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INFO   :::  National Program > Karadzic Case > Better than nothing


Better than nothing

Daniel Serwer

March 24, 2016



Welcome though it must be, it is difficult to applaud today’s guilty verdicts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslovia (ICTY) for Radovan Karadzic, the wartime president of Republika Srpska. Coming more than 20 years after the end of the Bosnian war, this is certainly justice delayed. Karadzic, who hid for 15 years and has been on trial for five, will now appeal and eventually serve out the rest of his life in relative luxury in a first-class European prison. Few of his victims or their surviving families will feel much “closure” from this outcome. His supporters will see the ICTY verdict as selective and prejudiced against Serbs.

Worse, people who support his political program of independence for Republika Srpska are very much in charge there. I can’t get too excited about the naming of a university dormitory in his honor. What bothers me far more is RS President Dodik’s repeated advocacy of independence for an entity that was founded on ethnic cleansing, murder, rape and genocide committed against Bosniaks and Croats that Karadizic commanded from 1992 to 1995. Since then, only the current Syrian war has done as much damage proportionally as the deaths and displacement inflicted on Bosnia during those years.

Dodik is an elected official and no doubt represents the views of a majority of his Serb constituency. It might even be argued that naming a university dormitory for Karadzic is damning with only the requisite faint praise. But Karadzic was convicted of one count of genocide (acquitted on another), five of crimes against humanity and four violations of the rules and customs of war, including murder, terror, unlawful attacks against civilians and taking of hostages. How easy should the students sleep in such a dormitory?

This is not the same as an American university named after slaveholders George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. America today doesn’t celebrate them for holding slaves but rather for other contributions to a society still trying to come to terms with what we recognize as the crimes against humanity they and their contemporaries committed. Washington was our revolutionary military commander and Jefferson the author of the declaration of independence that declared all men created equal, quite the contrary of his personal behavior.

Karadzic and Dodik have demonstrated much more consistency than our founders. They have not deviated from claiming that Republika Srpska belongs to the Serbs who rightfully wrested most of the towns and much of the rural area from Muslims, Croats and others who had lived there for centuries. For them all people are not created equal and military success is its own justification. Those ideas are inconsistent with today’s standards, as enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the now voluminous laws of war. Dodik’s modest virtue is that he merely espouses odious ideas. Karadzic’s crime was that he acted on them.

The conviction puts Belgrade in an awkward spot. I expect lots of nationalist Serbs there to praise and defend Karadzic and denounce the tribunal. But I certainly hope the Serbian government understands that its aspirations to EU membership are inconsistent with even modest official complaints. The Serbian parliamentary election campaign may tempt some to don the nationalist mantle. But for anyone wanting to maintain good relations with Washington and Brussels doing so would be a big mistake. It is bad enough that Karadzic for years managed to hide in Serbia. Compounding that felony would be a big mistake.

I understand those who will say that justice delayed is justice denied. But in this case justice delayed is better than the only realistic alternative: no justice at all. It would have been worse had Karadzic managed to remain at large, in Serbia or elsewhere, or if he had–like Slobodan Milosevic–died in prison. I’m not celebrating: these verdicts come far too late. But I’m not disappointed either: Karadzic led a criminal enterprise whose basic ideas Dodik still espouses. For the sake of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Balkans region, better to have a clear decision of the Tribunal than not to have anything at all.

PS: For those who have the stamina, 1.75 hours of verdicts:




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