Despite wise warnings from the American embassy to avoid all large, possibly violent Serbian demonstrations, I was there today in Belgrade's Republic Square.
My American friend and I were sipping two beers to pay for our cafe table. I also noticed some lone men alertly drinking coffee there: they were undercover Belgrade police. Standing outside the cafe were strong, heavily armored lines of hyper-geared riot policemen. There were even riot policewomen on duty.
Last night I spoke to Dejan Anastasijevic, an expert on internal issues and a witness in Hague trial against Milosevic. We concluded that this grand public event was the swan song for the Radical Party, and for Radovan Karadzic, one of its founders: for the Radicals, tonight was now or never.
Well: the verdict is never. The ethnic holy-warrior Radovan Karadzic has lost out to the New Age guru Dabic: his other Jeckyll-and-Hyde personality for the last 13 years. Maybe 16,000 people trickled into Republic Square, a good-sized crowd for downtown Belgrade, but a fragment of the three million Radical voters, a full third of the Serbian population. Two months ago the Radicals were gleefully smashing foreign embassies over the Kosovo issue; today they are bewildered and crestfallen.
The political climate has changed in Serbia. Boris Tadic, the Pro-European president, is wisely minding the nation's business and doing it relentlessly. The ex-president Kostunica was doing the opposite.
A couple of days ago, journalists from various press groups were beaten up by Radical goons; at that point the new government declared Serbian journalists to be equivalent to Serbian police performing public duties, and severely penalized the street-thugs for attacking free speech.
Tonight the supporters of Radovan Karadzic, better-known as the bizarre quack Dragan Dabic, were saying goodbye to their ultimate leader, who is bound for The Hague. Clearly the Radicals have shifted their motivating fear and hatred toward Boris Tadic, who now looms huge in their imagination as the traitor who authorized the extradition. The Radicals wore t-shirts with the faces of Karadzic and Mladic, but those were photographs from 14 long years ago. Nowadays Karadzic looks like a cartoon, and not even the Radicals know what Mladic must look like these days. These much-tried Radical loyalists had long, grim faces. They were mostly men, and impoverished men at that. They had a sprinkling of younger football hooligans, who can't remember the war, but hate anything they can't understand. The speaker, a nationalist actress, screamed in tears: Radovan, go to The Hague, because they need you there. You must bring the whole world justice and heal everyone!
At that point, wandering the streets, we spotted an uncanny double of Dragan Dabic: a strange local guru with a long white beard, long white hair, a black priest's robe and a big Orthodox cross. Everybody was pointing at this strange character and grinning. Single-handedly, Dragan Dabic has reduced the bitter Yugoslav civil war to a black-humored Serbian wisecrack, yesterdays news. The Radicals cannot forgive their idol for healing gullible idiots and not going down with artillery blazing into Sarajevo.
Trying to stoke the crowd, the Radicals played the hymns of the disbanded Red Berets, the paramilitary group of Legija, the convicted criminal behind the killing of Zoran Djindjic. As always, murder remains the Radical's best political bet. Still, with enough time and enough bizarre deceit, even murder becomes ridiculous.
Journalists lurk near Belgrade's special court for war crimes, hoping for a scoop over Karadzic's final journey toward justice. Nobody knows when this historic flight will happen, but the legal time for his appeal is almost over and it seems mere a matter of hours. Dragan Dabic has been preparing the defense for Radovan Karadzic: but his laptop is in the hands of the police. For a humble healer, Dr. Dabic seems to have a surprising number of documents concerning the war in Bosnia. He was also in touch with the lawyers for the late Slobodan Milosevic, old hands at endless pantomime inside the Dutch courts. This will be Dr. Dabic's last incarnation: the new star of an old war-crimes trial.
I hear with shock that my very close friend, a great Serbian poet, died in a Belgrade clinic haunted by Dragan Dabic, whose "quantum human energy" obviously cannot cure lung cancer. My friend the poet never committed genocide, nor did he ever hide from justice by stealing the identity of an innocent man. He wrote his verse about his beloved city and he published books. He also smoked too much to survive, but his mortality was not his sorest problem, because his verse outlives him. His deeper tragedy was to perish in the madhouse that his Serbia became, a stricken nation where the poets and criminals cannot tell each other apart.
As a final farcical insult, a group of hooligans destroyed the Radical's rally. The Radical Party had intended a mass march through the city, a grand show of their popular strength, but their mass turnout never showed up, and their deeply frustrated fringe element spontaneously attacked the cops. In the summer heat, half-naked male teens yanked their sweaty t-shirts over their heads as impromptu masks, then set off firecrackers and tossed bricks and blazing road-flares into the massed ranks of the riot-squad.
The provoked cops replied with tear-gas canisters and some ragged baton-charges. The hooligans scattered in a hurry, set fire to some trash containers and broke some plate-glass in the shopping streets. There were more than forty injuries, to rioters, cops and various journalists. No fatalities. In half an hour the grand rally had collapsed in this shabby debacle. The Radicals will naturally blame the police, but since the rally was lavishly televised, it's rather obvious that the cops were not flinging any bricks at the protesters.
My widowed father died recently. This week it has been my obligation to clean his apartment. Mr. Tesanovic was an engineer, a diplomat and a Yugoslav loyalist. His personal effects now seem as distant to crazy modern Serbia as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
I had to dispose of many of his things, and I had hoped that the humble but clever gypsies who pick through Belgrade's garbage would find some use for his effects. But that did not happen. The Radicals tossed their flares into the rubbish bin outside his house. They set fire to everything they could reach.
Update: July 30, 2008
Radovan Karadzic handover
Early this morning the new star of the Hague tribunal arrived in Hague: here in Belgrade , the lack of bad news is good news for us. They call this summer the new beginning for Serbia. The Radical Party has reached a dead end, and there are big questions for the Republika Srpska and its future.
The other major figure in the genocide in Bosnia, Ratko Mladic, will be the next step. Until a couple of years ago his movements were known to the secret police, while now many dubious rumors are running about his secret life underground or abroad.
From Hague, in a direct press conference, we listen to promises of an efficient and just yet complicated trial, for the sake of the victims and their families. Belgrade is calm today: the secret police are praised for the arrest and extradition of Karadzic, while the public police managed to contain the Radical Party hooligans with no fatalities . The Serbian people are facing the future, though if they still fail to face the past and the crimes committed in their names, their steps will be slow and hampered.
Update 2: July 31, 2008
Finally we saw him, live: we heard him. Good old Radovan is back. He killed Dabic with one haircut and a thorough shave. It's literally the same voice, with the same intellect behind it. What's different is a grim new tic of his mouth, as if he is on the verge of tears.
The press turnout for Karadzic was as big as for the first day of the trial of Milosevic. Yet only 40 people could enter the court, again the same as Milosevic.
The general opinion in Serbia is how old, how white and how distracted he now seems, alone, without soldiers, lawyers or family members. He declares himself as member of three states, Republika Srpska, where he lived, Montenegro where he was born, and Serbia where he lived under cover with different identities.
He is the veteran of one of the greatest put-up jobs in the history of world crime, and he declares that he was hiding in order to save his life. He says his life was guaranteed to him by the Dayton treaty and by Richard Holbrooke, in exchange for his stepping down from politics.
Karadzic seemed calmly determined to act in his own defense, demanding the return of his laptop, formerly in possession of Dragan Dabic. That computer is now in the hands of the police together with various official documents from Republika Srpska.
His judges say that the indictment against Karadzic will be altered and focused. Basically it charges him with practically every crime that the court in the Hague was built to try.
We are eager to see him handle all his legacies with all his identities.
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Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:
– Who was Dragan David Dabic?
– My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
– The Day After / Kosovo
– State of Emergency
– 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
– 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