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Stjepan Mesić

Stjepan Mesić was the Croatian Prime Minister in 1990, a member of the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), and in 1991 became its last President.

Stjepan Mesić tells the court about his views on Slobodan Milošević’s goals and methods: "The Serbs in Croatia were tricked because Milošević had told them that all the Serbs would live together in a single state and that this was their right because they had the right to self-determination. He was deceiving the world because he was saying that he was fighting for Yugoslavia. However, he was doing everything to destroy it."

Stjepan Mesić relates a conversation that he had with SFRY Presidency President Borislav Jović, a close associate of Milošević’s, in relation to why the Yugoslav National Army counter-intelligence service was arming Serbs in Croatia and creating provocations:

"I [asked] Borislav Jovic, … “Why are they doing this? Why are they arming the Serbs? Because there'll be an imminent catastrophe. And if a real full-fledged war breaks out, then the 10 per cent of Serbs cannot stand up to the rest of Croatia.”

So what I said to him was you were cutting your nose to spite your face and working towards the disadvantage of your compatriots in Croatia.

Borislav Jovic said to me, “We're not interested in Croatia. We're not interested in the Serbs in Croatia. What we are interested in is Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is to say the 66 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina which was Serb land. It was Serb land and it will remain Serb land.”

Stjepan Mesić describes his view of Milošević’s relationship with Jović: "Borislav Jović had no independence whatsoever. Everything he did was done in agreement with Slobodan Milošević. So even at the sessions of the Presidency I would often joke when a decision would have to be passed. Borislav Jović would leave the session. He would excuse himself, and he would walk out of the room. I would always say, “Say hello to Milošević.”

Stjepan Mesić, the Croatian representative on the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), met with Slobodan Milošević on many occasions. He gave a full and detailed account of top-level political developments leading to the Yugoslav wars, and Milošević’s role in provoking them. As Yugoslavia disintegrated, according to Mesić, Milošević’s guiding policy was to extend Serbia’s borders to the detriment of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mesić testified that for Milošević force was a practical measure to achieve these goals.

Mesić also stressed the total control that Slobodan Milošević exercised in Serbia, including over the highest-level politicians who took his advice before making any decision. Mesić testified that Milošević also controlled Serb minority leaders in other Yugoslav republics.

Mesić placed the beginning of Milošević’s aggressive public rhetoric to the 27 June 1989 speech Milošević gave in Kosovo to mark the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo. Milošević then said that “everybody should prepare and make ready for waging a struggle”, including armed struggle. According to Mesić, this was the turning point, as it “was the first time that anybody in Yugoslavia had ever mentioned the possibility of a war option”. Mesić maintained that Milošević’s remarks gave a strong boost to those in favour of the break-up of federal structures.

Other evidence that Mesić gave the court of Milošević’s designs include statements that Milošević often made in meetings with him that he would not allow two and a half million Serbs to live outside Serbia should Yugoslavia disintegrate. Mesić gave evidence that showed that Milošević acted on these statements, stirring the discontent of Serbs about living in the future independent Croatia. When the first rallies and clashes started in Serb areas of Croatia in 1990, Mesić invited all the heads of Serb majority municipalities to meet and find a peaceful solution. Despite their initial agreement, none of them eventually showed up: the Knin Mayor Milan Babić, who would later plead guilty to committing crimes in Croatia and testify against Milošević, returned from consultations with Milošević with the message that such a meeting was “out of the question”.

According to Mesić, the Serbian leadership were aware that the Serbs in Croatia were a small minority and in the long run would have been defeated by Croatian forces. However, they were only a stepping stone to a bigger goal. According to Mesić, “the Serbs in Croatia were needed only to ignite the fuse in order for the war to be transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina”. Mesić told the court about the conversation (excerpted above) that he had in 1991 with SFRY Presidency President Borislav Jović, a close associate of Milošević’s, in which Jović admitted that the Serbs in Croatia were of no interest, and that the ultimate prize was Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mesić provided evidence that further supported the Prosecution’s view that Milošević intended to chop up Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mesić was one of a number of witnesses who testified about a decisive one-to-one meeting between Milošević and then Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in Karadjordjevo, a hunting lodge near Belgrade, in March 1991. Mesić maintained that it was easy to deduce from that meeting that Milošević had convinced Tudjman (whom the Tribunal would later name as a co-perpetrator of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia), that Bosnia and Herzegovina should be divided between Serbia and Croatia. According to Mesić, “up until Karadjordjevo, Tudjman had always been in favour of Bosnia and Herzegovina remaining one entity … But after that particular meeting, he changed his opinion… And quite obviously Milošević convinced him that Bosnia could be divided up”. Tudjman reported to Mesić that the Serb leader told him: “Franjo, you take Cazin, Kladuša and Bihać [in western Bosnia and Herzegovina]. That is what is called the Turkish Croatia. I don't need that. So you can have that.”

Mesić also testified about a statement that Milošević made that showed clearly how he intended to deal with Kosovo. In August 1990, when Mesić raised concerns about how Serbia was handling the Kosovo issue, Milošević responded, “When you give them a good slap on the face, then they'll be obedient, and that's how we'll solve that point.”

In addition, Mesić provided the court with his views on Milošević’s character, which corroborated that of other witnesses. He claimed that the Serbian leader never thought about the human price of his policy: people killed, maimed and displaced. He showed no feelings. “All he had were goals he was implementing.” Similar was Milošević’s attitude towards his subordinates, whom he regarded as dispensable. “When they performed what he wanted them to perform, he would get rid of them.”

Stjepan (Stipe) Mesić became Speaker of the Parliament in 1992 in the newly-independent Croatia, a position he held until 1994. In 1998, Stjepan Mesić testified in two cases before the Tribunal: from 16-19 March 1998 in the case against Croatian General Tihomir Blaškić, and on 20 March 1998 against Slavko Dokmanović, a local Serb leader in the Croatian municipality of Vukovar. After the death of Franjo Tudjman, Mesić was elected to the country’s highest office in 2000. Mesić was still serving as President of Croatia when he testified in the Milošević case in 2002.

Stjepan Mesić testified from 1 to 3 October 2002. The relevant transcripts can be accessed through the Cases page on this site.