(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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Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:
– 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
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