One of the main reasons why the role of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, in the breakup of Yugoslavia remains unclear after nearly 20 years since the wars is that archives of the army are still kept secret, experts say.
Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the federal army, the JNA, was often used and abused for political gain by the ex-Yugoslav states, agreed experts at the round table discussion, “The role of the JNA in the dissolution of Yugoslavia,” held Tuesday at Belgrade’s Center for Cultural Decontamination.
The university professor and former army officer, Miroslav Hadzic, says that the role of the JNA cannot be interpreted as long as the archives of the army remain a state secret.
“All the countries of the former Yugoslavia are silent about the JNA – Serbia because of its role in the wars, and other countries because the JNA enabled them to create their own states,” says Hadzic.
Lazar Stojanovic, a Belgrade based film director and commentator, agrees that the secret JNA files are one of the main reasons why its members were not prosecuted for war crimes in front of national courts.
“That army has never been charged with war crimes, right up to the present just because we cannot get at their documents. It’s not just us who can’t get at the files, even the Hague Tribunal cannot get hold of the files of the meetings between senior army officers and state government,” notes Stojanovic.
The Yugoslav People's Army was formed in 1951 to serve the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and held to a unique operational doctrine among conventional military forces.
Yugoslavia based its defence doctrine upon the concept of "Total National Defence" a concept of total war which drew upon Yugoslavia's successful partisan history during the Yugoslav People's Liberation War during the Second World War.
The "Total National Defence" concept gave the JNA the role of defending the country’s borders against aggressors with the intention of delaying an invader long enough for the Territorial Defence Forces to enter the field and start wearing the invader down with guerrilla tactics.
However, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia’s Territorial Defence Forces, which then came under the direct control of the individual states, the JNA remained close to the authorities in Belgrade and acted on their orders in the war zones of Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia.
Srdja Popovic, a Belgrade based lawyer, says that shortly after the conflict started, the army, instead of maintaining its federalist identity, became the army of Serbia instead.
“It is clear now that this was a mercenary army, led by Slobodan Milosevic [former Serbian president],” said Popovic.
A former general of the JNA, Stevan Mirkovic, however, believes that all the states, including Serbia, had given up on the JNA immediately after the country collapsed.
“All the countries gave up on JNA. Even Serbia, which wanted the JNA to become the Serbian army. The responsibility for this is shared by all the countries of the ex-Yugoslavia, which created a fascist army, which butchered people, out of the Territorial Defence forces,” Mirkovic explained.
“Countries used religious fervour and ethnic hate to mobilize people to fight against each other,” he added.
An ally of Slobodan Milosevic, and a former member of the Yugoslav socialist Presidency, Borislav Jovic, remains convinced that the JNA did everything it could to comply with the federal constitution.
“The Army was obliged to defend the constitution and territorial integrity which was endangered as the separatists and nationalists took over in Slovenia and Croatia,” argued Jovic.
“Saying that the JNA contributed to the dissolution is overstated, as the responsibility also lies with those states that caused the conflict”, he added.
“The military involvement of the JNA started on January 9, when the Presidency ordered them to stand between the Croats and the Serbs paramilitary units, with the goal of reducing the potential for conflict [in Croatia]. However the conflict couldn’t be stopped until the entrance of the UN forces,” Jovic explains.
Serbian journalist, Milos Vasic, believes that Serbia still needs to face the fact that it lost the war and that the JNA military betrayed the country they were meant to protect.
“The JNA’s role was to preserve communism and Yugoslavia, and they chose topreserve communism, but they lost Yugoslavia,” Vasic concluded.