Babi? in front of the Serb tricolour, 1992
|1st President of Republic of Serbian Krajina|
19 December 1991 - 16 February 1992
|5th Prime Minister of Republic of Serbian Krajina|
27 July 1995 - 7 August 1995
|Born||26 February 1956|
Vrlika, PR Croatia, FPR Yugoslavia
|Died||5 March 2006 (aged 50)|
The Hague, Netherlands
|Political party||Serb Democratic Party|
Milan Babi? (Serbian Cyrillic: ; 26 February 1956 - 5 March 2006) was a Croatian Serb politician who served as the first president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a self-proclaimed state largely populated by Serbs of Croatia that wished to break away from Croatia during the Croatian War of Independence.
After the war, he was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2004 and was the first ever indictee to plead guilty and enter a plea bargain with the prosecution, after which he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Babi? expressed "shame and remorse" in a public statement and declared that his plea bargain was intended to relieve the collective shame of the Croatian Serbs, and asked his "Croatian brothers to forgive their Serb brothers" for their actions.
After he was sentenced in 2004, Babi? was found dead in his prison cell in The Hague in March 2006, in an apparent suicide.
Milan Babi?, the son of Bo?o Babi?, was born in 1956 in the village of Kukar near the town of Vrlika, in SR Croatia, Yugoslavia. In 1981 he graduated from Belgrade University's School of Dentistry and became a stomatologist. In 1989, he became one of the directors of the medical centre in Knin, a largely Serb-inhabited town in southwestern Croatia. He entered politics in 1990, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, leaving his membership in the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH) and joining the newly established Serb nationalist party called the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) at its inception, on 17 February 1990. He was elected President of the Municipal Assembly of Knin shortly afterwards. At the time, Serbs comprised about 12.2% of Croatia's population, forming a majority in a strip of land known as "Krajina" along the Croatian-Bosnian border. Croatia's moved towards independence following the election of President Franjo Tu?man in late 1990 were strongly opposed by its ethnic Serb minority, which was supported both politically and militarily by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and SR Serbia under President Slobodan Milo?evi?. Serb nationalists in the "Krajina" then established a Serbian National Council, a body designed to coordinate Serb opposition to Croatia's independence; Babi? was elected its President.
Ethnic Serbs soon became hostile to remaining in an independent Croatia. After Tu?man was elected, Croatia's first democratic constitution was drafted, which demoted ethnic Serbs to a minority status within the country.
In September 1990, a referendum was held in the Krajina asking local voters if they agreed with Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia, which was passed by a majority of 99.7%. The vote was declared illegal and invalid by the Croatian government. Babi?'s administration in Knin then announced the creation of a Serb Autonomous Region, named SAO Krajina, on 21 December 1990, and on 1 April 1991 it declared that it would secede from Croatia to join Serbia. Other Serb-dominated communities in eastern Croatia announced that they also would join the SAO.
Babi? was elected President of the Executive Council of the SAO on April 30, and was subsequently appointed Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defence by the Krajina Serb Assembly. In this capacity, he established an armed militia which set up road blocks in its territory, effectively severing the southern Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia from the rest of the country. Clashes between Krajina Serbs and Croatian security forces broke out almost immediately after Croatia declared independence on June 25, leaving dozens dead.
Around August 1991, Babi? became a party to what war crimes prosecutors would later describe as a "joint criminal enterprise" to permanently forcibly remove the non-Serb population of the territory under his control, with the ultimate goal of making the region part of a new Serb-dominated state. According to prosecutors, his chief accomplices included Slobodan Milo?evi?, other Krajina Serb figures such as Milan Marti?, the Serb paramilitary leader Vojislav ?e?elj, and Yugoslav Army commanders including General Ratko Mladi?, at the time the commander of JNA forces in Croatia. All of them were indicted for war crimes, and some have been convicted. According to Babi?'s testimony during his war crimes trial, during the summer of 1991 the Serbian secret police - under Milo?evi?'s command - set up "a parallel structure of state security and the police of Krajina and units commanded by the state security of Serbia". A full-scale war was launched in which a large area of territory, amounting to a third of Croatia, was seized and the non-Serb population was either massacred or ethnically cleansed. The bulk of the fighting occurred between August and December 1991. Thousands more died and were deported in fighting in eastern Slavonia, but the JNA was the principal actor in that part of the conflict.
The international community attempted to resolve the conflict in November 1991 by proposing a peace plan put forward by the United Nations Special Envoy Cyrus Vance, under which the Krajina would be demilitarised and protected by a UN peacekeeping force while political talks on its future took place. Babi? strongly opposed this, instead renaming the SAO Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) on 19 December 1991 (which later absorbed the Serb-held areas of eastern Croatia in February 1992). He urged the Krajina Serb Assembly to reject the Vance plan. However, Milo?evi? disagreed with this position: his strategic aims in Croatia had largely been achieved, and the JNA was needed for the looming war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Babi? was sidelined and the Vance plan was pushed through the RSK Assembly on 16 February 1992. On 26 February 1992, Milo?evi? engineered Babi?'s removal in favour of Goran Had?i?, a more pliant figure who was reported to have boasted that he was merely "a messenger for Slobodan Milo?evi?".
Although Babi? remained active in RSK politics as its Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was by then a greatly weakened figure. Babi? stated that Krajina policy was controlled from Belgrade via the Serbian secret police; Milo?evi? later denied this, claiming that Babi? had made it up "out of fear".
The Bosnian Serbs' military collapse in July-August 1995 propelled Babi? into the post of RSK Prime Minister, but he held this for only a few weeks. In early August 1995, the Croatian government launched Operation Storm to retake the entire area of the Krajina (with the exception of the strip in eastern Slavonia, which remained under Serb control until 1998). Babi? fled to Serbia along with the entire Krajina Serb leadership and 200,000 Serbian refugees from the region (most of the Serb population in the Krajina). He was said to have retired to a chicken farm in Vojvodina.
In December 2002, Babi? was unexpectedly revealed as a witness against Slobodan Milo?evi? as part of his plea bargain, testifying before the ICTY that Milo?evi? had been personally involved in the war in Croatia. The following November, he was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. Although he did not initially enter a plea, he pleaded guilty on 27 January 2004 to one count of crime against humanity in an apparent plea bargain with ICTY prosecutors under which the remaining charges were dropped. He expressed "shame and remorse" in a public statement and declared that he had acted to relieve the collective shame of the Croatian Serbs, asking his "Croatian brothers to forgive their Serb brothers" for their actions. His confession to the charge of persecution, a crime against humanity, marked a major victory for the ICTY prosecutors, as Babi? was, prior to his death, the only participant in the Croatian war to admit guilt. His testimony was of great importance to the prosecution in bolstering their contention that Milo?evi? was the main actor in the "joint criminal enterprise" in Croatia.
In his own trial, Babi? gave testimony that was used to indict Milo?evi?. The former also appeared at the trial of the latter to give evidence. In one case, Milo?evi? denied that he supported Babi? by quoting transcripts of his tapped telephone, where he referred to Babi? as "an idiot", "ordinary scum" and "Tudjman's trump."
In June 2004, Babi? was sentenced to 13 years in prison after the court rejected the prosecutors' recommendation for an 11-year sentence. The court found him more responsible than the prosecutor characterized him as, but also gave Babi? credit for voluntarily surrendering and pleading guilty. The court found that while "Babi? was not the prime mover, ... Babi? chose to remain in power and provided significant support for the persecutions."  Babi? was sent to a secret location in Great Britain to serve his sentence, which was an unprecedented move by the court. This led to speculations that Babi? had been given a privileged treatment in exchange for his testimony against other defendants. The official justification given for not disclosing his location was concern for his safety from people against whom he testified.
Fellow Serb leaders and commanders that Babi? accused for war crimes in Croatia, during his trial in The Hague, involved Slobodan Milo?evi?, Milan Marti?, Jovica Stani?i?, Franko Simatovi?, and Mom?ilo Kraji?nik.
Milan Babi? was found dead after he reportedly committed suicide on 5 March 2006 while in the ICTY detention unit in The Hague, Netherlands, where he was in the midst of giving evidence against Milan Marti?, his successor as President of the breakaway RSK. The New York Times reported that Babi? had hanged himself "using his own leather belt."
Serbian Radical Party leader and fellow inmate, Vojislav ?e?elj, claimed to have contributed to Babi?'s suicide by "making his life miserable." ?e?elj added that the ICTY prosecution initially promised Babi? that it would not press charges if he agreed to testify against fellow Serbs. The charges were pressed anyway (on one count).