Prosecution’s “Expert Historian” Not So Expert - July 30, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson


Hearing Date: June 1, 2010


American historian Robert Donia continued his testimony as an expert witness for the Prosecution in the Radovan Karadzic trial on June 1, 2010.


Prosecutor Carolyn Edgerton continued to question Donia about the six strategic objectives adopted by the Bosnian Serb assembly shortly after the outbreak of the Bosnian war.


She asked the witness if “The first overarching objective [i.e. separation from the Croats and Muslims] embraced any change to the country’s ethnic distribution?” And the witness replied, “The goal, if achieved, would certainly dramatically change the ethnic composition of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- at east the ethnic distribution. It would have attached human residents to territoriality in a way that was radically different from the situation as of 1991.”


She also asked Donia about the fifth strategic objective [i.e. the Division of Sarajevo in to Serb, Muslim, and Croat districts] where the witness had testified that Karadzic “valued this separation of the city as a way of denying to the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina the attributes of a state.”


To prove the point the prosecutor exhibited an interview with Gen. Galic where he was asked “Many people say that the keys to war or peace are held in Sarajevo.  What do you think about lifting the blockade of the city?” and his response was “As long as we have Sarajevo in such a territory, Alija has no state.”


Proving the Obvious


Ms. Edgerton also read out an excerpt from one of Radovan Karadzic’s speeches where he said, “Municipalities are not God given.  They were established to the disadvantage of the Serb people, in such a way that all Serb units in Bosnia were split and Serbs became a minority instead with their own municipality; let them also have a majority in their municipalities.”


Donia said the excerpt, “essentially repeats the critique that I indicated yesterday developed by some Serb intellectuals in Bosnia, including Dr. Karadzic, in the last years of the 1980s and 1990, which argued that the municipal organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina was discriminatory against Serbs.”


Indeed it is a position that Karadzic has repeated numerous times in his trial already, namely that the boundaries of the municipalities were gerrymandered by the Bosnian government in order to divide the Serbian people and make them a minority.


Cause & Effect


October 15, 1991 is a key date in Bosnia’s history. Donia told the court, “October 14th/15th is this watershed date in which the Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina passed a resolution called a declaration of sovereignty and a platform.  And the point at which the SDS essentially lost the battle to veto the drive toward independence that the HDZ and the SDA, the Croatian and Muslim parties, had initiated.  That happened in the very early morning hours of October 15th, and from that point on the energies of the SDS seem to have been directed largely toward an extended planning process which entailed a number of documents along the way and some shifting in tactics, but can be seen as a consistent planning process from that date into the early weeks of April 1992.”


Donia’s testimony on this topic is particularly troublesome for the Prosecution’s thesis of a Serbian conspiracy, or joint criminal enterprise, because it establishes that the Serbs reacted to what the Croats and the Muslims did in the Bosnian Assembly on October 15, 1991. 


Donia didn’t testify about what the Croats and the Muslims did on that date, but it is an easily provable fact that after the speaker adjourned the parliament at 3:30 AM on the morning of October 15th that the Croats and the Muslims unlawfully reconvened the parliament in the absence of the speaker and the Serbian deputies and illegally passed the declaration of sovereignty that Donia mentioned in his testimony.


October 15, 1991 is the date on which the political dispute about whether Bosnia should remain in Yugoslavia or not was taken outside the confines of the rule of law by the Croats and the Muslims, and according to Donia, it is the date on which the Serbs began planning their next moves.


Obviously, when the rule of law is absent or being ignored, there isn’t any legal avenue available to resolve disputes and the only way left to settle things is by violence and force. That is the unfortunate reality that the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina were faced with.


Ms. Edgerton played a videotape (exhibit P959) of a speech that Karadzic gave to the parliament on October 15, 1991 where he warned the Croats and the Muslims what the consequences of their actions would be. Karadzic said:


“The sovereign people in Bosnia and Herzegovina can each say for themselves what they want but not for other people as well.  It was one of the conclusions made in this Assembly.  We shall disable you to carry out violence against Serbian people, [and] constitutional violence in front of local and international public. Because after the constitutional violence, all other violence will come. We won’t be consulted regarding the situation anymore.  We won’t be consulted if we come into the situation in which Slovenia and Croatia are in, especially Croatia.  Knowing that in Bosnia and Herzegovina that hell would be 1,000 times worse and there would be no way to stop it. 


“I’m asking you one more time.  I’m not threatening, but asking, pleading, to take seriously the interpretation of the political will of the Serbian people which is represented here by the Serbian Democratic Party and the Serbian Movement of Renewal and several Serbs from other parties.  Please take it seriously, it is not good what you are doing.


“This is the road that you want Bosnia and Herzegovina to take, the same highway of hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia went through.  Don’t think you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina to hell and Muslim people into possible extinction because Muslim people will not be able to defend itself if it comes to war here!


“Please, I know these are serious words.  Serious situations call for serious words.  How will you prevent that everybody starts killing everybody in Bosnia and Herzegovina?  Can war in Croatia be prevented? Especially in the border areas where Serbs and Croats are in contact, whose two political wills are in conflict, and weren’t realized in a legal manner so there’s only one way left to realize them.


“From now on gentlemen, I will ask for the floor on a regular basis until you take the matter of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina off the agenda.  That is my right.  I want to send a message to Muslim, Serb, and Croatian people that you want to achieve something in Europe what you have no right to.  Thank you.”

Of course the Croats and Muslims ignored Karadzic’s warnings and illegally passed what they wanted to pass in the parliament anyway.


Donia testified that the Serbs reacted to the events of October 15th by holding “a meeting of the political counsel of the SDS, which was a group of largely academic advisors and other leaders of the party.  That convened on the evening of that same October 15th and discussed broadly and with no specific conclusions the options for party plans going forward.”


Donia told the prosecutor, “In the aftermath of that meeting, the party leadership decided to take certain steps that had been discussed at that meeting in a particular order.  They decided, first of all, to form a separate Assembly, to be made up of those members of the SDS and other parties -- other Serb parties that had been elected to the Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the November 1990 elections.  They further decided to hold a plebiscite on a question which was essentially:  Do you want to remain in Yugoslavia?  To be held in early November.  So their sequence was, first of all, to form the Bosnian Serb Assembly in October; then hold the plebiscite in November, the Bosnian Serb Assembly then ordering, organizing, and managing the plebiscite.


“Following the plebiscite, other Bosnian Serb Assembly sessions were held.  The December decision -- these came about once a month by coincidence, but the December decision was to announce preparations for the formation of a Republic of the Serbian People of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  And then on January 8, to proclaim a separate state with that name.  In February to approve a draft constitution.  In March to implement that constitution or approve it, promulgate it.  And then in April to formally declare the republic independent.”


Donia’s testimony paints a picture of the Bosnian war that actually undermines the prosecution’s case because it proves that Radovan Karadzic wasn’t responsible for the war. Karadzic and the Serbian Democratic Party reacted to the acts of others. They did not instigate the conflict.


The prosecutor did her level best to prove that the Bosnian-Serbs had violent intentions and failed. She asked Donia, “When do you recall first expressions of the intent to use violence by the Bosnian Serb leadership against Sarajevo or otherwise?”


Donia replied, “I think in terms of, say, discussions of consistent and massive violence I would say there were a number of expressions of that in [intercepted] telephone conversations among SDS leaders in early September of 1991.


“From about the 2nd until the 9th of September, there were four crises in quite rapid succession in the boundary areas of Bosnia that drew the attention of SDS leaders.  I think the one that was the most acute and the one that occasioned some of these statements was the detention of Mr. Milan Martic, who was the minister of the interior of the Republic of the Serbian Krajina in Croatia. He was crossing a bridge and was detained by a patrol, taken to a police station in a tiny village called Otoka, and the police station was then surrounded by a crowd of principally Muslim local residents.  It was a situation that was quickly escalating into a dangerous one.”


To illustrate the point Ms. Edgerton played an excerpt from a tapped telephone conversation between Radovan Karadzic and Malko Koroman (the police chief in Pale) dated September 9, 1991. The two men were heard on the recording discussing the seizure of Mr. Martic by the Muslims. In the conversation Koroman said, “We are not going to let them get away with this because it means tomorrow they can do it to you or anyone in this way.” And Karadzic said, “We will send them all to fucking hell because of this.”


Karadzic and Koroman reacted with violent words to the violent acts of others (i.e. the Muslims’ seizure of Martic and the ensuing lynch mob). Yet again, it is a case of the Serbs reacting to the actions of other people and it can’t be taken as an illustration of Serbian intent.




Donia was useful to the prosecutor because his “expertise” was used to spin things that Radovan Karadzic said into what the prosecutor wished he had said..


The prosecutor showed Donia an excerpt from a speech that Karadzic gave at the 17th Bosnian Serb Assembly Session on 24 to 26 July 1992 where he said: “We do not have any more reason to fight.  We have liberated almost everything that is ours.  In final talks we could even return some territories, villages that do not belong to us.”


According to Donia, “He’s stating here that the Bosnian Serb nationalist conquest of territory has gone considerably beyond what had previously been the territorial claims based on the identification of Serb lands.  I think it also could be taken as an indication that Dr. Karadzic conceived of this additional land as bargaining chips for arriving at a territorial settlement to end the war.”


Obviously, if you’re the prosecutor, Donia’s interpretation of Karadzic’s words is much more useful than the words themselves.


Karadzic Challenges Donia’s Expertise … and Succeeds Brilliantly


Right off the bat Karadzic challenged Donia’s expertise. Donia has been called by the Prosecution to testify as an expert witness in fifteen trials since 1997.


Karadzic said, “Can you imagine if Mr. Donia did something that the Prosecution didn’t like, would he be testifying 15 times?  Certainly not because they have their own interests in all of that.  So I’m interested in knowing how come the Prosecution has some favorite witnesses and keeps bringing them back in.”


When the prosecution found Donia in 1997 he wasn’t a historian. He worked for Merrill Lynch – an American financial services company.


Donia quit working for Merrill Lynch in 2000. Under questioning from Karadzic he told the court, “I teach occasionally. I’ve taught one course at the University of California at San Diego.  I’ve taught on numerous occasions at the University of Michigan.  I’ve probably devoted the bulk of my time to research and writing in the ten years since I left Merrill Lynch.”


When Donia testified for the prosecution he said, “I have specialized in political and social history, principally of the 19th and 20th centuries, and principally in the area of south-eastern Europe, in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia.”


It is interesting that Donia had never heard of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (Država Slovenaca, Hrvata i Srba) that existed in 1918 prior to the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kraljevina Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca). The State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs existed for two months prior to the establishment of the kingdom, its president was a Slovene named Anton Korosec, but Donia had no idea.


Donia describes himself as an expert historian specializing in the area of the former Yugoslavia during the 19th and 20th centuries. The fact that he was completely unaware of something as major as the existence of a country that existed on that territory during the very time period in which he claims to be an expert makes one wonder how much of an expert he really is.


When Karadzic asked the witness about the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, Donia tried to correct him and say, “It was in fact Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was the name of the kingdom, not the other way around.”


Karadzic insisted, “With all due respect, Mr. Donia, I’m not speaking about the kingdom, I’m speaking about the state.  The official name was the State of the Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs.”


Donia again tried to correct him saying, “The name of that state was the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.”


Karadzic spelled it out very clearly saying, “Unfortunately, Mr. Donia, it’s an important link in the chain without which you can’t understand the Yugoslav crisis.  You don’t know that before unification there was the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs.  It wasn’t the kingdom, it wasn’t called the kingdom, it was the territory west of the Drina composed of three peoples, the Slovenes, the Croats, and the Serbs, and if you don’t know that, you are unable to understand the Yugoslav crisis.”

Donia eventually gave-up trying to argue and said, “I believe you must be referring to something, but I have no idea what it is.”


That is a major gaffe for the Prosecution’s expert historian – the man who’s “expert” testimony they’ve relied on in fifteen trials – for him not to know about the existence of an entire country on the territory and during the time period in which he claims to be an expert is a huge embarrassment for the Prosecution. It wasn’t a minor detail that escaped his notice, it was something monumental, we’re talking about a whole country for Heaven’s sake, and this so-called “expert historian” never had a clue that it existed.


Karadzic asked Donia questions about his work for the Prosecution and Donia explained, “In each case in which I’ve been involved, I have first sat down with the Prosecutor and discussed what the Prosecutor wanted in terms of a report.” He said, “My feeling was that it is up to the Prosecutor to outline, essentially set the boundaries, of where my reports would lie.” But he hastened to add, “I’ve never been asked to adhere to a particular viewpoint, either in the report or my oral testimony.”


Donia told Karadzic, “I have to prepare a report within the guide-lines that they [the Prosecution] establish, they set.” So Karadzic asked him, “could we get hold of those guide-lines?”


Donia replied, “They were verbal.  They were a result of a discussion between us.  And so there’s no written guide-lines that have ever been provided to me that I can recall.”


Karadzic asked, “Did you have an insight into the documents and the behavior of other parties in the conflict, just like those that you studied on the Serb side, analogous to those?” And Donia told him that he did but, “in the cases of the reports before us they weren’t my primary target and area of interest.”


Karadzic showed the witness point 11 of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points which said, “Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded the free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.”


Obviously, this point is consistent with point 6 (access to the sea) of the six strategic goals of the Bosnian-Serbs, but that seemed to be lost on Donia.


Karadzic said, “We want the right to access to the sea and we carried it through, through the establishment of two Yugoslavias, but now we, that is to say, Serbia and Republika Srpska, are landlocked.”


Donia replied saying, “If you’re suggesting that on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation of 1918 that the United States owes any country in 2010 access to the sea, I think that’s kind of an absurd proposition.  The nature of this document is not a promise for all time and eternity; it’s a set of guide-lines that Wilson hoped would lead to a conclusion of the First World War.”


Karadzic asked the witness whether the language that the Tribunal calls “B/C/S” (Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian) is really just the Serbian language. He said, “Do you think that Australia could say that it spoke Australian and not English or Brazil to say that it spoke Brazilian and not Portuguese?  Do you think that that would be okay?”


Donia explained that he wasn’t a linguist and said “That’s well outside of my area of expertise, I’m afraid.”


In the same vein Karadzic asked when the Bosnain-Muslims changed the name of their national community to “Bosniaks” and Donia replied “They changed their national name in 1993.”


Karadzic asked, “[Do] Muslims want to say by using ‘Bosniak’ that Bosnia is theirs and that we’re some guests there or something like that?”


Donia answered, “Some Bosniaks have attempted to do that. Most I think are of the view that the Bosniaks are now one of three primary nations living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with the Croats and Serbs, and would not accept that view of things.”


Donia was also of the view that “the Serbs could have accepted an independent [Bosnian] state and lived happily in it.”


That’s an interesting view for this so-called “expert” to take. When the Serbs accepted the Lisbon Agreement they did precisely what Donia advocated, they accepted an independent Bosnian state, and they got double-crossed by Izetbegovic when he reneged on the agreement. Not even all of the Muslims were willing to accept living in Izetbegovic’s Bosnia – Fikret Abdic led his own secessionist movement and set-up the Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia, but in fairness maybe Mr. Donia hasn’t heard of any of that either.


Karadzic’s cross examination will continue. A complete transcript of this hearing is available at:



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