Together with Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian leader Biljana Plavsic is regarded as one of the masterminds behind the Balkan wars of 1991 – 2001.
She was tried by the Hague war crimes tribunal in 2001. After reversing her original “not guilty” plea to the eight prosecution charges and confessing to crimes against humanity, Plavsic was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Her sentence is being served at Hinseberg prison in Örebro in central Sweden.
But in a rare interview with a Swedish magazine, Plavsic retracted her confession.
She now claims to have pleaded guilty in an attempt to have the remaining charges against her, including those of genocide, dropped.
“I sacrificed myself. I have done nothing wrong. I pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity so I could bargain for the other charges. If I hadn’t, the trial would have lasted three, three and-a-half years. Considering my age that wasn’t an option,” the now 79-year-old Plavsic told Vi magazine.
Her sudden reversal caused much controversy at the time. Plavsic claims her lawyer, Canadian-Serb Krstan Simic, advised her to change her plea in order to secure a milder sentence from the tribunal.
“I wanted my husband to defend me in Hague. He was a criminal defence lawyer but had nearly gone blind from glaucoma, so that was impossible,” says Plavsic. “I didn’t know it at the time but he [Krstan Simic] was a business lawyer. Unlike him, my husband would have been able to prove my innocence.”
Her admission of guilt was a key factor in the Hague tribunal’s decision to lower her sentence and drop the remaining charges. Had she not pleaded guilty, and taking all eight charges against her into account, Plavsic would likely have been sentenced to 20-25 years in prison rather than the 11 she is now serving.
In the interview with Vi magazine, Plavsic describes life at Sweden’s Hinseberg prison as “worse than what the Nazi Albert Speer endured in Spandau prison”.
“None of the other prisoners have read a single book. And yet we are treated equally. Your country has nothing to be proud of,” says Plavsic.
She also talks about her former fellow Bosnian leaders, including Radovan Karadzic who was arrested and brought to trial in July 2008.
“Karadzic is a coward,” says Plavsic. “He and his cronies were criminals, acting like a group of gangsters. It will all become known eventually.”
Plavsic is a professor of biology and enjoyed a distiguished career at the University of Sarajevo. From 1996 to 1998 she served as the president of the Republika Srpska, now one of the two political entities that make up the state Bosnia-Herzegovina.
During the war, Plavsic defended the mass killings of Bosnian non-Serbs as a “natural phenomenon”. She has been accused of playing a key role in the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, where at least 8000 Muslims were killed.
In a photograph presented as evidence at the Hague tribunal, she is seen stepping over a dead body to greet notorious Serbian warlord Zeljko ‘Arkan’ Raznatovic with a kiss.
Daniel Uggelberg Goldberg, Vi magazine
Biljana Plavsic was interviewed by Vi’s reporter Margaretha Nordgren