FROM PHOENIX, ARIZONABALKAN AFFAIRS
From Hero to Traitor to Snitch
Rise and Fall of General Perisic
PHOENIX, May 15, 2005 - The higher they soar, the harder they fall. The rise and fall of General Momcilo Perisic, now an inmate at the International Tribunal for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia at the Hague, could not be a more apt tale (see "Court on Crimes in Former Yugoslavia Hits Its Stride," NYT, May 15). It is a military hero's rags-to-riches-and-power-to-rags story whose missteps at the peak of power sent him to the dustbin of history as an ignominious warning to all would-be leaders who lose their moral compass.
They say "cream always rises to the top." There is no better or faster time to rise to the top than in wartime. Enter the Balkan wars of the 1990s...
When the war of Croatia's secession from the former Yugoslavia started in July 1991, Serb-born Perisic was a colonel in charge of an artillery unit in the Yugoslav Army stationed in Zadar, a city on Croatia's Adriatic coast (the following is an excerpt from "Speak Softly But Carry a Big Stick," a letter to the New York Times, Nov 30, 1998).
When Croatia and Slovenia unilaterally seceded from Yugoslavia, in late June 1991, Gen. Perisic was commander of the Zadar, Croatia, JNA outpost. General Ratko Mladic, the former military head of the Bosnian Serb army, held a similar post in the neighboring Knin, then the capital of the Serb Krajina.
The field commanders, Generals Perisic and Mladic (then both colonels), caught in the midst of what had suddenly become enemy territory (Croatia), had to fend for themselves. As a result, Perisic and Mladic ended up "saving each other" many times. Even more than the fact that the two generals were also classmates, this early war experience had bonded the respective leaders of the (new) armed forces of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Serb Republic.
"We had to act on our own initiatives. We received no orders from the JNA Headquarters (in Belgrade)," Gen. Perisic recalled the early days of chaos and confusion in the former JNA. "Most of the time, one simply had to depend on one's own wits and those of our people," he said.
For example, during the six month-siege of the YU Army barracks in Zadar by the Croatian forces (in 1991), the Croatians had cut off the civilian telephone lines to the army post. "That caused us no military problems," Gen. Perisic said. "But it was important to me that my soldiers be able to talk to their families and not worry about their safety."
So, using the military telephone network, the army technicians were able to patch Gen. Perisic‘s calls to the Croatian commanders. "I talked to the enemy all the time," he said. "I gave them a deadline by which they were to enable the civilian telephone lines, or else we would take appropriate action."
The deadline had passed. The Croatians did nothing. So Gen. Perisic ordered that the satellite dishes on the Zadar Post Office be blown up by his artillery.
They were. "I called the Croatian commander, and told him that the Post Office itself would be next. We got our telephone service back in a matter of minutes."
Even as Perisic negotiated for the final withdrawal of the JNA troops from Zadar, he demonstrated his resourcefulness and mental toughness. He said that he refused to have his soldiers leave their posts until all equipment was packed and loaded onto trucks. "So I had the 'ustashe' (i.e., the Croat enemy) do the loading of our gear for us" (see TiM GW Bulletin 94-06, June 1994).
On Oct. 7, 1991, the day celebrated back then as the JNA Artillery Day, Perisic ordered his units to start the break out of the Zadar siege. The Nov. 27, 1998 Belgrade Telegraf quotes him addressing his Zadar JNA troops as follows: "Get ready to take a lot of incoming (fire). While I am still of a sound body and mind, I have no intention of surrendering. But in the event that I go crazy, lose my mind and attempt to do it, I order you to kill me."
Evidently, that was not necessary. Gen. Perisic pulled all his troops out of the Zadar encirclement without a loss of a single life.
Gen. Perisic explained that he could not have done it without the support of his family. His elder son had stayed at his side in Zadar throughout the ordeal. And Gen. Perisic's wife told him at a time when the JNA officers, let alone their wives, were fleeing their posts enmasse in order to save their own lives, "don't do anything you or your sons would be ashamed of later on." She refused to leave Zadar until he practically had to order her out. Eventually, under protest, she and their younger son moved from Zadar to an apartment in Sarajevo.
After his withdrawal from Zadar, Gen. Perisic was promoted and appointed commander of the JNA Bilece Corps based in Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He was known among his fellow soldiers as "The King of Mostar" and "Hercegovina's Howitzer" for his military prowess and determination.
The Yugoslav Army withdrew from Mostar in June 1992, and
Serbian military leaders credit Perisic with the successful evacuation of
the JNA army barracks in the Hercegovina town of Capljina. Army
helicopters with the assistance of the elite 63rd Airborne Brigade carried
out the evacuation of more than 300 soldiers and civilians who came under
intense fire from Croatian Defence Council, HVO, troops. This
operation is considered the most successful ever executed by a Yugoslav
army general in a combat situation throughout the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
While he was still in Mostar, Perisic met there a Croat who had served under him several years ago. The Croat was so grateful to the general for the way he had treated him, that he offered to help him with information about the Croatian military plans. At first, Gen. Perisic was suspicious. "We had to verify the information by surveillance flights," he said. But time after time, the informant was spot on.
The Croat also warned Gen. Perisic that his Croat enemies from Zadar were plotting to kill his family in Sarajevo. The general acted quickly and got his family out of Sarajevo on April 14, 1992. By that stage, the war in Bosnia was just over a week old. As it turned out, the general made it in the nick of time. The following day, the would-be Croat assassins burst into an empty Sarajevo apartment.
"It is ironic, isn't it, that one 'ustasha' tried to kill my family, and that another 'ustasha' saved them?" Gen. Perisic philosophized calmly.
The (Army) Boss...
In 1993, fresh from his meritorious combat service in Croatia
and Bosnia, Perisic was appointed chief of staff of the newly formed
Yugoslav Army, VJ (Vojska Jugoslavije), a post he would hold for a further
five years. During this time, the general at times openly disagreed
with the policies pursued by then-president Milosevic - alienating himself
and paving the way for his eventual dismissal in 1998.
The first sign of his dissent came during the civil protests that took place in Belgrade in early 1996 and again later that same year, after Milosevic refused to recognize the results of local elections won by democratic parties. While Milosevic's police were brutally beating protesters on the capital's streets, Perisic received a delegation of Belgrade University students who had been involved in organizing the demonstrations. Here's an excerpt about it from this writer's Nov 30, 1998 letter to the New York Times:
Perisic's perhaps the most vocal public criticism of Milosevic came on June 16, 1997 - the Yugoslav Army Day - when he told the media that the prosperity of modern states "does not depend on individuals but teams of experts who have in common economic, civil, national, political and defense-related patriotic interests."
Here's what he said to this writer in one of many meetings that we had at his office at the Yugoslav Army HQ in Belgrade (an excerpt from this writer's June 10, 1998 diary notes):
In 1998, as conflict between the Yugoslav Army and armed
guerrilla groups demanding independence for Kosovo began to spiral out of
control, Perisic and Serbian secret police chief Jovica Stanisic spoke out
against the use of excessive force against the ethnic Albanian fighters.
During the course of the year, Perisic met several times with
General Wesley Clark, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, and the
two signed an agreement in October 1998 intended to alleviate tensions in
Kosovo through the partial withdrawal of Serb forces from the area.
The Politician... and Traitor...
Perisic continued to criticize Milosevic after he was
dismissed, and in 1999 formed his own political party - the Movement for
Democratic Serbia, PDS - which joined the bloc of pro-democracy opposition
parties critical of the regime. In the summer of 2000, the PDS
joined the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, a coalition whose
candidate Vojislav Kostunica (the current prime minister) triumphed in the
presidential election held in September 2000 (see the "Ostrich
Revolution," Oct 2000).
In January 2001, as one of the DOS leaders, Perisic was appointed deputy prime minister in the first post-Milosevic democratic government in Serbia.
That was the pinnacle of his political career. For, events took a dramatic turn for the worse in March 2002. During a meeting between Perisic and an employee of the United States embassy in Belgrade (John Neighbor, then first secretary in the U.S. embassy), the deputy prime minister was arrested by the army security service and charged with espionage.
Days later, he was fired from his government post (see "Serb Quislings and an American Spy," Mar 2002). Perisic was released on bail for the duration of the trial, which has yet to be completed.
In October 2002, Military Supreme Court prosecutor Nikola Petkovic charged Perisic and two other officers with revealing state secrets. The two had been meeting at a motel outside the city. The army said it had evidence Perisic had passed military secrets to Neighbor, who was reported to have been the CIA station chief in Belgrade. Washington denied Neighbor received any material and declined comment on the CIA allegation.
The trial was to start in December 2002, but the military court rejected the indictment after Perisic raised his immunity status as a member of parliament. The request of the prosecutor was accepted and a trial ordered. But the trial never took place. Perisic went to the Hague prison instead.
In early March (2005), the former leader of the Yugoslav Army surrendered to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. General Perisic is the fourth high-ranking Serb suspect to turn himself in this year for alleged crimes during the 1990s Balkan wars. More importantly, he knows a lot and is likely to snitch on Milosevic, the biggest fish in the Hague pond.
"The prosecution is particularly pleased about the recent arrival of Momcilo Perisic, the Yugoslav Army chief of staff during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia," the New York Times noted today (May 15). "His trial may rank among the most significant. General Perisic's indictment says that from Belgrade, he secretly ran the surrogate Serbian forces fighting in Croatia and Bosnia, providing the Serb-run troops with personnel, equipment, provisions and payment. His case could directly link Belgrade, and Mr. Milosevic, with military actions and atrocities outside Serbia."
So ended the life of General Perisic, the folk hero, and began the life of yet another Serb behind bars at the Hague, and a snitch to boot.
"I Don't Get It"
When this writer tried to explain this morning to his American-born wife the issues and the intricacies of General Perisic's rags-to-riches-to-rags case, she replied, "I don't get it."
She is not alone. Many people don't get it, especially those who have been subjected to the falsehoods reported by the western media about the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the reason the Truth in Media was formed in 1992.
"Maybe you'll get this simple math," this writer replied. "The Serbs were about one-third of the combatants, yet they represent more than 90% of the Hague Tribunal's indictees."
In other words, the Hague is no court of justice. It is a court founded and funded by the victors (the West) and administering the victor's justice against the losers (the Serbs). As a fig leaf, a few token Croats and Muslims were also charged with war crimes, to make the fact that the Hague is a kangaroo court a little less blatant and its bias a little more palatable (except to the roos).
If what General Perisic and others like him did during the course of the Balkans wars of the 1990s is a war crime, then all military leaders in the history of warfare are war criminals. And so are their political leaders. Until and unless Perisic et. al. are joined on the defendants' bench by the likes of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Gen. Wesley Clark, Madeleine Albright, and Croat and Muslim wartime leaders and officers, and are charged with war crimes over NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999 (and of the Bosnian Serb Republic in 1995), justice will not be served. Only vengeance will.
Which is not to say that Perisic et. al., including Milosevic, do not deserve to be tried for their crimes. They do. In their own country. By their own people against whom they committed the crimes of treason or worse, when they lost their moral compass and not just the war.
The higher they soar, the harder they fall. General Perisic's fall was a real thud.
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