Martin Špegelj

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Martin Špegelj
Dan OSRH Martin Spegelj 28052011 2.jpg
Martin Špegelj 2011
2nd Minister of Defence of Croatia
In office
24 August 1990 – 2 July 1991
PresidentFranjo Tuđman
Prime MinisterStjepan Mesić
Josip Manolić
Preceded byPetar Kriste
Succeeded byŠime Đodan
Personal details
Born(1927-11-11)11 November 1927
Pitomača, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
(now Croatia)
Died11 May 2014(2014-05-11) (aged 86)
Zagreb, Croatia
Political partyLeague of Communists of Yugoslavia (until 1990)
Military service
Allegiance Yugoslavia
Branch/serviceYugoslav Ground Forces
Croatian Armed Forces
Years of service1941–1989
RankColonel General (YPA)
General of the Army (HV)
CommandsCommander of 5th Army District YPA
Croatian Defence Minister
Chief of General Staff HV
Battles/warsWorld War II
Croatian War of Independence

Martin Špegelj (11 November 1927 – 11 May 2014) was a Croatian army general and politician who served as the second Defense Minister of Croatia and, later, the chief of staff of the newborn Croatian army and inspector-general of the army. His efforts to organize and equip the army from scratch were seen as instrumental in helping Croatia survive the first year of the Croatian War of Independence. Partly due to disagreements with president Franjo Tuđman, he retired in 1992, after the war froze with the permanent ceasefire at the end of 1991.[1]

Early life[edit]

Martin Spegelj was born 11 November 1927 in Stari Gradac, Pitomača. He was a partisan soldier during World War II. Eventually, he rose to become General of the 5th Yugoslav Army (JNA) Army District based in Zagreb, Croatia.

After the first free elections in Croatia, he was second Defence Minister. Špegelj was one of the few in the top leadership of Croatia who saw the impending war as unavoidable. Together with the Slovenian command, Špegelj formulated a joint defence plan in case either country was attacked by the JNA. At the same time he was smuggling weapons into Yugoslavia, arming paramilitary troops and organizing them for attacks on legitimate JNA forces.

Špegelj Tapes[edit]

At the onset of the war in Croatia in mid-1990, the Croatian Serbs orchestrated an armed rebellion (known as the Log Revolution), refusing to accept Croatian government authority. As they were supported by the JNA (first covertly, then openly), Croatian forces were poorly armed, so Špegelj undertook a campaign of acquiring arms through the black market community, importing weapons from former Warsaw Pact countries like Hungary and Romania.

He was caught on tape in October 1990 talking to an assistant who was actually an undercover KOS operative. At the time, war in Croatia had not started yet. In the conversations, Špegelj talks of arming Croatians in preparation for secession of Croatia and the impending civil war.[2] The so-called Špegelj tapes were turned into a documentary film by Zastava military film center, and aired in January 1991 to the larger Yugoslav public. They were made public in order to bolster the attack of the Belgrade government against the newly elected Croatian government.[3]

The Croatian leadership, including the main "actors" themselves, initially quickly dismissed the tapes as fake, claiming that the presumably innocuous videotaped conversations were subsequently dubbed. Their authenticity, however, was later confirmed by Stipe Mesić, the president of Croatia, was one of the first on Croatian side who admitted that the tapes are authentic, although he claimed some of the sentences were taken out of context.[4][5] Most of the tape has audio garbled and the text subtitled and read by a narrator, so the accuracy of the tape is in question.[citation needed]

The JNA leadership in Belgrade wanted Špegelj to face trial for treason for this. As a result of the affair, and to calm tensions, Tuđman dismissed him from his post. Fearing for his life, Špegelj fled to Austria where he remained for several months.

Return to Croatia[edit]

Considering the rising tensions and the fall of first deaths of the impending war, Špegelj was persuaded to return to Croatia to become the chief of staff of the new army that was in the process of forming.

When the Slovenian War occurred in June 1991, Špegelj advocated activating the joint defence plan, which would put Croatia into war against the JNA by attacking its army barracks in Croatia (Špegelj's plan). However, Tuđman feared confrontation and refused to support the Slovenes.

Špegelj was then made inspector-general of the Croatian army, replaced partly due to his disagreements with Tuđman.

Only several months later, full-scale war broke out, and Špegelj's plan for attacking JNA's army barracks in Croatia was implemented and resulted in the Battle of the Barracks, bringing much needed heavy weapons to Croatia.

The war in Croatia entered a phase of lower intensity after the signing of a UN-brokered ceasefire at the start of the 1992. Špegelj then officially retired.

Post-war and criticism[edit]

Following the war, Špegelj became a fierce critic of Tuđman's politics, accusing him and his followers of war profiteering. In 2001, he published his autobiography in which he was very critical of the Tuđman's HDZ and its political maneuverings, which he argues needlessly escalated the war. He also accused them of supporting Bosnian Croat separatism which led to their conflict with the Bosniaks during the Bosnian War.

Špegelj was in turn criticized by pro-Tuđman elements of the Croatian military, notably Davor Domazet-Lošo who considers that the June 1991 Slovenian War was just an excuse to draw Croatia into the conflict.[6]


  1. ^ "Former Croatian defence minister Spegelj dies at age of 87 - Current Events - Croatia". 1927-11-11. Archived from the original on 2014-05-12. Retrieved 2014-05-11.
  2. ^ "The Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milošević - Witness Branko Kostić examined by Mr. Milošević". International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. 25 January 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2010. Page 47621 onwards
  3. ^ Renaud de la Brosse (2003-02-04). "Political Propaganda and the Plan to Create a "State for all Serbs" - Consequences of Using the Media for Ultra-Nationalist Ends - Part 3" (PDF). Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Retrieved 28 October 2010. Whether or not it was true, the video, broadcast twice the same evening, created the desired effect, that is an electric shock in Serbian public opinion which thus saw the confirmation of the intrinsically evil nature of the authorities in Zagreb...
  4. ^ "Умро хрватски генерал Мартин Шпегељ". RTS. RTS. 11 May 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Umro je Martin Špegelj". Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  6. ^ Domazet-Lošo, Davor (2002). Hrvatska i Veliko Ratište [Croatia and the Great Battlefield]. Zagreb, Croatia: St. George Association. ISBN 953-96313-0-0.
  • Špegelj, Martin: Sjećanje Vojnika (Memories of a Soldier), 2001
Political offices
Preceded by
Petar Kriste
Croatian Minister of Defence
August 24, 1990 – July 2, 1991
Succeeded by
Šime Đodan