Written by: Andy Wilcoxson


Mr. Vukasin Jokanovic testified as a defense witness at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic on Wednesday. Jokanovic has had an illustrious political career holding many posts in the Kosovo government during the 1970s, and 80s including speaker of the Kosovo parliament and member of the Kosovo presidency. Jokanovic also held many posts in the Serbian and Yugoslav government; most recently he served as the Federal Prosecutor of the FR Yugoslavia.


Mr. Jokanovic was the President of the Kosovo Assembly when the Serbian constitution was amended in March of 1989.


Serbia’s critics claim that those constitutional changes stripped Kosovo of its autonomous status. They say that Slobodan Milosevic made these amendments practically by decree, and without any legal basis.


Paragraph 71 of the Tribunal’s indictment against Milosevic reads as follows:


“On 23 March 1989, the Assembly of Kosovo met in Pristina and, with the majority of Kosovo Albanian delegates abstaining, voted to accept the proposed amendments to the constitution. Although lacking the required two-thirds majority in the Assembly, the President of the Assembly nonetheless declared that the amendments had passed. On 28 March 1989, the Assembly of Serbia voted to approve the constitutional changes effectively revoking the autonomy granted in the 1974 constitution.”  


These claims made by Serbia’s critics and by the Hague indictment are simply wrong, and Mr. Jokanovic came to court with the documents and video tapes to prove that.


The Kosovo Assembly met on March 23, 1989, and it voted to adopt the constitutional amendments. There were 190 members of the Kosovo assembly, 187 members were present and the vote broke down as follows: 175 in favor, 10 against, 2 abstained, and 3 not present.


The assembly members voted by raising their hands and this was recorded on a video tape, which was played during Jokanovic’s testimony. The vote was also recorded in the stenographic notes of the assembly session, which were also produced to the court as exhibits.


Therefore, the indictment is simply wrong when it says that the Albanian deputies abstained and that there was not the necessary two-thirds needed to pass the amendments.


Jokanovic testified that the members of the Kosovo assembly were elected by municipal boards throughout Kosovo. He said that over 70% of the members (142 to 143 out of 190 members) were Albanians in 1989 when the vote was taken.


In addition to the video tape of the Kosovo assembly session, and the stenographic notes, there were 180 journalists present at the assembly session.


Jokanovic brought newspaper clippings to court with him, both from the Serbian press and from the Albanian press. These press clippings confirmed what was seen in the video tape and what was recorded in the stenographic notes. The amendments passed the Kosovo assembly by a very wide margin with 175 out of 190 members voting in favor of the constitutional amendments.


In fact the assembly members all stood up and applauded when the speaker of the parliament (who was Jokanovic himself at the time) announced that the votes had been tabulated and the amendments passed. Pictures of these cheering assemblymen were published in the media, and this could also be seen on the video tape.


Jokanovic refuted false testimony from Ibrahim Rugova who claimed that the Yugoslav Army surrounded the Kosovo Assembly building with tanks in order to force the members to vote for the amendments. None of the press clippings from Albania said anything about tanks, and Jokanovic said that there were no tanks. He just strolled right up to the assembly building as normal on that day.


Jokanovic testified that the amendments were passed with the full support of the Yugoslav authorities. Had they not been supported by the Yugoslav government, they would have been struck down.


To bear this out Milosevic read from a statement of the Croatian member of the Yugoslav presidency who, like other members of the presidency, praised the amendments when they were passed.


Jokanovic testified that the amendments did not revoke Kosovo’s autonomy at all. He testified that the Kosovo assembly could still pass laws and function the same as it had before.


According to Jokanovic the Kosovo assembly only ran into problems when Croatia and Slovenia announced their intentions to secede from Yugoslavia. It was then that a group of renegade Kosovo assemblymen attempted to force through unconstitutional legislation proclaiming Kosovo’s secession too.


Jokanovic lived in Kosovo for his whole life until the NATO occupation and Albanian terrorism forced him to flee to Belgrade as a refugee in 1999. He has lost everything. Albanian terrorists burned-down his house and dynamited the Serbian Orthodox church in his village.


Remarkably, Jokanovic shows no hostility towards Albanians as a whole. He says that his Albanian friends and neighbors tried to protect him from the terrorists, but were simply powerless to stop them.


As a person who lived in Kosovo his whole life, and who held many posts in the provincial government. Jokanovic was competent to testify about events in recent history.


He said that he first saw Albanian secessionism displayed in 1968, when Albanian nationalists rioted on the occasion of Albania’s Flag Day. The demands of the rioting nationalists were secession from Serbia and unification with Albania.


He corroborated the testimony of an earlier witness, and said that President Tito had to send the Army in to quell the rioting.


He testified that there was a strong racist component to the rioting, and that the Albanian nationalists directed pressure and violence against Kosovo’s non-Albanian population. He said that this pressure gradually intensified over time and caused tens of thousands of non-Albanians to flee Kosovo.


In 1981 Albanian rioters took to the streets again. These demonstrations were more violent. Rioters opened fire on the police, two policemen and nine rioters were killed. The army had to be called in again in order to put down the riots.


Jokanovic testified that this rioting had an even stronger racist flavor than before. He said that Albanian nationalists torched non-Albanian homes, burned the fields of non-Albanian farmers, and burnt down Serbian Orthodox churches.


By 1981 Jokanovic held a post in the Kosovo government, and so he was privy to certain information. He testified that the goal of the Albanian nationalists was an ethnically pure Albanian Kosovo which would be integrated into the state of Albania.


Remarkably, Mr. Nice corroborated Jokanovic’s testimony on this score. Nice read a passage from a 1982 New York times article where an Albanian official in the Kosovo government said exactly the same thing about the objectives of the nationalists, namely that they wanted an ethnically pure greater Albania.


Jokanovic testified that the need for a constitutional change in Serbia was acknowledged throughout the SFR Yugoslavia. In the wake of the 1981 riots and in light of the fact that pressure and violence against Kosovo’s non-Albanian population was increasing throughout the 1980s, everybody could see that Serbia had to have a way to protect its citizens. This pressure and violence caused tens of thousands of non-Albanians to flee Kosovo during the 1980s alone.


Jokanovic worked on the commission that drafted the text of the constitutional amendments. This commission began its work in 1986, and was headed by the Serbian President Ivan Stambolic.


In other words, the process of amending the constitution of Serbia began three years before Milosevic came to power. It began because there was a consensus throughout the SFR Yugoslavia that non-Albanians living in Kosovo were suffering and needed the protection of the Serbian government. This was Serbia’s obligation under the constitution. The amendments were passed in order to give Serbia a vehicle with which to fulfill its obligation towards its citizens.


Jokanovic’s testimony will continue on Thursday, when Mr. Nice will conclude his cross-examination.

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