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INFO   :::  National Program > Karadzic Case > The Arrest of Radovan Karadzic


The Arrest of Radovan Karadzic


The arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the man who led the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-5 war and created Republika Srpska as a booty of war ('The Serbs will never accept any Bosnian state, regardless of who hatched up the idea,' he used to say), a man charged with the most serious war crimes including genocide in Bosnia, is an event of momentous importance. One might even say that it is more significant than the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic. For his arrest signifies much more than the end of the illusion about the unification of all Serbs in one state. First and foremost, it throws the spotlight on his Serbian (Belgrade) mentors, the architects of the greater-state project, and on the whole society. Radovan Karadzic indeed enjoyed the reputation of a true, unifying Serb leader. He was introduced to politics by Dobrica Cosic, academic and one of the chief designers of the Serb project. Cosic was, in his own words, in close relationship with Karadzic. He installed him as leader of the Bosnian Serbs and spoke of him as being the most talented Serb politician.

The silence of precisely that segment of the elites, whose survival on the public scene has been jeopardized by the arrest, is indicative. Demonstrations have already been organized and are spearheaded by radical right-wing groups, for long close allies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (which hatched up the notorious Memorandum), the Serbian Orthodox Church and parts of the Army that are still unreformed. So far, however, the protests have not succeeded and will, in all probability, fail to stir the masses. Whatever the outcome, the general atmosphere and the reactions to the arrest merit attention.

The bringing of charges against Karadzic was condemned by the intellectual public at the time as a 'pressure on the whole Serb people', an 'endeavour by the world power brokers to paralyze all political and social activity of the Serb people'. A group of sixty intellectuals adopted in 1997 a Declaration demanding an end to the Hague tribunal proceedings against Karadzic, insisting that the 'persecution of Radovan Karadzic has no real foundation in actual facts' and that the 'fate of Radovan Karadzic is the fate of the entire people'. The Declaration, initiated by Patriarch Pavle, brought together nationalists from all walks of life. Professor Kosta Cavoski even wrote a book in Karadzic's defence in which he alleges that by the time of the Srebrenica massacre Karadzic had lost control over Mladic and that Milosevic himself was in charge of the operation. Avowed nationalists and anti-communists began systematically to shift all blame for possible war crimes by the Serb side on the communists alone, above all on Slobodan Milosevic.

The fact of the arrest has created in the Serb nationalists the sense of a final end and a thorough defeat. A poet used to say that Karadzic personifies Republika Srpska, that he is its emblem and that his departure for The Hague would mean definitive defeat of all Serb hope, all Serb dignity. Karadzic was made into a legend long ago and was believed to have disappeared for ever. The circumstances surrounding the bringing in of the 'kind-hearted' old man who practices alternative medicine fit into the legend and serve as grist to the mill of a new myth. All of a sudden, there is a generous supply of photographs and footage showing a different image of Karadzic, a quiet man protected and respected in his surroundings. For a few days, all the media ran romanticized biographies of Radovan Karadzic without anybody going into the real reasons for his arrest. The reports for the most part dwelled on the technical aspects of the arrest and speculations as to how, where and when he was apprehended. The Bosnian Serb reaction ranged from self-restraint to anger, for the arrested Serb leader had been invested with the halo of a modern Robin Hood.

Vojislav Kostunica was his protector in that his party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), was sister party to Karadzic's Serb Democratic Party (SDS). After Kostunica split from the Democratic Party in 1992, it was Karadzic who helped him establish the DSS. The 2000 victory of Vojislav Kostunica in the presidential elections in the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and that against Slobodan Milosevic, bestowed democratic legitimacy on Serb nationalism for the first time and earned it international support. His victory was a great encouragement to the Serb nationalists and all others who hoped that Serbia would succeed in keeping her war booty, especially Republika Srpska, in reference to which Kostunica was wont to say that 'it is not natural that Serb towns should be abroad'. What is more, the change of government in Belgrade meant that Karadzic himself had been given, or rather continued to enjoy, the state's full backing and protection. His unexpected arrest closes a chapter in that is coincides with the departure from the public scene of two key ideologues of the greater-Serbia state project.

What brought about such an end? The end was heralded by the proclamation of Kosovo's independence, on the occasion of which Kostunica engineered, among other things, the torching of foreign embassies in Belgrade as a token of outrage at the international support for the 'false Kosovo state'. The calling of early elections in the hope of winning them by manipulating the Kosovo myth for once turned out to be an error of judgement. The only good thing about Kostunica is that he helped unmask Serb Nazism completely and gave the world and the neighbours a better insight into the depths of Serb nationalism. For the first time, the citizens of Serbia voted for a future and for an agreement with the EU which President Boris Tadic signed with considerable timidity. History has smiled on him. If he proves courageous enough, he stands a chance of becoming a statesman.

Although new prospects are open for Serbia, Serb nationalism has not been vanquished. It lives on in the schools, the University, the media. The example of Serbia shows that radical nationalism does not disappear of itself, for the illusion persists that a change in circumstances may permit the realization of one's imperialistic goals. For this reason foreign initiative is indispensable. In its relations with Serbia, the EU must radically revise its system of values above all, otherwise there will be no real change in the long term.



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