Biljana Plavšić

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Prof. Dr.
Biljana Plavšić
Биљана Плавшић
Plavšić in 1996
2nd President of Republika Srpska
In office
19 July 1996 – 4 November 1998
Vice PresidentNikola Koljević
Dragoljub Mirjanić[1]
Preceded byRadovan Karadžić
Succeeded byNikola Poplašen
Vice President of Republika Srpska
In office
December 1992 – 19 July 1996
Serving with Nikola Koljević
PresidentRadovan Karadžić
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byDragoljub Mirjanić
Serb Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In office
20 December 1990 – 9 April 1992
Serving with Nikola Koljević
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byNenad Kecmanović
Personal details
Born (1930-07-07) 7 July 1930 (age 93)
Tuzla, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Political partySerb National Alliance (1997–2006)
Serb Democratic Party (1990–1997)
Alma materUniversity of Zagreb
Nickname(s)Serb Iron Lady
Serb Empress (by Željko Ražnatović Arkan)

Biljana Plavšić (Serbian Cyrillic: Биљана Плавшић; born 7 July 1930) is a Bosnian Serb former politician, university professor and scientist who served as President of Republika Srpska and was later convicted of crimes against humanity for her role in the Bosnian War.

Plavšić was indicted in 2001 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes committed during the Bosnian War. She plea-bargained with the ICTY and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2003, to be served in a Swedish prison.[2]

She was released on 27 October 2009 after serving two-thirds of her sentence. Plavšić is, together with Radovan Karadžić,[3] the highest ranking Bosnian Serb politician to be sentenced. Before entering politics, she taught biology at the University of Sarajevo.

Academic career[edit]

Plavšić was a university professor teaching biology at the University of Sarajevo and was the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.[4] She is a Fulbright Scholar, and as such she spent two years at Boyce-Thompson institute at Cornell University in New York doing botany research. She then specialized in electron microscopy in London, and plant virology in Prague and Bari. She published over one hundred scientific works and papers.[5]

Political career[edit]

Plavšić was a member of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS). She was the first female member of the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, serving from 18 November 1990 until April 1992 after having been elected in the first multi-party elections in 1990 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 28 February 1992 to 12 May 1992, Plavšić became one of the two acting presidents of the self-proclaimed Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thereafter she became one of two Vice-presidents of the Republika Srpska and from circa 30 November 1992 she was a member of the Supreme Command of the armed forces of the Republika Srpska.

Plavšić and other Bosnian Serb women leaders in Banja Luka

Plavšić declared that "six million Serbs can die so that the remaining six million can live in freedom" and considered the ethnic cleansing carried out against non-Serbs during the war to be a "natural phenomenon".[6] In July 1993, in a statement to Borba, Plavšić reportedly claimed that Bosnian Serbs are ethnically-racially superior to Bosnian Muslims and claimed that:[7]

The Serbs in Bosnia, particularly in the border areas, have developed a keen ability to sense danger to the whole nation and have developed a defense mechanism. In my family they used to say that the Serbs in Bosnia were much better than Serbs in Serbia [...] and remember, the defense mechanism was not created through a short period of time; it take decades, centuries [...] I am a biologist and I know: most capable of adapting and surviving are those species that live close to other species from whom they are endangered.

In 1994, Plavšić stated that she and other Serbian nationalists were unable to negotiate with Bosniaks due to genetics:[8]

It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation it simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking, which is rooted in their genes. And through the centuries, the genes degraded further.

This statement by Plavšić, which equated a specific ethnic group with a disease or illness, has been compared to how the Nazis identified the Jews.[9]

The Dayton Agreement, signed in 1995, banned the then President of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić from office and Plavšić was chosen to run as the SDS candidate for President of the Republika Srpska for a two-year mandate.

Vojislav Šešelj, at the Milošević trial, described Karadžić's motives for nominating her.

She held very extremist positions during the war, insufferably extremist, even for me, and they bothered even me as a declared Serb nationalist. She brought Arkan and his Serb Volunteer Guard to Bijeljina, and she continued to visit him after their activities in Bijeljina and the surrounding area [...] Radovan Karadzic [...] believed her to be more extreme than himself in every way. He thought that the Western protagonists who tried eliminate him at any cost would have an even greater problem with her [...] Radovan Karadzic believed that she would continue to occupy her patriotic positions until the end. However, several months after she was elected, Biljana Plavsic changed her political orientation by 180 degrees under the influence of some Western protagonists and changed her policies completely.[10]

She severed her ties with the SDS and formed Srpski narodni savez (Serbian People's Alliance of the Republika Srpska), and nominated Milorad Dodik, the then member of the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska whose SNSD party had only two MPs, for Prime Minister. She lost the 1998 election to the joint candidate of the SDS and the Serbian Radical Party of the Republika Srpska Nikola Poplašen. She was a candidate of the reform "Sloga" coalition. During her time in prison, she released a book called "Witnessings" (Svjedočenja), revealing many aspects of the political life of the war-time Republika Srpska. In 1998, Plavšić rewarded Momčilo Đujić, a Chetnik commander and Nazi collaborator, with an honorary award.[11][12]

ICTY indictment and sentence[edit]

She was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia together with Momčilo Krajišnik and Radovan Karadžić for the "creation of impossible conditions of life, persecution and terror tactics in order to encourage non-Serbs to leave the area, deportation of those reluctant to leave, and the liquidation of others". The Indictment charged Biljana Plavšić as follows:[13]

  • Two counts of genocide (Article 4 of the Statute of the Tribunal – genocide; and/or, complicity to commit genocide)
  • Five counts of crimes against humanity (Article 5 thereof – extermination; murder; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; deportation; alternatively, inhumane acts)
  • One count of violations of the laws or customs of war (Article 3 thereof – murder)

She voluntarily surrendered to the ICTY on 10 January 2001, and was provisionally released on 6 September.

On 16 December 2002, she plea bargained with the ICTY to enter a guilty plea to one count of crimes against humanity for her part in directing the war and targeting civilians and expressed "full remorse" in exchange for prosecutors dropping seven other war crimes charges, including two counts of genocide. Plavšić's statement, read in her native Serbian language, repeated her admission of guilt. It said she had refused to believe stories of atrocities against Bosniaks and Croats and accepted without question the claims that Serbs were fighting for survival.

Plavšić in 2021 after recovering from COVID-19

In an interview she gave in March 2005 to the Banja Luka Alternativna Television, however, she admitted she had pleaded guilty because she could not prove her innocence, as she was unable to find witnesses who would testify on her behalf.[14][15] She repeated this in an interview for Swedish Vi magazine in January 2009.[16] She claimed to have pleaded guilty in order to avoid the remaining charges against her, including genocide.[16] Her pleading guilty led the Hague tribunal to lower her sentence and drop the remaining charges.[16] Plavšić would have likely have been sentenced to 20–25 years in prison if she had not pleaded guilty and all eight charges would have been taken into account.[16]

She was sentenced to 11 years in prison. She served her sentence at the women's prison Hinseberg in Frövi, Örebro County, Sweden (since 26 June 2003). In December 2008, the Swedish Ministry of Justice rejected a request for pardon by Plavšić. She had cited "advancing age, failing health and poor prison conditions" as the reasons for her request.[17] Željko Komšić, a Croat member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina had written a letter to the Swedish authorities in September 2008 urging them not to release Plavšić, stating that "any act of mercy would be big mistake and an insult to the victims and families of the victims".[17]

On 14 September 2009, Patrick Robinson, President of the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said Plavšić "appears to have demonstrated substantial evidence of rehabilitation" and had accepted responsibility for her crimes. The Times continued that "Under Swedish law, she becomes eligible for release 27 October, after serving two-thirds of her term, though her release date has not been set."[18] She was released on 27 October 2009.[19] On the same day, Milorad Dodik, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, provided an RS government jet to pick up Plavšić and welcomed her to Belgrade after her early release from a Swedish prison.[20] Dodik cited "purely moral reasons" for doing so.[21] On 10 November 2009, Milorad Dodik revealed that he seriously considered giving Plavšić an office in the Senate. He stated "we are working on revising the law on the President of the Republic, which would award Plavšić, and other former presidents, the opportunity to enjoy some privileges like the office, monetary compensation, counselor, secretary, official car with a driver and so forth."[22]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Award or decoration Country
Order of the Republika Srpska  Republika Srpska
Medal For Bravery Miloš Obilić Serb Volunteer Guard[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Political Handbook of the World 1998
  2. ^ Traynor, Ian (27 October 2009). "Leading Bosnian Serb war criminal released from Swedish prison". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Radovan Karadzic found guilty of genocide, sentenced to 40 years | CNN". CNN. 24 March 2016. Archived from the original on 31 May 2023.
  4. ^ "Плавшићева стигла у Београд". RTS. 27 October 2009.
  5. ^ "Biljana Plavsic: Serbian iron lady". BBC News. 27 February 2003.
  6. ^ Mann, Michael (2004). The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. Cambridge University Press. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-521-53854-1.
  7. ^ Wilmer, Franke (2002). The Social Construction of Man, the State and War: Identity, Conflict, and Violence in Former Yugoslavia. Routledge. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-415-92963-9.
  8. ^ Shatzmiller, Maya (2002). Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7735-2413-2.
  9. ^ Alvarez, Alex (2001). Governments, Citizens, and Genocide: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary. Indiana University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-7735-2413-2.
  10. ^ "Vojislav Seselj Testimony". International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 30 August 2005.
  11. ^ Bosworth, R.J.B. (2009). The Oxford Handbook of Fascism. Oxford University Press. p. 431. ISBN 978-0-19-929131-1.
  12. ^ Hoare, Marko Attila. "Bosnian Serbs and Anti-Bosnian Serbs". Bosnian Institute. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  13. ^ "Prosecutor v. Biljana Plavšić judgement" (PDF). International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
  14. ^ "Zatvorski dani B.Plavšić". B92. 12 March 2005.
  15. ^ "Ne znam šta je s Mladićem, on ne bi nikada radio protiv Srba". Glas javnosti. 13 March 2005.
  16. ^ a b c d Goldberg, Daniel Uggelberg (4 February 2009). "Plavsic retracts war-crimes confession". Bosnian Institute. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  17. ^ a b "Sweden rejects Bosnian war crime pardon request". Agence France-Presse. 4 December 2008. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
  18. ^ "Ex-Bosnian Leader May Be Freed Soon". New York Times. Agence France-Presse. 16 September 2009.
  19. ^ "Bosnian Serb 'Iron Lady' released". BBC News. 27 October 2009. Archived from the original on 29 October 2009. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  20. ^ Barlovac, Bojana (28 October 2009). "Dodik Says Had Moral Reasons to Welcome Plavsic". Balkan Insight.
  21. ^ "Dodik speaks about welcoming Plavšić". B92. 28 October 2009. Archived from the original on 3 January 2010.
  22. ^ "Dodik will give Plavsic office in the Senate?". Dalje. 10 November 2009. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012.
  23. ^ " - Plavsic: The Iron Lady who turned - January 10, 2001". Retrieved 11 October 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Combs, Nancy Amoury (2003). "International Decisions: Prosecutor v. Plavšić. Case No. IT-00-39&40/1-S". American Journal of International Law: 929–937. doi:10.2307/3133691. JSTOR 3133691. S2CID 229168651.
  • Skrzeszewska, Monika (2017). "Rola Biljany Plavšić w pierwszych latach istnienia Republiki Serbskiej w Bośni i Hercegowinie (BiH)(1992–1998)". Balcanica Posnaniensia Acta et Studia (in Polish). 23: 119–134. doi:10.14746/bp.2016.23.8.
  • Subotić, Jelena (2012). "The cruelty of false remorse: Biljana Plavšić at The Hague". Southeastern Europe. 36 (1): 39–59. doi:10.1163/187633312X617011.
  • Chifflet, Pascale, and Gideon Boas. "Sentencing Coherence in International Criminal Law: The Cases of Biljana Plavšić and Miroslav Bralo." Criminal Law Forum. Springer Netherlands, 2012.
  • Trifkovic, S. "Interview with Mrs Biljana Plavsic, former President of Republika Srpska." SOUTH SLAV JOURNAL 19 (1998): 69-72.
  • Hubrecht, J. "The trial of Serbian vice-president Biljana Plavsic for war crime-International justice triumphs." ESPRIT 2 (2003): 138-142.

External links[edit]