Jasmina Tešanović: My neighbor Radovan Karadzic (essay)

My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
by Jasmina Tešanović

Radovan Karadzic, the poet of Serbian war crimes, one of the two most wanted criminals in the Balkans, the guy with fluffy locks, was captured last night in Belgrade, Serbia.

According to the first rumors, he was found in my own neighborhood, where he supposedly frequented in a popular right-wing restaurant where people from NGOs were unwelcome.

Karadzic is currently held in the special court for war crimes in Belgrade, and is about to be extradited to the international war crime tribunal in The Hague. Slobodan Milosevic preceeded him in this same course some years ago.

To judge by the chatter on my B92 blog and the phone messages I get from my friends: as I long suspected, "Europe's Osama bin Laden" and I have been neighbors. We shared the same food, saw the same beggars in downtown Belgrade where he had been hiding all these years, a genocidal butcher disguised as a New Age quack.

A journalist who lives close to me sent me an sms: Karadzic must have been drinking beer with our gypsy neighbor in the street. As we all suspected, or as some of us surely knew: Karadzic was hiding from justice behind our names and our daily lives, using the Serbian population as his living shields.

The new Pro-European government in Serbia had to split with that covert policy. Thus do the democrats reward the long-suffering voters who gave them the lead against their nationalist rivals. Even the ex-Milosevic Socialist party seems to be in on the deal.

Radovan Karadzic, poet, psychiatrist and planetary war criminal number one, effectively vanished in 1996. His General, Ratko Mladic, is still on the run. Karadzic and Mladic were the architect and the builder of the genocide in Srebrenica, where 8 000 men and boys were killed in three days.

Last night the long-missing fugitive was formally interrogated in the special tribunal for war crimes in Belgrade. This is the same court where, two years ago, I followed the trial of the paramilitary group the Scorpions, participants in the genocide in Srebrenica. Karadzic' s name was often mentioned by the Scorpions with hushed reverence.

A couple of months before the Scorpions were arrested in 2005, police burst in the house of the Karadzic family, briefly arresting his son. On this occasion his wife publicly asked her husband to give himself up for justice. The myth around his dark character was that he would never give himself alive, but die a suicidal martyr for the sake of his family and the cause of the Bosnian Serbs.

Karadzic never lacked for supporters. Shouting groups of right-winged hooligans spent the night outside the war crimes court, chanting his name and demanding that Boris Tadic, the President, commit suicide and therefore save Serbia. The militants were supervised by a heavy police presence and the crowd soon broke up.

International politicians such as Richard Holbrooke are congratulating the Serbian government for this important action, delayed and obstructed all these years. Men resembling Karadzic have often reported in various parts of Serbia and Bosnia, and various allegedly accomplices were brought to court for aiding and abetting both Karadzic and Mladic. It was obvious that they were both protected by powerful local allies, and it is presumed that Karadzic was arrested yesterday thanks to the betrayal of some insider. There is still an outstanding American bounty of 5 million dollars for the arrest of either Karadzic or Mladic ; for twelve years the tempting hoard of cash was never claimed by anyone.

Karadzic is defending himself with silence -- but not a complete silence. He has claimed that his arrest was a "farce," and that he was detained three days ago by masked men, and kept prisoner in a small cell.

In a morning press conference more details were revealed by Rasim Ljajic, a Serbian government official responsible for cooperation with The Hague. According to Ljajic, Radovan Karadzic, who is officially a Bosnian, has been living in Belgrade as a Serbian citizen, under false identity, and with a new name -- "Dragan Dabic." "Dr. Dabic" has been working as a doctor of "alternative medicine" in a private clinic.

Thin, bespectacled, balding and heavily bearded, Dr Dabic was moving freely in Belgrade. Workers at the clinic deny they knew his real identity. He seems to have been shadowed and arrested while trying to change apartments.

The world is in deadly earnest about Radovan's "farce," as congratulations pour in for President Tadic, the police and the Serbian justice system. The Hague will never be popular in Serbia, especially when Bosnian alleged war criminal Naser Oric was released despite attacks on Serbs. In the shattered ruins of Yugoslavia there will never be a neat equalizing of the blame, but this event is a giant step toward a living role for a peaceful, democratic Serbia within a modern Europe.

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Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

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Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

- Jasmina Tešanović: The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
Jasmina Tešanović: Kosovo
- Christmas in Serbia
- Neonazism in Serbia
- Korea - South, not North.
- "I heard they are making a movie on her life."
- Serbia and the Flames
- Return to Srebenica
- Sagmeister in Belgrade
- Jasmina Tešanović: What About the Russians?
- Milan Martic sentenced in Hague
- Mothers of Mass Graves
- Hope for Serbia
- Stelarc in Ritopek
- Sarajevo Mon Amour
- MBOs
- Killing Journalists
- Jasmina Tešanović: Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women 
Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral


  1. There is a surreal note to all this. Apparently, all these years he worked in Belgrade as an alternative medicine practitioner under name of Dr. Dragan Dabic. He wrote for health magazines. Even talked on public conferences. Here is his web site http://www.psy-help-energy.com/ [In Serbian]

  2. Seems like the die is cast for Serbia to join the EU. If they weren’t serious about it, they would have continued to allow him to ‘elude capture’.

  3. “In the shattered ruins of Yugoslavia there will never be a neat equalizing of the blame”

    nor there should be. serbs are the prime cause of all the wars in the ex-yu the last 20 years. sure, the hague court is a farce, but that does not mean that everyone is to blame equally

  4. There’s more. Via War and Piece , he has his own site, some in English.

    whois says that the domain registration expires on July 22nd 2009, making it very likely that it was created today.

  5. Antinous – “Seems like the die is cast for Serbia to join the EU.”

    Let’s hope so. I think I’ve mentioned before I spent much of ’06 & ’07 living in Belgrade. Belonging to the EU would make life so much easier and better for everyone there. The economy would improve with easier trade and travel. I believe a pretty good majority of Serbians (but not the vast majority), are in favor of joining Europe. Most people I met there were pretty pragmatic and would enjoy a simpler life. It seems to me that government that was formed just few weeks ago is the most pro-EU yet and this is why they finally put in the extra effort to get Karadic.

    Bollocks – “serbs are the prime cause of all the wars in the ex-yu the last 20 years”.

    I hope you understand that yes, Serbia does have a long history of intense nationalism and xenophobia, but that most people who live there are just people.

  6. @ #7: Just like most Nazis were just people.
    Sorry, but until Serbia faces its past and admits responsibility, they cannot be part of the EU. Most Serbs I have talked to consider them self as victims of an international conspiracy against Serbia.

  7. “Americans are the prime cause of all the wars in the middle east in the last 20 years. sure, the International Court of Justice [which the USA refuses to join, along with North Korea, Somalia ad China] is a farce, but that does not mean that everyone is to blame equally.”

    “…until America faces its past and admits responsibility, they cannot be part of the world community. Most Americans I have talked to consider them self as victims of a UN / EU / environmentalist / godless-evoluntionist conspiracy against America.”

    There are plenty of deeply unpleasant people in Serbia, and yes it was the Milosevic regime which bears the greatest responsibility for the wars. Perhaps it can even be said that the ex-Yujoslav army committed more, and more heinous, atrocities and war crimes than any other army or military force in those times. Do we decide right and wrong by counting corpses? Yes, there is indeed a depressingly widespread paranoid nationalist conspiracy theory fantasy within Serbia about how the Americans and British (possibly controlled by the Jewish conspiracy) are trying to destroy Serbia in order to seize their valuable store of, uh, turbo-folk CDs, trombone bands, and meat-based meal ideas.

    I as a UK citizen sat and watched atrocities on my TV set every night in those years, and did nothing about it except wring my hands and wallow in liberal guilt. I did not write to my MP or demonstrate or contribute to NGOs or charity workers. Were those crimes, then, my fault? What about the role of the German government? What indeed of the Americans, and the UN, and indeed the EU itself? I seem to remember there was a chap called Franjo Tudjman who had a bit to do with it, come to think of it. But collective punishment is, quite rightly, a war crime under the Geneva Convention. It would be wrong to punish the UK for my and my compatriots inaction, as it was wrong to crash planes into the WTC to protest against American military presence in Saudi Arabia and the other perceived wrongs AQ thought they were fighting back against, as it would be wrong to try to punish the Serbian people by shunning them from modern world society until they abase themselves in dust and ashes at our feet. And it wouldn’t work, anyway.


  8. @ #4 and #8: The view that all conflicts following the disintegration of Yugoslavia were entirely the Serbs’ fault is a simplification. Croatia should certainly share the responsibility, as should Slovenia and several European players (Germany above all) who pushed hard to ignite the fire for their own motives.

    This doesn’t mean that Karadzic and Mladic (and Milosevic etc) aren’t war criminals: they are, and they deserve everything they will get… but other people (like the Croat Franjo Tudjman) should not be spared a harsh historic judgment.

  9. I’m trying to imagine Hitler escaping from the bunker and hiding out in Berlin for years via the simple expedient of a Clark Kent-level disguise, and it just isn’t coming.

  10. Heh. Turbo folk cds… Yes, we want those- I tell ya, I can’t get enough of Ceca…. that’s why we are all so down on the Serbs.

    I think imipak makes some salient points. There is still much tension, but in some ways, perhaps Serbia joining the EU would actually go a long way to easing those tensions. Backing off threats towards Kosovar independence (trying to work for a effective split of the country) is being directly tied to EU membership it seems like. Perhaps a crude tool, but it could be effective in the long run. Do you really think the majority of people want to live in a state of perpetually tension and war? why shouldn’t the point to be eventually to normalize Serbia’s relationship with the rest of the EU… That being said, I’m not saying the EU/US has pure intentions in all this… I would question everyones motives.


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