Karadzic: Bosnian Serb war leader accused of horrors

Karadzic: Bosnian Serb war leader accused of horrors©ICTY
Radovan Karadžić at his initial appearance in court 2008
2 min 44Approximate reading time

To his supporters a hero who stood up for his people, Radovan Karadzic is to others a monster who brought the horrors of death camps back to Europe half a century after the defeat of the Nazis.

On Thursday the former Bosnian Serb leader will learn his fate when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia delivers a verdict on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

To the international community and his foes, Bosnia's Croats and Muslims, 70-year-old Karadzic is a power-crazed brute responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

The republic he 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 defended their rights 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 dormitory named after Karadzic in Pale, at a ceremony attended by several hundred people.

The worst atrocity on the charge sheet at the Hague tribunal 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 father-of-two 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 nationalist tendencies.

His professional mentor, psychiatrist Ismet Ceric, told the US TV 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 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 among his supporters by evading spy services as they hunted 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."