Belgrade - 1995

President Milosevic spoke with managing editor James R. Gaines, editor at large Karsten Prager, Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi and correspondent Marguerite Michaels


TIME: Many say that if there is hope at all for finding a political solution to the Bosnian war, it can't be done without Milosevic.


MILOSEVIC: Maybe they are right. Maybe they are not. Who knows? I'm just an ordinary man who, by the circumstance of his position, can help by having a policy of peace, one that is honest and objective to all sides. We accepted the Contact Group plan [which proposed a 51-49 division of war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina between the Bosnian-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs]. Before that, we accepted whatever plan was more or less evenhanded. We said from the beginning that there is only one solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina: one that will protect equally the interests of [the Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats].


TIME: How do you get there? You clearly had enough influence on [Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic to get him to free the hostages but not enough to get him to accept the Contact Group plan.


MILOSEVIC: The taking of hostages was an immoral act. We had to do whatever we could just to eliminate that dirty story from the history of Serbs.


TIME: Why can't you do the same for the peace plan?


MILOSEVIC: Until sanctions end, [Bosnian President Alija] Izetbegovic will count on Serbia collapsing under sanctions. For the Muslims, it is not important if that happens in two years or 20. They dream of a situation in which we collapse and then they with all their allies achieve their goal of establishing a Muslim state in Europe. The other side, the Pale leadership, since we are under sanctions, is counting on us finally getting [involved] in that war, that finally we will be [involved] in that war. If sanctions are lifted and relations with that main factor of stability, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, are normalized, Izetbegovic and Karadzic must face each other and make peace arrangements without any further speculation on what could happen.


TIME: You talked about the humiliation of the hostage taking. Certainly it is no less humiliating for Serbs to have the Serbs in Bosnia using rape and detention camps in their prosecution of war. Couldn't you have called on Karadzic to stop it, especially when you had relations with him?


MILOSEVIC: When we first heard via the foreign press that there were some detention camps and rapes, our first reaction was, "What about that?" The [Bosnian Serb] leadership explained, "It is absolutely not the truth, absolutely not." That was what was explained to us, and we then had a very deep confidence in what they were explaining. And I believed that just because of habit. One detail reported in the press: a Muslim girl who was pregnant by rape got shelter in a hospital in Switzerland. An abortion was not possible, and when the child was born, it happened to be Negro. No Serb was a Negro. Not one.


TIME: The CIA, not a particular lover of radical Muslims worldwide, has reported that 90% of the atrocities committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated by the ethnic Serb side.


MILOSEVIC: I don't have those kinds of figures. But it is absolutely unbelievable in that civil war.


TIME: How would you describe your relationship with the Bosnian Serb leaders?


MILOSEVIC: We cut off all our relations with all of them. We don't have relations.


TIME: But there's still significant contact with General Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army [who is under investigation as a potential war criminal].


MILOSEVIC: Oh, yes, he has his family here in Belgrade. And he is--how to say?-- exempted from this treatment.


TIME: Are you having any kind of interchange with [Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman?


MILOSEVIC: Well, I'll tell you, I had some direct and some indirect contacts with Tudjman up to the first of May, when [fighting started in] western Slavonia. We are not [in contact].


TIME: Beginning in 1987 in Kosovo, you were talking about an ascendant Serbia, and people in Slovenia and Croatia and Bosnia feared living in your Yugoslavia.


MILOSEVIC: All my speeches up to '89 were published in my book. You can see that there was no nationalism in those speeches. We were explaining why we think it is good to preserve Yugoslavia for all Serbs, all Croats, all Muslims and all Slovenians as our joint country. Nothing else.


TIME: Yet your actions, at least, bespoke an interest in creating Greater Serbia.


MILOSEVIC: Bosnia and Herzegovina was illegally proclaimed as an independent state and recognized. That recognition was like when the Roman Emperor Caligula appointed his horse as a Senator: they recognized a state that never existed before. The Serbs there said, "We want to stay within Yugoslavia. We don't want to be second-class citizens." And then the conflicts were started by Muslims, no doubt. And the Serbs, in defending themselves, were always better fighters, no doubt. And they achieved results, no doubt. But please, we were insisting on peace. The international community gave premature recognition first of Slovenia and then of Croatia and supported the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina on a totally irregular basis.


TIME: It supported independence in large part because arms were coming from Serbia, because paramilitaries came from here, and because the Yugoslav army supported the Serbs.


MILOSEVIC: Under the military doctrine of former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina was the central storage place for arms, ammunition and the military industry. We had absolutely no need to send anything [to the Serbs] there.


TIME: [Serbian paramilitary leader] Arkan was from Serbia. The paramilitaries came from Serbia.


MILOSEVIC: You know, all those kinds of paramilitary formations were totally marginal in that war. There never were more than a couple of thousand all together.

TIME: They did some appalling things.


MILOSEVIC: That is different; that is a different problem. It is clear that any paramilitary formation on the Serbian side, on the Muslim side, on other sides never had more than a couple of thousand.


TIME: Leaders involved in war on this scale have been known to feel haunted by the human cost. How have you felt being the leader of Serbia during this war?


MILOSEVIC: It is a very, very tough and very unpleasant position. No doubt. But I must tell you, personally, I'm calm with that, having in mind that all we were politically doing was oriented to peace, from the beginning of the crisis up to now.


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