International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)



The TLS n.ş 5320, March 18, 2005


Bloody Boredom


Slavenka Drakulić


War criminals on trial in The Hague

192 pp. Abacus. Paperback, Ł 8.99

US: Penguin. $ 8.90.     0 14 303542 8


Pierre Hazan


The true story behind the International Criminal

Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Translated by James Thomas Synder

288 pp.  Texas A & M University Press. Paperback.

$ 18.95; distributed in the UK by Eurospan. Ł 12.95

                     1 585 44411 1


In his first court appearance in The Hague, Slobodan Milosevic assumed a characteristic pose. When asked by the presiding judge, Richard May, whether he would like to hear a formal reading of the indictment, the former President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia snapped, “That’s your problem”. The comment sounded equally defiant and misplaced. After all, Milosevic seemed like the one with all the problems. He stood before the court not as a political leader wielding the power and prerogatives of state office, but as an indicted war criminal accused of the gravest breaches of international law. Consigned to a detention facility in Scheveningen, a northern suburb of The Hague, Milosevic faced the humiliation of being the first former head of state to stand trial before an international court. If condemned, he would likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

And yet Milosevic’s contemptuous quip has proved oddly prescient. His trial has recently entered its third year, with at least another year of proceedings already scheduled. Though the accused’s health woes Milosevie suffers from high blood pressure and a heart condition have led many to wonder whether he will survive his trial, it was Richard May who was solemnly buried last summer, after succumbing to brain cancer. Patrick Robinson, a soft-spoken and well-meaning jurist from Jamaica, assumed the mantle of presiding judge after May’s death, but has proven no more successful in commanding respect from the accused who serves as his own defender. An effort this autumn to force Milosevie to cede control of his case to a team of professional lawyers was rejected by the Appeals Chamber of the Hague court as an unreasonable restriction of the accused’s right to mount a pro se defence. And so Milosevic continues to vex the court with his tiresome harangues, contemptuous quips and annoying, though not unresourceful, procedural challenges.

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic is not, of course, the only prosecution to come before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In fact, the ICTY soldiered bravely through its early years without any realistic prospect of bringing the leading perpetrators of the Balkan conflict to justice. Created by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council in 1993, the ICTY was to be the first international criminal court established since the end of the Second World War. (In 1994, the UN created a second such court to deal with the Rwandan genocide.) Like the International Military Tribunal that presided over the trial of the major Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg half a century earlier, the ICTY was fashioned as an ad hoc court: it would exist only for a specified period jurists now frequently mention 2010 as the year for closing shop and would have jurisdiction over only a specific range of crimes namely atrocities committed m the former Yugoslavia after 1991.

The ICTY is housed in the former headquarters of an insurance concern in the Churchillplein in the Hague, and its early years were devoted to some would say wasted on the prosecutions of low-level perpetrators. When Serbia, bowing to enormous economic pressure brought to bear by the United Stales, delivered Milosevic to the Hague in 2001, the ICTY instantly achieved the kind of high visibility that it had lacked since its inception. Now with a staff of over 1,200, and an annual budget in excess of $250 million, the ICTY stands as a substantial international institution; and yet the glacial pace of the Milosevic case, when coupled with the size of the court and the Costs of its maintenance, have led many from jurists to journalists, from politicians to pundits to ask whether this experiment in international justice has been worth it.

They Would Never hurt a Fly: War criminals on trial in The’ Hague by Slavenka Drakulić, and Justice in a Time of War: The true story behind the International Criminal Tribunal for the Farmer Yugoslavia by Pierre Hazan, are engaging attempts to grapple with This question. Drakulić, a prominent Croatian journalist and novelist, assesses the Tribunal’s success only indirectly. In the first instance, her book attempts to understand the mindset of the perpetrators. In its pages we encounter many of the types made familiar in the vast literature of the Holocaust: the situational sociopath, the willing executioner, the power-hungry opportunist, the remorseful accessory.

Though hardly original, Drakulić’s characters remain fascinating, perhaps because it is impossible to grow immune to accounts that demonstrate the ease with which ordinary people perpetrate the most astonishing atrocities. Drakulić’s guide in this study is not Hannah Arendt, whose notion of the “banality of evil” has been turned into something of a cliché, but Christopher R. Browning, whose pioneering study, Ordinary Men, showed the alacrity with which good neighbours could become efficient killers. Drakulić’s approach is not as scholarly as Browning’s; she imagines her subjects’ thoughts (regarding the pleasures that a particularly “bestial” Bosnian Serb guard, Goran Jelisic, derived from fishing, she writes: “This was the best thing about fishing: you could forget about the world, forget even about yourself… It was as if you didn’t exist ), and betrays a fascination with the pathetically coquettish wardrobe of Mira Markovic, Milosevic’s wife.

But on the whole, her sketches are sharp. Most remarkable is her description of the daily life of the inmates at the Scheveningen detention facility that houses all the indicted war criminals from the Balkans. Here we meet Croats, Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians and Bosnian Serbs men who shortly before were zealously committing he most outrageous atrocities against their ethnic rivals, and yet now find fraternity, like students stuck together in a depressing dormitory. Her portrait of the court is also vivid, but for other reasons altogether. Early on, Drakulić describes a day spent observing the Tribunal a day fixed in her memory not because of its melodrama, hut because of its dullness. Her story recalls Rebecca West’s famous characterisation of Nuremberg as a “citadel of boredom”.

To her credit, however, Drakulić suggests that such boredom might be an achievement rather than a shortcoming of the court. Far from succumbing to the spectacular nature of the proceedings, the Tribunal bas managed to exert legal control over lawless behaviour. II represents the victory of law’s sobriety over war time atrocity. This is no mean feat and yet high-profile perpetrator trials are asked to do more than merely dispense dry justice. If we listen to the clamourings of jurists, human rights advocates and scholars, we also expect such trials to clarify the terms of contested history, honour the memory of victims, and contribute to reconciliation in regions riven by horrific conflict.

Whether these expectations are fair can be debated; in any case, they certainly complicate the task of international trials and, as Pierre Hazan suggests in Justice in a Time of War, they make the task of measuring legal success difficult. Hazan, a journalist for the Paris-based Libération, has covered the ICTY for years and the story of the Court’ s founding makes for gripping reading, not least because it is told in Manichaean terms. The heroes of Hazan’s tale are a handful of international jurists and diplomats committed to bringing Balkan war criminals to justice. Against them are pitted the likes of the former British Foreign Secretary, David Owen, and the former French Defence Minister, Alain Richard the dark princes of realpolitik prepared to make peace with monsters such as Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. It is a tale of constant frustration in Hazan’s pages, justice is continually “sacrificed on the altar of peace”ending in the belated and incomplete triumph of law. The analysis is certainly simplistic: Hazan accepts as self-evident the maxim that there can be no meaningful peace made with former thugs, and yet the remarkable rehabilitation of Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi suggests otherwise. But however flawed the analysis, Hazan vividly depicts the powerful forces allied against the Court. The United Stales originally embraced the ICTY less out of enthusiasm for international law than as a cover for its unwillingness to intervene militarily in the Balkan conflict; Britain opposed it as a potential roadblock to a diplomatic settlement; and France feared that supporting the Court would endanger the safety of its peacekeepers in the region. Once officially created, the ICTY was left miserably underfunded and understaffed by the UN, and dependent on feuding allies for financial and logistical support. With limited powers of evidence-gathering and no police force to execute its arrest warrants, the Court had to rely on the grudging cooperation of regional peacekeepers. (When France agreed to cooperate with the Court, it did so not out of principle, but to stop Washington taking full credit for any possible successes that the Tribunal might achieve.)

One closes Hazan’s book less with a sense of the ICTY’s shortcomings than with admiration for its many accomplishments, given the forces stacked against it. Unfortunately, many of these achievements receive short shrift in Hazan’s book, for he passes quickly from the early battles over the Court’s creation strait to the Milosevic trial. But among the Court other notable cases that Flazan ignores the prosecution of Dragoljub Kunerac, a commander of a special volunteer unit of the Bosnian Serb Army, for mass rapes that occurred in Foca (this case led to the recognition of rape as a crime against humanity); and the trial of Radislav Kristic, deputy commander of the Drina Corps, for the massacre at Srebrenica.

When it comes to the Milosevic trial, Hazan writes with insight about the myriad problems and mistakes that have plagued the case. The Court, concerned to demonstrate its legitimacy and even-handedness, strays too far in the direction of accommodating the accused, and so damages its dignity and control over the proceedings. The defendant, far from won over by the Court tolerance, exploits it to denounce the ICTY a NATO lackey. The prosecution’s hopes of galvanizing international attention are frustrated by endless debates over procedure, just as it learns of the difficulties of speaking to those in region from an antiseptic international court removed from the world of the accused’s crimes.

Meanwhile, Milosevic’s belligerent cross-examination of witnesses leaves victim groups appalled, while his defiance towards the Court wins him grudging respect back home. Finally, the Court must labour against the knowledge that the nation most responsible for its creation and continued existence the United State is shamefully working to undermine its new permanent sister institution, the International Criminal Court, also housed in The Hague few miles away.

Given the problems that have plagued Milosevic prosecution, it is hardly surprising that Hazan ends his book on a critical note. Specifically, he doubts whether such international trials can actually contribute anything to the elusive goal of reconciliation, a process he associates with a “religious rite” such as the granting of pardons. Here, however, Hazan misconstrues the meaning of reconciliation as it emerges from the legal process. Trials do not contribute to the kind of reconciliation offered by a marriage counsellor. The reconciliation made possible by trials is of an intransitive kind: trials help to reconcile victim groups to the sufficiency of a legal response to their pain, and in so doing, serve to quiet the call for vengeance.

And yet trials cannot achieve this on their own. This is the ultimate insufficiency of an analysis that pits the interests of justice against those of a political settlement. For the two must not be treated as antagonists. The turn to law may be a critical, perhaps even a necessary, response to atrocities. But it is never sufficient. Stability will come only through acts of legal and political will.

Finally, the success of such gestures may only be adequately measured some years later. At the time of its staging, the Nuremberg trial aroused utter indifference in the vast majority of Germans. In the 1950s, Germans viewed the trial with contempt, as an exercise in victors’ justice. (In particular, Germans vilified Nuremberg for treating “aggressive war” as an international crime.) Now, however, the trial is generally viewed in Germany with respect both as an event that prodded Germans to a collective reckoning with their troubled past, and as a vital contribution to the developing body of international law. And today it is German jurists who have taken the lead in codifying aggressive war as a crime to be judged before the fledgling International Criminal Court.




Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 25/02/2007


Kafkaesque in the true sense of the term


Neil Tweedie reviews Travesty: the Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice by John Laughland


In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts shouts: "Sentence first, verdict later!" The brand of justice meted out by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was not quite in that league but, according to this provocative book, it came close, and no more so than in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

When Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, was found dead from heart failure in his cell in the UN detention centre at Scheveningen near The Hague on March 11 last year, it brought to an end the most protracted criminal trial in the history of international law.

The man characterised in tabloid shorthand as the Butcher of the Balkans had made his first appearance before the ICTY on July 3, 2001, when Saddam Hussein ruled in Baghdad and the Twin Towers still stood. He was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo in 1999; and was later to be indicted for similar offences committed during the war in Croatia in 1991, and the ultimate crime, genocide, during the Bosnian war of 1992-95.

It was the beginning of an international Jarndyce v Jarndyce catalogued here with relentless precision by John Laughland, a journalist and academic who remains a vocal critic of what he sees as an illegitimate and biased exercise in victors' justice.

He uses statistics to serve his point. When the trial was abruptly terminated last year, four years after its start in February 2002, transcripts totalled almost 50,000 pages. Nearly 300 witnesses had testified, and filings, exhibits and other documentation ran to 1.2 million pages.

It would have taken one person - reading at the rate of one page per minute, seven days a week, 365 days a year - more than seven years to get through it all. Laughland states: "The Milosevic trial has never been read by any single individual, and the trial was therefore Kafkaesque in the true sense of the term."

Laughland argues that the ICTY was, as Milosevic repeatedly protested, a "false tribunal", having been created not by international treaty but by diktat of the UN Security Council. Behind it were the US and its allies in Nato who, he claims, goaded Serbia into war over Kosovo. The tribunal and its "corrupt legal culture" was an expression of the belief, dominant in the 1990s, that sovereign nations deemed "rogue states" needed to be reined in by supranational (ie American) power.

The ICTY was a law unto itself, manned by politically appointed judges, many of dubious legal expertise, who made up the rules as they went along. Procedure was altered with gay abandon to meet the demands of securing the maximum number of convictions from a pool of mostly Serb defendants. Witnesses were allowed to give evidence while hidden from the defendant, or in writing and without cross-examination, and the court record could be censored to conceal sensitive evidence such as that provided by Western intelligence agencies.

And yet, the prosecution, overseen by the Swiss-Italian lawyer Carla del Ponte, and headed in court by the British barrister Geoffrey Nice QC, appeared incapable of landing a killer punch. They insisted on linking the three Yugoslav wars in one indictment, portraying Milosevic as a murderous latter-day Bismarck intent on creating a Greater Serbia cleansed of inconvenient minorities. As one lawyer in the trial put it to me at the time: "It's like some grandiose opera rather than a case."

As the trial progressed, largely ignored by a media occupied by the aftermath of September 11, the thesis came apart in the prosecution's hands, until it was abandoned. The Americans learnt the lesson of such folly in the trial of Saddam Hussein, insisting that it remained a "domestic" hearing based on provable sample atrocities. Even more of a kangaroo court than the ICTY, it at least got its man.

But there are passages in this book that ring hollow. In his eagerness to shred the ICTY, Laughland finds himself sanitising Milosevic's past. You will find no mention of Arkan, or discussion of the movements of bodies from Kosovo to Serbia to conceal them from investigators, or analysis of Milosevic's position in the Serb power structure.

The author gives no evidence for his contention that Nato killed as many people in Kosovo as the Yugoslav army and paramilitaries. He puts the number of Kosovan Albanians murdered by Serbs at fewer than 2,000 - a fifth of the number cited in a detailed study by the US group Human Rights Watch. Some 70,000 Kosovans are estimated to have fled the province to escape the pogroms.

He buys the Belgrade line and attributes the Kosovo exodus to Nato. The 200,000 people killed in Croatia and Bosnia hardly merit a mention, either.

In the end, one worries about his perspective. Laughland touchingly relates how Milosevic was buried by the tree under which he first kissed his future wife Mira Markovic. Given the awfulness of both, and the misery they undoubtedly helped inflict on powerless people, it is rather difficult to shed a tear.




JULY 23, 2008


Radovan Karadzic: Bosnia's butcher poet

Jamie Walker


I STILL wonder what happened to those hollow-eyed men I met in the autumn of 1992, as the freezing mist closed in on their prison camp in the mountains of northern Bosnia. They were lying in long miserable rows, huddled beneath skinny blankets. The cow shed that made do as their barracks was heated by a single stove.

How were they to survive when the snows arrived, I asked the corpulent Serbian commandant. He shrugged his shoulders in the lacerating cold: the translator, quoting him, muttered "who cares".

Ashamed, I climbed back on our warm bus, shed my frost-encrusted parka, and gratefully took a pull of rakia. It was only October, for heaven's sake, and my hands were blue inside their heavy gloves. The fiery, often home-brewed brandy, which just about every Serb fighter I came across had on his breath, felt like lava sliding down my throat.

The "detention camp" at Manjaca, in those freezing heights above the city of Banja Luka, held perhaps 4000 Croat and Bosnian Muslim prisoners. There were armed guards on the perimeter, but not many. No one bothered to escape, you see. The surrounding area had been "cleansed" of anyone who might offer a man on the run shelter from the cold and the wolves.

The going was difficult enough for our own little convoy as we pressed deeper into Karadzic country. We passed checkpoints, where bands of trigger-happy Serb militia fidgeted with assault rifles and chugged down their ration of rakia, all the while eying us with unconcealed hostility.

There were few civilians to be seen, none female. The women knew better to be out when so many of them, from girls to the elderly, had been subjected to unspeakable acts of cruelty. A post with chains attached was pointed out to me: Muslim women had been bound and gang-raped there, the translator said casually. The torture sessions could go on for days. No one cared. Later, I would meet some of the victims in a Red Cross centre in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. One middle-aged Muslim woman, her craggy face a vale of tears, spat out her hatred and disgust. "Animals," she said of her militia captors. "They're like animals, not men."

Our destination was supposed to be the town of Pale, where the great man himself, Radovan Karadzic, was holding court. Until war came to the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, it was a no-account place in the snowy peaks behind Sarajevo, Bosnia's once-proudly multicultural capital.

Karadzic was a psychiatrist and poet, who had soft hands and a mop of grey hair which fell to his shoulders and peppered his back with dandruff. He spoke English and preferred to be addressed as doctor. Like his political mentor Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Serbia, he had dangerous ideas about Serbian nationalism. When Tito's racial hotchpotch fell apart, Karadzic established his own Serbian republic in Bosnia with military backing from Belgrade.

The war this unleashed became the bloodiest of all the late 20th-century Balkan conflicts, inflicting more than 100,000 deaths and untold suffering. Two million non-Serbs were driven from their homes between 1992 and 1995, rape became an instrument of state terror, and a rich and beautiful land was laid waste before the international community was prodded into action by the crowning horror of Srebrenica, where more than 7000 Bosnian Muslim men were massacred by Karadzic's forces under the nose of the UN.

Richard Holbrook, the US diplomat who helped end the bloodshed, describes Karadzic as the Osama bin Laden of Europe.

And while it is true to say few hands were clean in the brutal Balkan conflicts -- certainly not those of the Croats who also seized Bosnian territory, and the equally vicious foreign-backed Muslim militias -- Holbrook is right to call Karadzic "a real, true architect of mass murder".

Even in 1992, at the height of his power and prestige, he was a difficult man to track down. My colleague John Wiseman and I were among a group of journalists covering a delegation of Serbian Orthodox priests as they travelled across the war zone distributing medical supplies and other aid funded by parishes in Sydney and Melbourne.

One member of the party -- not a cleric -- distinguished himself in the Serb positions overlooking Sarajevo by taking up an offer to fire a heavy machine gun into a shattered part of the city. Karadzic, we then heard, had cancelled our promised meeting in nearby Pale. Instead we would be seeing his wife, Ljiljana.

A tall, handsome woman, she said how pleased she was to have the opportunity to present the Serb side of the story in Bosnia. Like her husband, Ljiljana has a university background, and speaks English fluently. And just like Karadzic, she was strident in her defence of the right of Bosnian Serbs to take up arms.

Still, the atrocities that were being committed in his name in Bosnia would be hard to justify in any language: according to the UN War Crimes Tribunal headquartered in The Hague, they amount to genocide on a scale not experienced in the Europe since the dark days of World War II.

The campaign unleashed by Karadzic, 63, and his military sidekick general Ratko Mladic purged at least half of Bosnia and Herzegovina of its non-Serb population. The landlocked province is sandwiched between mainly Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia, and with its sizeable Muslim population was a shining light in Tito's Yugoslavia, which didn't long survive his death, nor the subsequent death of communism in Europe.

By the time the fighting stopped, Karadzic, the self-styled president of Bosnia's breakaway Republika Srpska, was a pariah disowned even by Milosevic, who then pushed his luck too far by invading Kosovo, triggering a ferocious bombing campaign by NATO that brought Serbia to its knees.

After his humiliated forces withdrew from Kosovo, Milosevic was thrown out of office by a street revolution and handed over to The Hague for prosecution for war crimes. Utterly unrepentant, he died in custody in 2006.

Karadzic and Mladic were entirely another matter. To this day, many Bosnian Serbs don't accept the West's verdict on the two men. Until his capture this week, the enigmatic Karadzic had been able to roam Bosnia with apparent impunity, even though he was officially one of the world's most wanted men. Mladic remains at large, most likely in Serbia proper.

Reputedly, Karadzic was protected by a guard of 80 fighters who went to extraordinary lengths to keep him safe as he moved from house to house, among ancient monasteries and along a labyrinth of tracks, trading off the devoted silence of his admirers. While the massacres at Srebrenica invoke horror in the West, hardcore Serb nationalists still celebrate its "liberation". Others speak of the 1992-95 war in terms of Bosnia being freed from oppression.

Without local support, it is unlikely he would have lasted 12 years on the run. Suspicion also lingers that Milosevic's successor as Serbian president, Vojislav Kostunica, having handed over one ex-dictator to UN prosecutors, may have been acutely mindful of the nationalist passions Karadzic was capable of stirring.

There was certainly an element of brazen contempt for the authorities in the catch-me-if-you-can life he lived. Karadzic was regularly sighted jaunting around the Vucevo mountains in a bright orange military jeep and reportedly saw his wife from time to time, even though publicly she maintained that he should give himself up.

In 2005, he thumbed his nose at the world by publishing a book of poetry, Under the Left Breast of the Century. From Pale, Ljiljana reacted yesterday to his capture with "shock and disbelief".

His arrest, reportedly by Serbian secret police near Belgrade, came after a month-long surveillance operation. Karadzic is said to have clipped his signature mane of grey hair, and had taken to wearing disguises, including the brown cassock of an Orthodox monk.

Observers said it was no coincidence that he was caught within weeks of Kostunica being succeeded by a new president, Boris Tadic. Heading a coalition of Democrats and Socialists once aligned with Milosevic, Tadic is anxious to strengthen Serbia's economic ties with the European Union. Handing over Karadzic was a small price to pay, it seems, in those circumstances.

"He was in my mind worse than Milosevic, and has had become a kind of a Robin Hood figure to Bosnian Serbs," Holbrook said yesterday. "His capture is a historic event."

Now for the trial. Karadzic has been indicted by UN War Crimes Tribunal for authorising the shooting of civilians during the siege of Sarajevo and for genocide at Srebrenica, in Bosnia's east.

The challenge for prosecutors in The Hague will be to avoid the farce that Milosevic's trial descended into before he died. Despite the weight of evidence of the involvement of Serb forces in the massacres at Srebrenica, the dogmatic Milosevic would have provided an object lesson to his Bosnian protege in how to bog down the case by challenging the prosecution at every turn.

Perhaps the passage of years has mellowed Karadzic. Maybe he can be persuaded to accept his measure of responsibility for the death and destruction that overtook Bosnia, or to tell what he knows of the whereabouts of Mladic, who must surely be running short of borrowed time.

We will probably never know what became of all of those starving men I encountered in that freezing mountain camp at Manjaca in late 1992.

It was temporarily closed down a month or so later, then re-opened, as the killing and suffering in Bosnia continued in defiance of all the world's hand wringing. At least 1000 of those entered the camp are believed to have died.

An act of contrition from Karadzic won't bring any of them back. But it may go some way to healing the gaping wounds he inflicted on a land that has known too much suffering.


Jamie Walker is The Australian's Adelaide bureau chief. In addition to covering the war in Bosnia, he reported on the NATO occupation of Kosovo and the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.



Jay Surdukowski , Tese  "Is Poetry a War Crime? Reckoning for Radovan Karadzic the Poet Warrior"

Online: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID710081_code470721.pdf?abstractid=710081&mirid=1




TLS N.ş5834, DE 23-1-2015


War poet

Susan E. Reed


Robert J. Donia

Radovan Karadžić

Architect of the Bosnian genocide

339 pp. Cambridge University Press Ł 21.99 (US $ 32.99)

978 1 107 42308 4


During the Bosnian War, Radovan Karadžić usually dressed in a jacket and tie. A psychiatrist and poet who had studied in the United States, he spoke fluent English, appeared reasonable, friendly and even charming. Ye, the square-jawed  Serb always had a chip on his shoulder. When asked to explain the political or military actions of the Bosnian Serbs, whom he led, he blamed the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), the Croats or both. He and his people were their victims.

Karadžić himself never seemed to have suffered personally at the hands of these groups, however. He received an advanced education in a country where very few reach university. He married another psychiatrist with a post at the University of Sarajevo, and they had children together and lived comfortably in the multidenominational city. So what drove him to go from being a doctor dedicated to healing others to a defendant who was tried for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia? This question propels the narrative in a new biography written by the historian Robert J. Donia, who also testified against Karadžić as an expert witness at The Hague.

The book is organized chronologically, beginning in the small village of Petnjica in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, where Karadžić was the first child born to his shoemaker father and his uneducated mother in 1945. That year, Karadžić ‘s father was imprisoned for serving with the Chetniks on the Eastern side of Bosnia during the Second World War. The Chetniks were Serb nationalists, who supported the Yugoslav monarchy in opposition to Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Partisans. His father did not return to the family until Karadžić was five years old. Some authors have attributed Karadžićié’s nationalism to loyalty to his father and the eight family members who were killed and thrown into a well by Partisan soldiers in 1942, but Donia disputes this motivation. He writes that Karadžić was closer to his mother than his father. The military men in her family had fought for the Partisans. The most important lesson Karadžić learned growing up, Donia asserts, was how the Serb people had been riven between Chetniks and Partisans, just like his two families, and that this division had prevented them from uniting.

Donia finds little evidence of bigotry towards Bosniaks or Croats in Karadžić’s early years. For most of his life, he focused mainly on career and family. At fifteen, he moved to Sarajevo to begin medical school intending to become a physician but settling on psychiatry. He treated patients of all backgrounds at the Psychiatric Clinic of Koševo Hospital. For a time he served as a sport psychologist for two football teams to increase players’ performance and morale.

The first serious crisis of his career did not come until he was nearly forty years old. In 1984, Karadžić was arrested in Sarajevo under suspicion of misappropriating funds while building a house for himself in the ski resort of Pale. After he had been imprisoned for nearly a year, the investigation was dropped, no charges were filed, and he was released. Donia writes that Karadžić emerged “pale and embittered” and more critical of socialist politics. Nonetheless, he stayed out of the political spotlight until 1990, when “the lives of Karadžić and hundreds of thousands of others in Bosnia were about to be transformed by an unexpectedly powerful enabler of ethno-national conflict: democracy”.

In 1990, it became legal to form religious and ethnic political parties in Bosnia. Karadžić and other Serb intellectuals at the university, quiet dissidents, moved quickly to establish the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), of which Karadžić ultimately became the leader. In his first campaign that year, he did not demonize his Bosniak or Croat political counterparts, but encouraged Bosnians to live in respect and harmony.

In fact, he criticized the Serbs for fragmenting in the past. “By destroying our own national and cultural identity, we continued the genocide our enemies had exerted against us. For a false peace in the house, we sacrificed our greatest values, abandoned the traditions of folk culture, neglected our ruined Church”,  lectured Karadžić. He used a powerful slogan to rally them to unity: “Serbs, you do exist and you can be Serbs”. The doctor in Karadžić sought to heal his new patients collectively, through political and geographic unification.

Politically inexperienced, he followed the model of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, who rose to power in 1987 partly by defending Serb minorities in Kosovo. In 1989, Milošević publicly revived the myth of the Battle of Kosovo as the final defeat that lost the Serb medieval empire to the Ottomans. He tapped into a fear of being overcome by other national majorities.

Many authors who have written about the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Donia, had previously believed that Milošević had persuaded Serb leaders in Croatia and Bosnia to annex their territories to Serbia, to create a Greater Serbia. However, citing the records of telephone conversations taped by the Bosnian state security services, Donia now argues that Milošević definitely did not want a Greater Serbia. He wanted these areas to remain part of Yugoslavia, as were the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. A lawyer by training, Milošević was aware of international law and did not wish to be seen as seizing territory, in case the United States and other European countries took action against him. There was also a practical consideration; Serbs were the majority population only in the Republic of Serbia, which Milošević led, and the minority in the other republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and the autonomous province of Kosovo. It was in the Serbs’ interest, and Milošević’s , for the republics to stay within Yugoslavia.

Milošević advised Karadžić to move legally as Karadžić developed his utopian vision: a separate territory for Serbs within Bosnia that stretched from Banja Luka to Sarajevo. In 1991, Karadžić drew on the revised 1974 Yugoslav constitution that designated municipalities as “self-administering” to begin a process of regionalization, in which Serb nationalists set up their own municipal boards and police units, and secured weapons from the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). By September, the Bosnian Serb leaders had created four Serb autonomous regions in addition to the Autonomous Region of Krajina.

Milošević counselled Karadžić to wait for a provocation as the other nationalist parties, the Bosnian Croats (HDZ) and Bosniaks (SDA), declared Bosnia independent from Yugoslavia. In essence, Karadžić was setting a trap. In a telephone conversation recorded by Bosnian security in October 1991, months before the war began. Karadžić told his friend and fellow writer, Gojko Dyogo, “they (Muslim politicians) must know, man, that there are 20 000 armed Serbs around Sarajevo. That is not normal! They will disappear. Sarajevo will be a melting pot in which 300 000 Muslims will die”.

Later that October, Karadžić made his first public threats of retribution for splitting from Yugoslavia before the Bosnian Parliament. “Don’t think that you won’t lead Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell and possibly the Muslim nation to disappear, for the Muslim people will not be able to defend itself if it comes to war here!”

“Karadžić’s presentation, his manner and his message, all explain just why we may not remain in Yugoslavia”, responded Alija Izetbegović, chairman of the Bosnian Presidency and leader of the SDA. Karadžić’s threats and regionalization helped turn Izetbegović against the European plan (the Lisbon Agreement), to convert Bosnia into a tripartite, tri-ethnic state. Karadžić became furious with Izetbegović, calling him a fundamentalist Muslim, although he was not.

In the spring of 1992, under Milošević’s and Karadžić’s oversight, the JNA was divided into separate Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb armies. Aeroplanes, helicopters, tanks, cannon, mortars and motorized vehicles were moved or guarded so they would not fall into the hands of Bosnia or Croat fighters. The Serbs boycotted Bosnia’s referendum on independence. After Bosniak and Croat voters approved it, the Serb municipalities began military operations. Armed police and soldiers swept through towns ordering non Serbs to leave their homes; frequently, those who objected were murdered. Those who complied were put on trucks, buses or trains and sent out of town, sometimes to prison camps where they were starved or beaten, or to houses where women were raped. If the townspeople failed to comply, their villages were shelled.

General Ratko Mladić, a gruff career soldier, commanded the Bosnian Serb Army and, initially, he followed Karadžić’ s orders. But after several months, Mladić argued with Karadžić, and sometimes disobeyed him. Mladić resented Karadžić, a civilian, for both micro-managing and taking credit for the battles. Karadžić engaged a public relations firm and would be photographed in army fatigues at his desk monitoring the consolidation of territory, 70 per cent of which was taken in the first few months of the war.

The grievance that Karadžić nurtured throughout the war was both tactical and personal. He laid claim to territory where Serbs, Muslims and Croats lived. When non-Serbs objected, he took it as a deep personal affront to his effort to unite his people and used it as a reason to strike out. Karadžić personally identified with his role as leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and he sought success at any cost.
Karadžić seemed indifferent to the suffering of others. Well before the war, he had expressed comfort with illness, misery and depression through his poetry. “Sarajevo”, written in 1970, revealed Karadžić’s “brooding, negative imagination”:

The city bums as an incense stick,
in that smoke our consciousness meanders.

Empty suits glide through town. A crimson

stone dies, built in houses. Plague!
The calm. A company of armoured poplars

marches up within. Aggressor

air runs through our souls
and one moment you’re a man, another an airy thing.

In Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World: The psychology of political behavior (2004), the psychiatrist Jerrold M. Post noted that Karadžić’s poetry later became much more violent. In “A Morning Hand Grenade”, from his third book of poems, published in 1990, Karadžić expressed almost a joy in destruction:

I wait in dawn’s hiding place
This glorious opportunity
To suddenly forsake all
That this epoch has bestowed upon me
And I hurl a morning hand-grenade
Armed with the laughter
Of a lonely man
With a dark character.

Karadžić faces eleven charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague. Donia takes us through events in Prijedor, the bombardment of Sarajevo, the banishment of non-Serbs from Pale, and the Siege of Srebrenica. He spends little time on the emotional stories, the torment that people suffered in these places, which have been documented previously. Instead, he focuses on the command and control of events.

The murder of more than 7 000 Muslims, mostly men and boys in the Srebrenica area, occurred because Karadžić was afraid of losing the war, Donia argues. While he had prepared for battle long before his adversaries, freshly armed and invigorated Croat and Bosnian government forces marched through Serb-held territory in Croatia and Western Bosnia during the spring of 1995. Karadžić and Mladić needed more troops to staunch theft battlefield losses. The Bosnian Serbs’ Drina Corps was tied down with managing the United Nations’ safe areas of Gorazde, Srebrenica and Zepa. In order to free up the Drina Corps to fight in the west, Karadžić signed (but did not write) Directive No. 7. He ordered the Bosnian Serb Army “to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica and Zepa”.

The Dutch Battalion assigned to guard Srebrenica as part of UNPROFOR had only 429 soldiers in July of 1995neither the firepower nor the numbers to fight off a large attack. Colonel Radislav Krstić, the acting Drina Corps commander, began the military assault on the 40,000 Bosniak refugees on July 6. Mladić arrived five days later “to command the final destruction of the frightened and disorganized civilian population”, writes Donia.

Mladić has denied all the charges against him, including genocide. His trial is still under way. Donia’s biography was published before Karadžić’s trial ended last autumn, and does not contain Karadžić’ s statement that he knew nothing about the deaths at Srebrenica, considered to be Europe’s worst massacre since the Second World War. However, Karadžić did accept moral responsibility for “any crimes committed by citizens and forces of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb Republic)”. A verdict is expected shortly.




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