Jasmina Tešanović: Who was Dragan David Dabic?

(A guest essay by Jasmina Tešanović)

Who was Dragan David Dabic?

For me this incredible story is only beginning. Soon Radovan Karadzic will be safely in Hague behind bars, rambling his strident defense just like his predecessor Slobodan Milosevic.

We here in downtown Belgrade are left with this mysterious ridiculous character, Dragan David Dabic, who will vanish like a soap opera hero. I am sincerely afraid that "Dabic," his traces, deeds and words will be cancelled, manipulated, and abused by the press, by his friends, by his enemies, by his captors. There is a lot at stake with his capture: Unpleasant truths and unanswerable questions. We lived with Dabic for 13 years, he was one of us, among us, in the shadow half-life of Serbia.

Two war criminals lived in my own street. Biljana Plavsic, the former leader of Republika Srpska, took power after Radovan Karadzic left in 1996. She pled guilty in the Hague and is now serving her sentence in Sweden. General Pavkovic was in charge during the pogrom of Albanians in Kosovo. He is sick of cancer.

People in Belgrade feel bewildered and betrayed. For 13 years Serbian officials have claimed Karadzic was never in Serbia. He was hiding in the mountains as an Ali Baba together with his 40 hajduks ( Robin Hoods), he was sheltered in monasteries praying to God for his country. These myths were obviously planted by the people hiding him in downtown Belgrade. There Dabic led his weird public life, while the hapless Serbian population was held hostage for the misdeeds of Karadzic.

Many questions come to our minds during our conversations in the streets, in the restaurants, on the weblogs.

Did the woman is his new life -- the middle-aged brunette named "Mila" -- know that her Dabic was Karadzic? Did he ever make a confidante of his banker, his dentist, his hairdresser? Did any of us Serbs, so isolated from the rest of the world, get enlightened with his Californian New Age teachings in lectures and magazines? Did our paths cross in his favorite Belgrade hangouts?

Dabic was a New Age guru, a Serbian-Californian émigré, a globalized man of the world: Dabic spent his time in one of the coolest cafes in Belgrade, where you have free Internet and free books. I go there often. He also used to eat in a very good and cheap restaurant where I went often with my friends. We all spent long nights drinking and talking; us, about his crimes and our suffering; him, about selling alternative medicine and how to improve his website.

That restaurant is close to the Special Court for war crimes in downtown Belgrade. There I followed the trial of a paramilitary group, the Scorpions, for genocide in Bosnia. Very often, after the trial sessions, we would go to have a beer to calm down after hearing all about the atrocities.

We would see the defense lawyers of the Scorpions sitting there and talking noisily. The restaurant walls were covered with Serbian nationalist heroes from the past, along with various war criminals. Was Dragan Dabic sitting there under the framed portrait of Radovan Karadzic?

Dabic had deftly erased Karadzic, along with the eight thousand victims of Srebrenica whose deaths he denied and obscured. Occasionally Dabic indulged himself in some gusle folk music (played on an archaic Serbian instrument), updated with verses praising ethnic cleansing of the Muslims and Serb racial superiority.

For the wretched Scorpions, on trial for some murders rashly committed on video, the missing Karadzic was their mystical demi-god. Every day the Scorpions entered the court with aggressive swaggers and dark threats toward us in the audience, who listened to their deeds in disbelief. Was Dragan Dabic listening in court along with us?

Since the fall of Milosevic, the city of Belgrade has led a double existence. On one face, a struggle to evade the past, not by confronting it, but by obscuring it, disguising it, and encouraging forgetfulness in everyone. Belgrade's other face is an ostentatious glorification of the criminal past.

The garish concerts of the warlord Arkan's widow, Ceca, in Belgrade, the religious rituals of the Orthodox church whose functionaries personally blessed the soldiers of genocide... These manifestations are the public surfacing of a rugged, persistent, murderous underground culture of books, songs, plays, buttons, photos, mementos and souvenirs of Radovan Karadzic. He was a 68er hippie poet who returned to his roots as a New Age quack. He was an 89er dissident who ignored the European liberation to eagerly take the machine-gun to his fellow citizens.

As a citizen of Belgrade, living in the street of war criminals and gypsies, in the middle, in the transition to nowhere, I want to know all about the second life of the disappeared war criminals. Once again they have a new life, not us.

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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:

- My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
- The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
- 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
- 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
- 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. Very sobering. I wonder how many decades it will take for the wounds of the wars in the former Yugoslavia to heal, if they ever will.

    On a completely different note, at least two of the above links, Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide and Return to Srebenica are broken. (I’ve checked with the Internet Archive, and at least they haven’t been unpublished…)

  2. In order for such a court to have any legitimacy, US officials must be held to the same standards of justice.

    NATO intervention was a war crime (aggression), as outlined by the United Nations Charter.

    Operation Storm, in particular, has been criticized as criminal… but I don’t see Bill Clinton on trial for genocide.

    This in no way diminishes the magnitude of Karadzic’s crimes… but it does diminish the court which will try him.

  3. As always an excellent essay by Jasmina. Serbia is in an interesting cross roads right now, and it will be even more interesting to see where it goes. Seems like the road to the EU is tempting to some in power at least.

    Sadly, the US abiding by the same rules will not happen, not now, anyway. The Bush administration pushed for immunity for US soldiers for war crimes not too long ago. We don’t listen to the UN either. But who is going to make us?


  4. If NATO had not intervened we would have more dead bodies. The willingness to use NATO as a force of good made me proud of my country, despite the Republicans sniping about exit strategy, overwhelming force, etc. We then next did the opposite in Iraq, with the Republicans complicit in their praise and failed to do the right thing in Afghanistan by copying what we did in the Balkans, with the Republicans once again having nothing but praise for what we now know is the worse administration in American history. But ending the blood shed in the Balkans by NATO was the right thing to do, if not NATO no longer has a role in this century and might as well be disbanded.

    It is good to see Serbians and others in the area willing to talk about these things. If they were not willing, then the only way their attitudes might have been changed would have been how we had to change the German’s and Japanese attitudes — complete and total destruction of their military and occupation of their country. I can conclude that the Serbians are overall, a very smart people indeed.

  5. BDewhirst–
    If Serbian nationalists are really po’ed about Karadzic being tried for warcrimes, then they can see that US officials suffer the same fate. Henry Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc should be kidnapped & turned over to the Hague for warcrimes trials after Jan 22 2009.

  6. One thing I haven’t read in any of the news reports of this are how he was found. Who tipped the authorities? Or did they know where he was all along, and it became obvious they’d have to give him up if they were going to get EU membership.

    1. Who tipped the authorities?

      Recent elections showing widespread support for joining the EU tipped authorities. They could have found him any time if they had really wanted to.

  7. Cryptome.org has some interesting details about his web site. Apparently the domain was registered and the site created only a few months ago. What does this mean? I don’t know, but it contradicts with the official media story of what he’s been doing with his life during the past decade.

  8. Well laughing this thing out is a way of healing of our country. Operatic character of D. Dabic did more to dispel the aura of a “hero” around Mr. Karadzic then a decade of NGO activity. It’s extremely hard for his fans and followers to be taken seriously when they talk about a New Age Druid as their hero. It simply doesn’t work. They managed to master 300 people only for the latest protest.

    He is no king under the mountain, he is just a quack, pathetic old loony who will face his faith.

  9. is it not strangely coincidental that their attempt to join the EU had foundered on the continued presence of Karadzic at large.

    He Turned out not to be syuch a useful Robinhood figure nor a willing martyr, so seeign that there now was more to benefit from suddenly “discovering” his whereabouts he was miraculously unmasked.

    Impasse overcome.

  10. Oh and as for trying for it’s war crimes, it will never happen, because as far as the US is concerned war crimes are done by foreigners, not Unca Sam’s boys.

    Hell the UN can’t even get the US to pay it’s dues, it is so far in default on payments that were it a person it’d be having the farm foreclosed on and the cars repo’d.

    Oddly it still has the right to veto any action suggested by anyone else who has actually paid their share.

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