Variant A & B Take Center Stage in Karadzic Trial - September 1, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson

Hearing date:
June 9, 2010


As the marathon testimony of American historian Robert Donia entered its sixth day, Radovan Karadzic was on the offensive. Responding to the judge’s threats to limit his cross-examination time he said, “There is no lawyer in the world that can know the facts as I know them.  I know exactly what happened there, and I know exactly where [Donia’s] report is erroneous, and, in fact, his books differ from his expert report.  There’s more truth in the books he wrote than in the report he wrote for the OTP.”


Karadzic showed Donia a proposal from July 1991 (exhibit D288) by the Bosnian-Serbs for the cantonization of Bosnia based on the Swiss model.


Karadzic said, “I claim and put it to you that this proposal [would have] kept the peace in Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I also claim that the next proposal that came from Zulfikarpasic and Filipovic to give up on the creation of cantons, to abolish that idea on the basis of the Serbian-Muslim agreement, also [would have] preserved the peace in Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and that they are two possibilities both of which the Serbs accepted.  One they proposed, the other they accepted.  Yes or no?”


The witness agreed with the proposition, and Karadzic moved on to his next topic.


Bosnian Krajina


Karadzic showed the witness an intercept of a telephone conversation between himself and Dr. Vucic, the head of the SDS in Banja Luka. The conversation (exhibit D289) took place on September 19, 1991.


Karadzic told Vucic: “We are afraid that they want to cheat us because Izetbegovic is saying one thing and Silajdzic in The Hague is saying something different, and that is why you did the right thing to proclaim [Bosnian Krajina], and that is why I did not resist it.  However, we shall sit and make a deal with them to what the Muslims have a right to in the Serb regions and what the Serbs have a right to in the Muslim regions, but we shall agree on everything.”


After reading out the intercept he asked the witness, “Dr. Donia, don’t you see that I did not initiate this but I did not oppose the proclamation of the Autonomous Region of the Krajina, and I confirm that we were negotiating such matters with Izetbegovic?”


Donia replied, “Yes, it says that.  So, true.  My understanding of the development was somewhat different from what you state here, but certainly you did explain it in those terms here.  And you hope to make a deal about regions with Muslims, and that’s, I think, also clear from the text here.”


Regionalization & Constitution


Karadzic showed Donia the text of a speech he made to the Bosnian Assembly on July 12, 1991 (exhibit D273).


In the speech he said: “Those who will attend our afternoon session will be able to hear a part of last year’s report in which we presented a general objection to the regionalization and territorialization of Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war (World War II) which had been carried out consistent to the detriment of the Serbian people.  Thus the idea of the re-regionalization of Bosnia-Herzegovina has been present from the very outset among the founders and creators of the SDS, and the Main Board has always taken that into account the regions that we envisage, that we proclaimed as communities and municipalities within the framework of the BiH constitution, are not socio-political communities yet at this point in time.  In order for them to become that we have to go through the BiH Assembly so that there is a law that says that such and such a region is not only a community of municipalities but a socio-political community with all the elements after full political life.


“We will not create anything that is not in the constitution for as long as the constitution exists, everything we have done so far we have done within the framework of the constitution of BiH and Yugoslavia.”


After Karadzic read out the words he had spoken in the Assembly he put it to the witness that what he was saying was that “If someone violates the constitutions of BiH and Yugoslavia then we no longer have any obligations towards the constitution. Another party has to violate the BiH constitution to try to affect the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and if they do so then we will prepare a democratic response of the Serbian people on all lines and in every respect.  Can you not see that I am advocating observance of the constitution for as long as it exists?”


Donia replied, “I agree with what you’ve just formulated, that actions won’t be taken until someone else violates the constitution first, and that was very consistent with your position at that time and even earlier in the party.” But he said, “I think you’re saying here that you’re arrogating unto yourself the decision about whether any particular act is unconstitutional, and should you deem an act to be unconstitutional, then all bets are off and the party can go and organize whatever it wants to in response.”


In addition to the speech, Karadzic showed the witness two documents produced by SDA and the HDZ (exhibits D291 & D292) which show that the Muslim and Croatian parties wanted some changes of their own to Bosnia’s municipal boundaries.


Serbian Reaction to October 15th Assembly Session


After the Croatian and Muslim deputies unlawfully passed the declaration on Bosnian sovereignty in the Assembly in the early morning hours of October 15, 1991, the SDS held a meeting to plan their response.


Karadzic asked the witness about the outcome of that meeting. He said, “Do you remember and do you agree that we published in the papers, proclaimed and sent officially to the Party of Democratic Action and the HDZ a request (exhibits D294 & D295) for them to repeal their (October 15) decision, withdraw their decision that we considered to be unlawful and unconstitutional, and that we waited for them to do that until the 24th of October?”


Donia replied, “I think the dead-line was, in fact, seven days.” When the deadline expired without the decision being withdrawn, the Bosnian-Serbs began setting-up parallel government structures.


Karadzic asked the American historian, “Do you remember, Dr. Donia, that part of Virginia refused to join the Confederacy and that they stayed with the Union, and that is the present-day state of West Virginia?”


Donia, no doubt realizing where Karadzic was going, replied “I don’t remember when West Virginia was created.”


Karadzic followed up, “May I just remind you, the western part of Virginia refused to join the Confederacy. They stayed within the Union. Do you think that this west part of Virginia was secessionist in relation to the Confederacy because they stayed in the Union?”


Donia’s response to this question would have been interesting. Earlier in his testimony he blamed “Serbian secessionists” for the Bosnian war because they wanted to separate from Bosnia in order to remain in Yugoslavia just like West Virginia separated from Virginia in order to remain in the United States during the civil war. But being an American, Donia would have looked quite foolish to his compatriots if he had said that West Virginia’s refusal to join the Confederacy an act of secession.


Unfortunately, we never got to hear Donia’s answer because Judge Kwon jumped in and rescued the witness by forbidding Karadzic to pursue that line of questioning.


Izetbegovic’s Attitude towards the Law


Karadzic showed the witness a transcript of a meeting between the president and members of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency and the president of the government with high officials of the SSNO and the SFRY armed forces HQ in late 1991.


At that meeting Alija Izetbegovic said, “We are fully aware of the fact that by declaring the neutrality of Bosnia-Herzegovina [in the war between Croatian paramilitaries and the JNA] we may have indirectly violated some laws. However, at this point in time everything is a bit fluid. There are laws and there are laws.”


After reading the document Karadzic asked, “Do you see that Mr. Izetbegovic thought that there were laws that didn’t have to be observed?”


Donia answered, “No.”


Astonished, Karadzic asked, “So what does it mean when he says that ‘there are laws and there are laws?’ And he says, ‘We may have violated some laws indirectly.’”


Donia replied, “I don’t accept that as an authoritative statement that he did.”


Variant “A” and “B”


Karadzic questioned Donia extensively about the notorious “Variant A & B” document. The prosecution holds that this document represents proof that Karadzic was the mastermind of a joint criminal enterprise.


Readers can judge for themselves what the document proves: (Serbian Original) (English Translation)


The origin of the document is at issue. Karadzic told the witness “We received this document from well-intentioned pensioned officers. Have you come across a single document stating that this document was discussed and adopted by the organs of the Serbian Democratic Party?”


Donia replied to the question saying, “Have I seen a document that is, you know, stamped and signed from the party of the Main Board, the answer’s no, I’ve not. And, in fact, the document internally has a certain inconsistency, because on the front page it says, ‘Main Board,’ and the last page it’s signed as ‘Crisis Staff of the Main Board.’”


Karadzic put it to the witness that “We gave this document to people and told people to take note of this and act accordingly should they see fit. Do you agree that once we received this at the Main Board session, that we distributed it without a discussion?”


Donia answered, “I don’t know. I have not seen any documentation on that Main Board session that would lead me to either agree or disagree with that.”


Karadzic drew Donia’s attention to the part of the document that said, “When taking all these measures, make sure that national and other rights of members of all nations are respected and that they are later engaged in government organs established by the Assembly of the Serbian people in the municipality.”


Responding to the document Donia grudgingly admitted, “Yes, it’s a statement of -- at some unspecified later time, the members of these other nations would be engaged in an unspecified way in unspecified government organs established by the Serb municipality.”


Karadzic then turned to the context under which the document was distributed. He asked the witness, “Do you agree that whoever wrote this, the document was distributed on the 19th of December, 1991, after the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina had asked for recognition of independence?” Donia replied “Yes.”


Karadzic said, “Do you remember that the BH government, with opposition from the Serb ministers, asked that the European Community recognize independence for Bosnia and Herzegovina [in December 1991]?”


Donia agreed saying, “It was the case that both the Presidency and the government, that is the Council of Ministers, appealed in response to the invitation of the European Community appealed for recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent republic.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “Do you remember that we had three comments and criticisms to make? First of all, that the Assembly should do that, not the government or Presidency; and secondly that neither the government nor the Presidency could reach that decision by out-voting the Serb members because it was an important subject matter which required a consensus. We asked for a consensus in the government and Presidency, but a two-thirds majority in the Assembly; right?” Donia agreed that was the case.


Karadzic asked him, “Do you remember that on the 21st of December we held an Assembly session, an Assembly of the Serb people, and called for that decision to be withdrawn?” Again Donia agreed.


Karadzic said, “And you will remember that we said that if that wasn’t withdrawn by Christmas that we would set up our own unit in Bosnia-Herzegovina; right?”


Donia agreed saying, “The Bosnian Serb Assembly voted to make preparations for the proclamation of a separate state, a separate Bosnian Serb state, if the HDZ and the SDA didn’t change their behavior.”


The chronology is important here. The Bosnian Council of Ministers asked the EC to recognize Bosnia’s independence from Yugoslavia regardless of the objections of the Bosnian-Serbs who wished to remain in Yugoslavia. After they did that the Variant A & B document was distributed, and the Bosnian-Serbs gave the SDA and HDZ a chance to withdraw their request for recognition by the EC otherwise they would take-over what they considered to be Serbian land in Bosnia and establish Republika Srpska.


The Variant A/B document was also circulated at a time when the Bosnian-Muslims were intensifying their paramilitary activities in Bosnia.


Karadzic showed the witness a letter written by the war-time commander of the ABiH,  Sefer Halilovic (exhibit D298). In the letter Halilovic wrote:


“As an active serviceman of the former JNA, Yugoslav People’s Army, seeing what was going to happen I left that army, and in September 1991, applied myself with total commitment to the function of organizing preparations for the defense of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the aggression I anticipated.


“I drew up a proposal for organizing the Patriotic League for the Sarajevo region and the regional staff of the Patriotic League and a plan of defense for the Sarajevo region. When I met President Alija Izetbegovic in Hrasnica, I informed him of what had been done up until then and proposed a way of organizing the Muslim people and other citizens of the republic.


“After that, I set out to realize the plan that had been accepted in organizing the Main Staff of the Patriotic League of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 9 regional military staffs, 19 municipal military staffs of the Patriotic League, and a large number of maneuver area and logistical units.”


This is what Halilovic said his own activities were in September 1991 – three months before the Variant A & B document was circulated in the SDS.


After reading the Halilovic letter the witness said, “This account squares very well with my own understanding of the growth of the Patriotic League, which was a really skeletal organization until at least this September 1991 date when the war in Croatia really alienated a lot of the non-Serb officers of the JNA and caused them to leave the JNA and join various other bodies that were organizing at the time.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “Mr. Donia, you agreed that the Patriotic League was founded on the 31st of March, 1991; right?” Donia confirmed saying, “Yes, I have, yes.”


Karadzic asked, “Did that activity lead to fear amongst the Serbs in those municipalities [where the Patriotic League was being set-up]?”


Donia confessed, “It could have, yes.”


Karadzic asked, “Now, do you have a somewhat different view of Variant A and Variant B now?” Donia replied, “No.”


Karadzic asked him, “The Serbs were not supposed to take any measures of caution and defense and protection?” He said, “You are trying to say that after all of this secret military activity on the part of the SDA the Serb people were supposed to wait for the Almighty to save them and not to carry out any kind of self defense. Is that what you’re trying to say?”


Donia answered, “Well, I think the A/B document really outlines a series of offensive aggressive actions to seize power and resources in the municipalities, and the defensive component is -- is certainly there, but probably not a -- an appropriate response to what we’re looking at here. I think the -- my view of the A/B document remains the same, that it was a critical part but only a part of an extended planning process which brought the SDS and its affiliated Serb nationalist organizations to a state of high readiness to seize power.” He said, “I don’t believe this was an appropriate response to what was going on. You know, I think looking at this document, we really don’t have a very good sense of how active and widespread these activities were, and so it’s really not possible to say. You had a much better sense of that, I think, with your ability to weigh these things. You had a better sense of that than I would sitting here today. The -- as I say, the fact that the Patriotic League was organised, the fact that it was gaining strength and units and spreading activities starting in September of 1991, I don’t -- not only do I not contest that, I’ve described it in some of my writings.”


Karadzic pressed the issue saying, “The Serbs watched what Halilovic was doing, organizing a secret army, assisted by the Muslim section of MUP, and you considered that the Serbs’ steps were not conditioned and provoked by this unlawful and illegal and dangerous steps taken by the Party of Democratic Action?”


Donia replied, “I wouldn’t share your characterization of it, no.”


Karadzic responded, “So you think that this wasn’t dangerous, that it wasn’t dangerous to be building up an army? Who was this army supposed to fight against in Bosnia-Herzegovina?”


Donia awkwardly replied, “It -- it could have been dangerous, indeed. It was actually the -- it was -- it was not a huge secret. It was a -- something the -- the meeting of June 10th was well covered in the press. Everybody knew about this defense council for the protection of the Muslim peoples, and this specific preparations and arming certainly did go on outside of, let’s say, the public -- public eye, but the general movement was -- was well known at the time, and it’s well known that you were and the SDS were keeping very careful surveillance of these activities, pretty much knew exactly what was going on. In fact, maintained a very active network of informants and people in these various municipalities and at the republic level who -- who were informing you about this.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “When did we send this demand for events to be monitored and reported on? That was also the end of September 1991; right?”


Donia’s answer: “I don’t recall the date.”


Karadzic asked, “Do you agree that at this time the Serbs still did not have any Crisis Staffs?”


Donia answered “No.” So Karadzic asked, “Well, what Crisis Staffs did the Serbs have at that point in time?”


Caught in his attempt to mislead people to the inference that the Bosnian-Serbs had crisis staffs in September 1991, Donia had to explain, “You asked me if I agreed that they didn’t have any, and I can’t agree that they didn’t because I’ve answered your question several times now that I don’t know.”


Karadzic ended the day asking the witness, “The Serb Democratic Party, all the way up until the end while there was peace, supported the JNA and sent reservists on the ready to respond as soon as they were called up by the JNA. Yes or no?”


Donia agreed saying, “I think all three parts of your proposition are the case.”


So while the Muslims and Croats were setting-up illegal paramilitary formations at the behest of Izetbegovic and Tudjman in order to attack Yugoslavia, Karadzic and the SDS were urging the Serbs to join the JNA, the only lawful armed force that existed in Yugoslavia at the time. It is therefore curious that of the three men, Karadzic was the only one ever indicted for war crimes when he clearly bears the least responsibility for the war.


A complete transcript of this hearing is available at: or



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