A Bosnian Serb
politician who has been nicknamed the Iron Lady
of the Balkans and implicated in the ethnic cleansing
which took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina
during the 1990s. Once even accounted a radical by Slobodan Milošević
, she became more moderate - by her colleagues' standards - after the war and in 2002
became the first of her number to plead guilty to crimes against humanity
at the Hague Tribunal
Plavšić was born in 1930
in the Bosnian town of Visoko
. Before becoming a politician, she had been a Fulbright scholar
and a respected biology professor at the University of Sarajevo
, publishing over a hundred papers and occasionally teaching in Czechoslovakia
and the USA, where she may have had contact with extremist Serb émigrés.
She enthusiastically added her voice to the aggressive Serbian nationalism which developed during the 1980s, at first among writers and academics, many of whom signed up to a now infamous memorandum issued by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences
'A Female Mengele'
she was a co-founder of the Serbian Democratic Party
, which represented the Bosnian Serb nationalists and demanded that all Serbs be included in a Greater Serbia
. Preferring to remain in the same state as Serbia
proper, the SDS was strongly opposed to Bosnian independence and in late 1991
drew up plans to resist Bosnia's secession from Yugoslavia
When Bosnians voted for independence in March 1992
, in a referendum boycotted by the majority of Serbs, the separate Bosnian Serb Assembly
, established the year before, announced the territories it intended to become part of the Republika Srpska
, the Serbian Republic.
The military campaign included displacing or killing Croat
s, Muslims and others who inhabited these territories, for instance along the so-called Drina corridor
. The Republic also demanded access to the Adriatic Sea
, which would require it to incorporate some Dalmatia
n land belonging to Croatia.
Alongside Radovan Karadžić
and Momčilo Krajišnik
, who would also be indicted by the Hague Tribunal, Plavšić served on the Republika Srpska's governing institutions throughout the three-year conflict and was one of the two vice-presidents to Karadžić. Although her responsibility on the presidency was humanitarian aid
, she is still considered, by the Hague's lawyers at least, to have been aware of the atrocities inflicted by Serb paramilitaries and soldiers.
While there is no suggestion that she alone was guilty, either by giving orders herself or through command responsibility
, for the killings or the conditions in concentration camp
s such as Omarska
, she was most certainly an ardent nationalist during the war years.
In 1992 she was pictured, in a widely circulated photograph, stepping over a Muslim's body in the town of Bijljena
to kiss the warlord Arkan
, whom she feted as a hero. Milošević's wife Mira
, the Red Witch
to Plavšić's Iron Lady, had her biologist's career in mind when she referred to her - approvingly or not - as a 'female Mengele
The Lady's Not For Turning
However, Plavšić supported the Dayton Agreement
by which the Bosnian conflict was ended, despite having refused to shake Milošević's hand when he approached her in 1993
to try to get her to sign up to the Vance-Owen Plan
, an earlier attempt at mediation.
she became president in her own right of the Republika Srpska, now on equal terms inside the Bosnian state with the Muslim-Croat Federation
: it is possible she only obtained the nomination in the first place because it was assumed Karadžić would be able to work through her
Instead, she split from Karadžić in 1997
and formed her own party, the Serbian National Alliance
. During her two-year presidency she faced him down to have the notorious general Ratko Mladić
dismissed, and appeared to defend the rule of law
against the endemic corruption engaged in by Karadžić and his associates. By 2000
, her political career had ground to a halt, and her breakaway Serbian Popular Alliance
never won widespread support.
Plavšić caused a sensation on January 11, 2001
by voluntarily surrendering to the Hague Tribunal after it had issued a sealed indictment
for her arrest on charges up to and including genocide
, the tactic typically used against indictees at the highest levels.
It is possible that she was tipped off for fear former colleagues might obstruct her from travelling to the court, more than likely with the same persuasion in the back of the neck that accounted for Arkan
the year before. Another theory suggests that she was allowed to go quietly
as a reward for her challenges to Karadžić when she was president.
Eventually jointly indicted with Krajišnik, Plavšić was the only woman among the Hague's prisoners after she arrived in the Netherlands
by way of a flying visit to Belgrade
, ostensibly to bid farewell to her brother and his family. She returned home on provisional release.
On October 3, 2002
the genocide charge was dropped after she agreed to plead guilty on relatively 'lesser' counts. Much speculation has since been circulated that Plavšić had cut a deal to provide the prosecutors with information which would help them snare even more prominent indictees.
A hearing still had to be conducted for sentencing purposes, at which Madeleine Albright
, America's UN ambassador during the Bosnian war and Secretary of State
during the 1999 war in Kosovo
, praised Plavšić for her political courage in standing up for the Dayton Agreement, although recognised that 'she was involved in horrendous things before that.'
The Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel
, a Holocaust survivor
, had previously testified as a witness for the prosecution, urging the judges to remember the suffering of the war's victims and preserve their memory.
Plavšić could have received a maximum term of life imprisonment, but was sentenced to 11 years on February 27, 2003
in recognition of her guilty plea. Still, at the age of 72 she could expect to spend the rest of her life behind bars. Her admission of remorse was said to be unprecedented in a leader of her stature since the Nuremberg trials
, and began to raise hopes that the curtain of denial surrounding the events of the early 1990s might eventually be drawn aside.
However, Plavšić's plea of guilty was viewed in the immediate term in the Republika Srpska as treachery
, an interpretation which allowed other participants in the war to avoid questioning their own conduct.
Laura Silber and Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia