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From Humble Beginnings, The 'Butcher Of Bosnia' Rose To Infamy

July 22, 2008
By RFE/RL

It has been nearly 13 years since Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime president, went into hiding and became the target of one of the most fevered manhunts in contemporary history.

Karazdic, whose arrest outside Belgrade was announced on July 21, is blamed for the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the massacre of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, in which some 10,000 civilians died.

Who was the man known as the "Butcher of Bosnia"?

Born in 1945 in rural Montenegro, Karadzic's earliest influence was his father, Vuk, a nationalist guerrilla who during World War II fought both Nazi occupiers and communist partisans loyal to Josip Broz Tito. Vuk Karadzic was in jail for much of his son's childhood.

Neuroses And Paranoia

In 1960, Karadzic moved to Sarajevo, where he attended medical school and soon began work as a psychologist in a city hospital, specializing in neuroses and paranoia.

Karadzic's political leanings began to take shape after Tito's death in 1980, as the first cracks in Yugoslav unity began to appear. In 1990, Karadzic helped to found the Serbian Democratic Party, the central vehicle for Serbian nationalists in Bosnia.

By early 1992, Muslim and Croat officials in Bosnia were following the path set by Croatia and Slovenia, organizing a referendum on Bosnian independence from Yugoslavia -- a notion that directly contradicted the vision of a Greater Serbia that was the central goal of Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader in Belgrade.

The parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared the republic's independence on March 5, 1992. One day earlier, Karadzic -- already a flamboyant, eccentric speaker, with a thick head of hair and a talent for political bluster -- stood before the lawmakers and issued an angry warning against declaring Bosnia a sovereign state.

"Don't think that you wouldn't send the Bosnian people to hell and maybe cause the Muslim people to vanish, because the Muslim people can't defend themselves if the war starts here," he said.

But lawmakers proceeded, prompting Karadzic to declare himself president of a Bosnian Serb republic -- later to be known as Republika Srpska -- and dismissing the legitimacy of Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosniak president of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"[Serbian] President Milosevic did not think that international recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina was critical. He used to say that the [Roman] emperor, Caligula, appointed his horse as a senator, but the horse was not a senator," Karadzic said. "Therefore, Izetbegovic has no state. [Milosevic] used to say, 'Just because someone recognizes it does not make it a state."

Slaughter In Srebrenica

Karadzic proceeded to enlist the Serb-dominated Yugoslav military and paramilitary groups to seize control of most of the country and lay siege to Sarajevo.

In the three-year conflict that followed, thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed and displaced in the Serbs' systematic "ethnic cleansing" campaign. The most notorious chapter in the war was the slaughter of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys by Serb troops at a UN "safe area" in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Srebrenica -- believed to have been orchestrated by Karadzic with the aid of military commander Ratko Mladic -- is considered the worst atrocity committed on European soil since World War II. Citing Srebrenica and the shelling of Sarajevo, the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 indicted Karadzic on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Karadzic was removed from power in 1995, in accordance with the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war.

Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who brokered the agreements, told "The New York Times" he believes the Bosnian Serb leader was the "worst" of the "three evil men of the Balkans" -- Milosevic, Mladic, and Karadzic. He added that Karadzic was "a real racist believer" who "really enjoyed ordering the killing of Muslims."

Karadzic rejected the Dayton agreement as a U.S.-led contrivance meant to tyrannize the Serb people.

"From the point of view of the Serb people, the only thing we can accept [at Dayton] is that we would be autonomous, that no one can dominate us, and that the numbers, for example, of the Muslim people, have no influence on us," he said.

Went Into Hiding

Karadzic retreated to his Bosnian stronghold in Pale, the de facto capital of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian war. By 1996, fearing arrest and deportation to The Hague, he -- like Mladic -- had gone into hiding.

Despite numerous sightings throughout the years -- in locations as brazen as city cafes in Belgrade and his mother's funeral -- Karadzic remained at large for nearly 13 years, prompting accusations that he was under the protection of Serb authorities and the Orthodox Church.

He retained a hero's status among many Serbs, who see him -- together with Mladic -- as a protector of the Serbian nation.

In 2005, Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana, issued a televised statement pleading with her husband to turn himself in.

"It is very painful and difficult for me to ask you this," she said. "But nevertheless, with all my heart and soul, I beg you to surrender. It will be a sacrifice for us and our family."

Contacted by The Associated Press after her husband's arrest, Ljiljana Karadzic said she was "shocked" and "confused" by developments, adding, "At least now, we know he is alive."

At the time of his arrest, the 63-year-old Karadzic, who had grown long white locks and a flowing white beard, was practicing alternative medicine in Belgrade under an assumed name.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and RFE/RL correspondent Daisy Sindelar contributed to this report

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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