On Biljana Plavsic’s Early Release

The most shocking news in the Western Balkans lately, is the early release of the war crime criminal Biljana Plavsic. Mrs. Plavsic, former president of Republika Srpska, had served two thirds of her sentence in a Swedish prison. The decision was made by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in compliance with Swedish law. The main rule in Swedish law provides that conditional release takes place when the convicted person has served two thirds of the total term of imprisonment. The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia has in its verdict of 14th September 2009 consented to the conditional release of Mrs. Plavsic in accordance with Swedish law.

Sweden was the fourth state to enter into an Agreement on the enforcement of sentences with the ICTY on 23 February 1999. The other states which have entered into similar agreements are: Italy, which was the first state to sign, on 6 February 1997, Finland (signed 7 May 1997), Norway (signed 24 April 1998), Austria (signed on 23 July 1999), France (signed on 25 February 2000), Spain (signed on 28 March 2000) and Denmark (signed 19 June 2002).


The question to be asked on this specific matter is: out of the four states which signed the agreement with ICTY, why did ICTY choose Sweden? Was it because it was known that after serving two thirds of the sentence one may request for an early release?


Nevertheless, Biljana Plavsic was not the only personality in the epicentre of her early release. Another name that was being closely related to hers is the name of the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, who now holds the EU rotating presidency. We ask ourselves, why would a well known diplomat allow himself to be in any way related to a condemned war crime criminal?

Starting from the mid 1990s till today, Carl Bildt was everything from a mediator in the Western Balkans conflict, to the European Union Special Envoy to Former Yugoslavia from June 1995, to Co-Chairman of the Dayton Peace Conference in November 1995, and High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina from December 1995 to June 1997 immediately after the Bosnian War. From 1999 to 2001, he served as the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Balkans, and today as the president of the EU rotating presidency. Up until today and especially having the Butmir summit in mind, it is obvious that Carl Bildt has special interests in BiH and is determined to find solutions to existing problems.

But his never ending help and involvement in BiH during all these years has become questionable due to the special form of apparently has, with Biljana Plavsic. No one knows for sure when and why this friendship did become more than a diplomatic relation, but there are some facts which support its existence.

To begin with, during Mrs. Plavsic's trial, Carl Bildt acted as a witness in her defence stating that she was never a part of a narrow circle of Bosnian Serbs extreme nationalists. But her statements say otherwise. On one occasion she said: “I’m not saying that we no longer wish to live with Croats, but rather that we shall not allow them to live with us. On the another occasion she stated: “The Serbs of Bosnia, especially those living in frontier regions, have developed and refined a special ability to sense danger to the nation and to evolve mechanisms for self-protection. In my family it was always said that the Serbs of Bosnia were much better than the Serbs of Serbia… As a biologist I know that the best ability to adapt and survive is possessed by those species which live next to others that are a threat to them… Hence, the separation of Serbs from other nations is both a natural and a necessary phenomenon.” (‘Borba’, Belgrade, 28 July 1993.)

These were the words of a now free war crime criminal Biljana Plavsic. Mrs. Plavsic has pleaded guilty to a single count of persecution — a crime against humanity — as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign to drive Muslims and Croats out of Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia. Her guilty plea was part of a plea bargain to have other charges, including genocide, dropped. During the war in Bosnia Mrs. Plavsic celebrated the heroism of Zeljko Raznjatovic-Arkan, the perpetrator of horrific ethnic cleansing in BiH, saying:

“I would prefer completely to cleanse eastern Bosnia of Muslims. When I say cleanse, I don’t want anyone to take me literally and think I mean ethnic cleansing. But they’ve attached this label ‘ethnic cleansing’ to a perfectly natural phenomenon and characterized it as some kind of war crime.” (‘Svet’, Novi Sad, 6 September 1993). Looking at this statement, one wonders how and why the ICTY passed this and dropped the charges?

Besides Mr. Bildt acting in her defence, he paid regular visits to Mrs. Plavsic while she was serving her sentence in Sweden. Mr. Bildt even brought her a cake for her birthday and acted as a close friend. Mr. Bildt also made a very significant phone call to the Swedish minister of Justice at that time (2000-2006), asking him to make sure that Mrs. Plavsic will be treated with care.

Just after Mrs. Plavsic was released from prison, a renowned Swedish politician Thomas Bodstrom (Minister of Justice 2000-2006) asked for a parliamentary investigation on weather the Swedish government made the right decision on the early release of Biljana Plavsic and how responsible for that decision was Carl Bildt. He thought that Carl Bildt behavior towards Biljana Plavsic was suspicious. Mr. Bodstrom said that when Mrs. Plavsic came to Sweden she did not have any special treatment. But in 2006, Mr. Bodstrom party lost in the elections by the conservatives in whose government Carl Bildt became the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Soon after that, Mrs. Plavsic asked for an early release and Carl Bildt was one of the ministers who made decisions on those requests in the name of government. Could this all have been a coincidence? Mr. Bildt tried to explain this matter by saying that the decision is not made by the Swedish government, but by the ICTY. This is not true, because the Swedish government makes these decisions.

In addition to this, after serving two thirds of sentence, the remaining one third can be spent freely only if the person is being supervised by the police. This is done because if the person commits another crime, it will be brought back to jail. But the problem with Mrs. Plavsic is that she has left Sweden immediately after her release, so now this law does not apply to her anymore. Knowing this, Mr. Bodstrom said that Mr. Bildt is in a serious conflict of interests if he helped Mrs. Plavsic in her early release.

Besides reactions in Sweden, BiH also reacted. The President of a National Theatre Gradimir Gojer and the Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Science Dzemaludin Latic demanded from the BiH government to proclaim Carl Bildt persona non grata. The President of BiH rotating Presidency Zeljko Komsic cancelled an official visit to Sweden in protest. Just to make matters worst, thirty prisoners from Zenica top security jail prison sewed their lips together in protest.

The University of Sarajevo also reacted by taking away all given academic rights from Mrs. Plavsic saying that she has ruined a good reputation of an academic professor and made enormous damage to the University. The University is also protesting over the involvement of Carl Bildt in the early release of Biljana Plavsic.

Observing the facts above, it is inevitable to conclude that Carl Bildt did cooperate with Biljana Plavsic but not just on her early release. Mr. Bildt could have lobbied to put Mrs. Plavsic in Sweden prison knowing that she will serve two thirds of her sentence so that she could come back on the political scene. This is because there was never a law which would prevent war criminals to run for elections in BiH, so there is a big possibility we could see Mrs. Plavsic again acting on the political scene. And since two hundred laws were rejected by Bosnian Serbs in the past due to the entity voting, there is a possibility that a law of not allowing war criminals to run for elections could be rejected too. On the other hand, even if that does not happen, it has reached its goal in once again creating fear and loosing sense of security among the citizens.



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written by amy, December 10, 2009 

War crimes are serious and it is confusing to me why the Swedes would have the law that they only need to serve two thirds of their sentence. Thats too bad. All war criminals should have to serve their entire sentence, in m opinion. Selma your article was nice and concise. Good work!



written by amy, December 10, 2009
I think Carl Bildts motives should be examined. I don't know much about the whole political situations in the balkans right now. But to me it is obvious that Mr. Bildts is trying to protect Mrs. Plavsic. It is also evident that Mrs. Plavsic still feels the same way she felt when she committed the war crimes. From her quotes, there is still a lot of hate in her. And yet, she was able to leave Sweden immediately after being discharged. Seems that she may try to cause more dissensions and trouble, which is the last thing the balkans needs.