The UN Hague tribunal sentenced Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail for genocide and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ex-leader of Bosnian Serbs has gone a long way from writing poetry in Sarajevo.
He is a man with many facets: psychiatrist, poet, politician, and for many in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a war criminal, who is a case for a psychiatrist himself. Radovan Karadzic is accused of perpetrating the worst atrocities that took place during the four-year-long war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. Thus the indictment against him at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague reads accordingly.
The ICC has convicted the former political leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina of being responsible for the genocide carried out on some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian city of Srebrenica. He was further accused of crimes against humanity. Namely: expulsion, torture and murder, as well as the breach of martial law in the case of the siege of Sarajevo. Balkan expert Franz-Lothar Altmann told DW that there is no doubt about the validity of the last point. "Civilians were shot at and bombed. That is a clear war crime," says Altmann.
Karadzic, who was born in a Montenegrin village in 1945, moved to the multi-cultural Yugoslavian city of Sarajevo in the constituent republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina when he was 15. But his family had Chetnik associations. Chetniks are Serbian nationalist extremists who advocate the idea of a Greater Serbia, and who were defeated by communist partisans in the Second World War.
'The fighting spirit of the Serbs'
After having moved from the Montenegrin mountains to the pulsing city of Sarajevo, he finished school and then studied medicine. He went on to spend a year of further study at Columbia University in New York, and finally opened a psychotherapy practice in Pale, a small city near Sarajevo, largely inhabited by Serbs.
He was also known for his poetry and was a member of the writers' association. Nevertheless, "It is still a phenomenon as to how such a multi-facetted personality could become a politician, one with a very nationalist agenda," explains Balkan expert Altmann. One could already see his nationalist tendencies in his poetry, for even then he spoke of the "fighting spirit of the Serbs." "Then he met Dobrica Cosic, a nationalist novelist, and fell under his influence. Apparently that pushed him even further toward his already nationalist bent."
Yet, it was not only Dobrica Cosic that influenced Karadzic's world view. He also met Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, who himself stood trial before the Hague tribunal. Milosevic, however, died in 2006 before a verdict could be handed down. Karadzic then met Momcilo Krajisnik while in prison in the 1980s. Krajisnik would later become a political ally, and in 2006 was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison for war crimes by the ICC.
Karadzic spent 11 months in custody, accused of misappropriating funds. He was later released when his Serb Democratic Party (SDS) became one of the parties to rise to power in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina following Yugoslavia's transition to democracy in 1990. With that, Radovan Karadzic also ascended to power as his party's president.
The Muslim 'threat'
Nonetheless, Karadzic was not the only one allowed to live out nationalist fantasies. It was a time in Yugoslavian history that was heavily influenced by an omnipresent nationalism. Slovenians, Croatians and other ethnic groups felt oppressed by Belgrade and its high-ranking Serbs, and thus desired to leave the Yugoslavia that they shared.
As did Bosnia and Herzegovina. But Serbian politicians would not allow it to happen. Thus the country's tragic history of war took its course. It was at that time that politician Karadzic began to propagate the idea of the "muslim enemy." "That was obviously a transfer of the earlier image of the Ottoman enemy," explains Franz-Lothar Altmann. "For him, the Muslims, the Muslim Bosniaks, were all the descendants of the Ottomans, against whom Serbia, the Serbian people, had long fought."
In a referendum held on May 1, 1992, the Bosniaks and the Croats voted for an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbs boycotted the vote. One month later war broke out. The Serbian Republic had already been declared in majority Serbian areas. It would later be renamed the Republika Srpska, and Radovan Karadzic became its first president.
In the years that followed, some 100,000 people were murdered, large-scale systematic rape took place and hundreds of thousands were expelled on all sides. Then there was the genocide at Srebrenica, where some eight thousand Muslims were murdered. Former Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladic, is currently on trial in The Hague for having carried out the massacre. In July 1995 the UN surrendered Srebrenica - which was a UN safe area and a refuge for thousands of displaced Bosniaks - without a fight.
Hidden in Serbia
Both Mladic and Karadzic hid themselves in Serbia for years after the war. Karadzic not only took on a new identity as Dr. Dragan Dabic and drastically altered his appearance, he also had "a large number of helpers and sympathizers that aided him and warned him whenever an effort was being made to capture him," says Altmann. Yet after much pressure on Serbia from the EU, Karadzic was finally arrested in the Serbian capital Belgrade after 12 years in hiding. Almost three years later, Ratko Mladic was also arrested in a small-town in northern Serbia.
The verdict in the Karadzic case is, as Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) emphasizes, historic. Karadzic is the most senior figure to be sentenced for the massacre at Srebrenica.