Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 7 Issue 38 | September 19, 2008 |

  Cover Story
  Straight Talk
  Food for Thought
  Photo Feature
  A Roman Column
  TV Watch
  Star Diary
  Book Review

   SWM Home

Food for Thought

From Medic to Mass Murderer

(Part I)

Farah Ghuznavi

Hiding behind his holy man guise.

After many of us had started to give up hope that it would ever happen, history was recently made (in a more than averagely bizarre fashion) with the arrest of the one-time Bosnian Serb leader and key war crimes suspect in the Balkans conflict, Radovan Karadjic. After extensive searches by NATO troops had proved fruitless for over a decade, Karadjic was finally discovered to be living and working in, of all places, a suburb of new Belgrade.

He had been a wanted man at the Hague tribunal for war crimes for some time, as a result of his activities in the early 1990s. Supported by the then president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, and all too ably assisted by the Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadjic presided over a bloodbath of so-called "ethnic cleansing" (a disarmingly neutral euphemism making mass slaughter sound like a laundry service!), which left tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats dead. All this in the pursuance of their joint dream of a "Greater Serbia"!

Karadjic is widely considered to be responsible for two of the bloodiest episodes in the worst conflict seen in Europe since the Second World War - the massacre of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, and the long and brutal siege of Sarajevo that claimed over 10,000 lives from 1992-95. Among other things, Karadjic's indictment by the Hague tribunal on war crimes includes accusations related to complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, persecution, deportation, taking of hostages and other inhumane acts. Quite a catalogue of evils for a man who started out as a psychiatrist and self-professed poet! But then perhaps his bad poetry already gave away the darkness lurking behind the smooth exterior - "Now that I am in this crazy fervour of mine I could do just about anything/So your stupid rotten vain souls wouldn't stare at me with their stupid peaceful eyes…"

Radovan Karadzic, (above left), and Ratko Mladic(above right) are largely responsible for the Srebenica massacre. courtesy-©http://www.paixbalkans.org, The advocacy Project

Radovan Karadjic was born in a remote mountain village in Montenegro, to an ultra-nationalist family. His father spent years in jail for fighting against Tito and the Communists. The young Radovan moved to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo at the age of 15, and later graduated in medicine, specialising in psychiatry and the treatment of depression. But it was his poetry that was to bring him into contact with prominent Serbian writers, although his work was largely dismissed by Sarajevo's intellectual elite. A well-known Serbian nationalist writer, Dobrica Cosic, ultimately persuaded the psychiatrist to enter politics. Perhaps he thought that Karadjic would make a better politician than a poet, but it was a decision for which the world would pay a terrible price.

Karadjic subsequently set up the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in response to the Bosnian Muslim and Croat parties that supported Bosnia's struggle for independence. And when Bosnian independence was declared in 1992, he immediately sought to undermine it by declaring independence for the Serb-populated areas within Bosnia, by creating the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (later renamed Republika Srpska). In this he received strong support from Slobodan Milosevic, at that time in power in Belgrade. The idea behind their actions was to create a greater Serbia that would comprise of Serbia proper and the neighbouring areas of Bosnia that were populated by ethnic Serbs.

Unsurprisingly, all this led inexorably to war, with Karadjic and his henchmen setting up a stronghold in the village of Pale, located in the mountains overlooking Sarajevo. This served as the capital of the Bosnian Serbs until the war ended in 1995. As part of his strategy to create Greater Serbia, Karadjic waged a ruthless campaign of "ethnic cleansing", forcing more than 250,000 Bosnian Muslims from their homes in Serb majority areas in eastern parts of Bosnia. Additionally, prisoners of war or Muslims and Croats driven out of their homes were forced into modern-day concentration camps, where many were starved or beaten to death.

During all of this, Karadjic became ever more arrogant, propaganda films on Serbian television channels featuring him shopping with his wife (for Burberry and mink coats respectively!), while the war raged on in Bosnia. On one occasion, he admonished a New York Times reporter who had described the realities of ethnic cleansing, insisting that the Muslims were merely being given the chance to return "home" to their co-religionists. Both during and after the war, the Bosnian Serb leader lied shamelessly, denying that the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica even took place. He also made the outrageous claim that the infamous camps in northwest Bosnia were in fact centres set up at the Muslims' request - where kindly Serb soldiers handed out food and clothing to weary Muslim refugees!

There are many who question how a man trained in the healing arts could have proved to be so utterly cruel and ruthless towards an entire section of humanity. One theory that has been put forward in this regard is that while the majority of men and women in the medical profession are indeed good and caring people, there is a minority (including "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti and the British serial killer Dr Harold Shipman) who are attracted to medicine for all the wrong reasons.

One of those reasons is related to the absolute power of life and death that doctors traditionally wield, which is a power that can be misused by deviant individuals such as these. Another explanation is that part of the training of doctors, at least for Karadjic's generation, involved learning how to detach oneself from the pain of others, in order to treat patients more objectively and effectively. In the case of psychopaths like Radovan Karadjic, it is believed, the necessary professional detachment can mutate into indifference towards the suffering of others - and in extreme cases, even a form of sadism.

According to the writer, David Rhode, the fall of Srebrenica (which had been designated a UN-protected "safe haven", until Dutch peacekeepers ceded control to the Serbs, leading to a massacre of the helpless civilians sheltering there) was considered by both Karadjic and Mladic to be an ongoing chapter in the Serbs' centuries-old struggle against Islam and the Turks, and an opportunity for revenge for the Serbs killed during the Second World War.

Many might consider this a weak justification for the wholesale slaughter of a civilian population in Europe at the tail end of the 20th century, but Radovan Karadjic clearly had no doubts. He was a believer in ethnic "purity" and the innate superiority of the Christian Orthodox Serbs over their Muslim neighbours, reportedly describing the killing of a bumblebee to be more regrettable than the slaughter of any number of Muslims. His attitude was a clear echo of the animal-loving Adolf Hitler, who regretted the eating of meat as barbaric, but clearly felt otherwise about setting up concentration camps and orchestrating the extermination of 6 million Jews, as well as gypsies, Russians, disabled people and anyone else who did not fit his definition of "Aryan purity".

Karadjic was ultimately forced to step down as the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs in 1996, after he lost the support of his one-time mentor, Slobodan Milosevic. The latter did not hesitate to sacrifice his ally in favour of political gains for himself, by making a deal directly with the Americans on Bosnia's future. Karadjic subsequently began a prolonged game of "catch me if you can" with NATO led troops, finally going underground when it became clear that there was a real danger he might be arrested.

During the decade-long search for the Bosnian Serb leader, NATO soldiers conducted dozens of raids in an attempt to apprehend him. The locations where they sought him ranged from Serbian Orthodox monasteries and mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia (in echoes of the equally fruitless search for bin Laden), to the homes of his children, to the sewage tank in his wife's house. None of it yielded the desired results.

Some, like the diminutive former UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, insisted that the war criminal was hiding in the Serbian capital, under the protection of hardliners in the security services. And it now seems that that was indeed the case. In the words of one observer, the search for Karadjic "...began like a thriller, but ended like a farce". After 13 years on the run, Karadjic's luck ran out in an unexpectedly pedestrian location: on a municipal bus in Belgrade suburb. And it came within days of the formation of a pro-western coalition government that had pledged to pursue Serbia's EU membership.

(…to be continued)
All facts and figures taken from the UK independent and the BBC

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008