Radovan Karadzic: War Criminal With Many Faces

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic enters the court room of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AFP) — President, psychiatrist, poet and even New Age healer — Radovan Karadzic lived a varied life before being convicted of atrocities including the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

On Wednesday, London said he would be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in the British prison system, though a date has yet to be set and he remains behind bars in The Hague.

The former Bosnian Serb leader was finally jailed for life in 2019 for his role in Bosnia’s 1990s inter-ethnic war, which left 100,000 people dead and displaced more than two million. 

He was convicted of 10 charges in total, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Among the atrocities he was held responsible for was the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

To the international community and his foes, Bosnia’s Croats and Muslims, the 75-year-old is a monster responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands.

Richard Holbrooke, a chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the war, once described Karadzic as “one of the worst, most evil men in the world”.

“He would have made a good Nazi,” Holbrooke told Der Spiegel magazine after Karadzic’s arrest.

But for many Serbs he was a hero — akin to those in the epic Serb poetry that inspired him — who stood up for his people in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war as Yugoslavia fell apart.

As recently as Tuesday, Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik boasted in a parliamentary debate of how he testified in his defence during his trial.

– Man of ‘1,000 faces’ –

Karadzic was born in the poor Montenegrin village of Petnjica in June 1945 — the same year that Josip Broz Tito’s communist Yugoslavia came into being at the end of World War II.

In 1960, he moved to ethnically mixed Sarajevo, where he studied medicine, met his wife Ljiljana and later served a year in prison for fraud.

A keen poet, Karadzic was said to live a bohemian lifestyle and have Muslim friends, working as a football team psychiatrist and showing few nationalistic tendencies.

His professional mentor, psychiatrist Ismet Ceric, told the US programme Frontline that Karadzic had “1,000 different faces” and likely a personality disorder.

“He doesn’t live in reality,” said Ceric, describing the poetry Karadzic was so proud of as “very, very ordinary”. 

It was not until 1990, as communism collapsed, that Karadzic entered politics and founded the nationalist Serb Democratic Party, soon discovering a taste for power.

After Bosnia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1992 following a referendum boycotted by Bosnian Serbs, Karadzic declared a separate Serb entity known as the Republika Srpska with the backing of Belgrade and himself as leader.

In the bitter war that ensued with Bosnia’s Muslim-led government, Karadzic is blamed for authorising ethnic cleansing in which more than one million non-Serbs were driven from their homes, accompanied by widespread killing and rape in a calculated programme of terror.

Opening the prosecution in his trial in 2009, Alan Tieger described Karadzic as the “supreme commander, a man who harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to implement his vision of an ethnically separated Bosnia”.

– Years on the run –

At the end of 1995, Karadzic was excluded from the peace negotiations by his former ally, Belgrade’s strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who later died in detention in The Hague before he himself could receive a verdict. 

After the peace accord, Karadzic resigned under pressure from the international community and went into hiding, with reports emerging of him finding shelter in remote Orthodox monasteries in the region.

Winning near-mythical status as spy services failed to find him, Karadzic took on the alter ego of spiritual healer Dragan Dabic, who gave lectures, had a national magazine column and drank in a Belgrade bar called the Madhouse.

With a $5 million bounty on his head, Karadzic was finally arrested on a Belgrade bus in 2008 after nearly 13 years on the run.

The news sparked celebrations in Sarajevo and protests in Belgrade, while a defiant Karadzic was sent to The Hague, receiving his first conviction in 2016. 

At the time, Karadzic described the conviction as “monstrous”, slamming the process as a “political trial”.

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By Rusmir SMAJILHODZIC

© Agence France-Presse

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