Karadzic: Many-faced Serb accused of Bosnian war horrors

Karadzic: Many-faced Serb accused of Bosnian war horrors©DR/flickr
Karadjic with Mladic
2 min 42Approximate reading time

Psychiatrist, poet, president, alleged war criminal -- even New Age healer. Radovan Karadzic has certainly had a varied life.

And as he prepares to hear his fate in The Hague this week, one thing is clear about the bouffant-haired former Bosnian Serb leader: he remains deeply divisive.

To the international community and his foes, Bosnia's Croats and Muslims, he is a power-hungry monster responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands.

The republic Karadzic created "brought death camps, mass executions, and genocide back to the heart of a continent that had fooled itself into thinking it had left such abominations behind," wrote journalist Julian Borger in a new book, "The Butcher's Trail".

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.

"He is considered a great martyr for his worthy conduct and his refusal to bow before The Hague," said Milan Gluhovic, a 31-year-old doctor in Pale, Karadzic's wartime stronghold outside Sarajevo.

Underlining that view, Bosnian Serb officials on Sunday inaugurated a student dorm named after Karadzic in Pale, at a ceremony attended by several hundred people.

Now 70, father-of-two Karadzic will hear a verdict on Thursday from the UN Yugoslav tribunal over 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The worst atrocity on the charge-sheet is the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Richard Holbrooke, a chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the war, 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.

 "A thousand 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 the World War II.

In 1960 Karadzic went 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 "a thousand 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, Belgrade-backed Karadzic declared a separate Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, with himself as leader.

- 'Supreme commander' -

In the bitter war that ensued with Bosnia's Muslim-led government, Karadzic is blamed for authorising ethnic cleansing in which more than a 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".

After the Dayton peace accord, Karadzic was forced to resign 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, Dabic was finally unmasked as Karadzic when he was 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 for a five-year-trial, which ended in 2014.

At the end of the trial he said: "I have a clear conscience... I expect and I trust that the chamber will study carefully every document and every exhibit.

"If that happens I have no doubt that a judgement of acquittal will follow."