statements” (protected witness BT-7).

The documents from the archive of the International residual mechanism for criminal courts, which were cited in the article, were received from the Program of the Mechanism for informing conflict-affected communities.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 19.09.2022.