News / Europe

    Ahead of War Crimes Verdict, Karadzic's Divisive Bosnia Legacy Endures

    FILE - Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic appears in the courtroom for his appeals judgement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, July 11, 2013.
    FILE - Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic appears in the courtroom for his appeals judgement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, July 11, 2013.

    The verdict that a U.N. tribunal will hand down next week in Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's trial for genocide has re-opened old wounds for many Bosnians, who for years feared him as the "master of life and death".

    The long-awaited decision by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, to be handed down on Thursday after a five-year trial, reminds Bosnians that Karadzic's legacy lives on in a country still divided along ethnic lines two decades after the war that killed 100,000 people.

    He remains a deeply divisive figure, hated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats but championed by many Serbs who say he has been demonized by the international community.

    "Karadzic is the most responsible for everything that happened in Bosnia," said Fikret Grabovica, whose 11-year-old daughter was killed by a Serb grenade in front of their Sarajevo home 23 years ago.

    "He needs to be remembered as one of the greatest criminals of the recent history and not, as some would wish, as a national hero."

    Grabovica's daughter Irma was among 600 children killed by random shelling or sniper fire during the 43-month siege of the Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, the longest siege of a city in Europe's modern history, in which around 11,500 people died.

    If he is found guilty, Karadzic would be Europe's highest-ranking official since the Nazi trials after World War Two to be sentenced for genocide by an international court.

    Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence. Now 70, Karadzic was the first president of the self-declared Republika Srpska, which the Bosnian Serbs tried to
    carve out of Bosnia and link to Serbia and which survives as an autonomous part of Bosnia under the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war.

    He is widely seen as the mastermind behind the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced two million people from their homes and led to thousands being held, tortured and raped in detention camps.

    The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged the former psychiatrist with 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the Srebrenica massacre, where Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in just a few days in July 1995.

    A warning

    Kada Hotic, a Srebrenica survivor who lost her husband and son in the massacre, said the verdict was important to show that "such an evil is punishable (and) as a warning to those who would dare to push the people into doing crimes in the future."

    The Bosnian war broke out after Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence from the former Yugoslav federation in a 1992 referendum boycotted by Serbs.

    Under Karadzic's leadership, Serbs occupied 70 percent of the country, killing and persecuting Muslims and Croats. A year later, war broke out between Muslims and Croats, previously allied against Serbs.

    Most Serbs deny that crimes were committed during the war.

    Current Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik has said that Karadzic did not order any crimes and argued that the massacre in Srebrenica was not genocide, although the tribunal has ruled that it was. Dodik's view is widely shared by Serbian officials.

    "As long as you have in Bosnia three different history books used by the Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak communities with a totally different assessment about not only the war but the last 200 years... how do you want to move forward?" ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in The Hague last week.

    The Srebrenica killings were conducted under the command of Karadzic's military chief, General Ratko Mladic, whose trial, also on charges of genocide, is under way at The Hague.

    Karadzic was arrested in 2008 after 11 years on the run in Belgrade, where he had lived disguised as a white-bearded New Age healer.

    He said that he would defend himself alone and easily prove his innocence. He also maintained that the late U.S. peace mediator Richard Holbrooke offered him immunity from prosecution in a secret deal, which Holbrooke denied.

    Legacy lives on

    The effects of the war are felt today in the political structure of modern-day Bosnia, which is made up of the Serb Republic that Karadzic established and a federation shared by Bosnian Muslims, or Bosniaks, and Croats. They are linked via a weak central government whose decisions are usually disputed by the Serb region, which often threatens secession.

    "Karadzic's political legacy is very much alive and it still shapes the lives of our children," Bosnian Serb commentator Srdjan Susnica said.

    "It's all there - the borders, the name, the symbols, the legal and political legitimacy, the ethnically cleansed municipalities in Republika Srpska - so I think that he succeeded in everything he wanted," he told Reuters.

    "Whatever his sentence will be, it won't make any significant difference, because the political territory, which was created on genocide and national homogenisation, first of Serbs and then of all others, lives on."

    Karadzic's daughter Sonja Karadzic Jovicevic, who serves as a vice-chairman of the Serb Republic's parliament, said in a statement on Thursday she feared that a guilty verdict could endanger the region's institutions.

    Momcilo Krajisnik, Karadzic's wartime ally who was released in 2013 after serving a prison term for persecution and forcible transfer of civilians during the war, maintains that Karadzic is not guilty, and argues that reconciliation is possible only through forgiveness.

    "Apologies are not needed or possible here, we need forgiveness, that everyone forgives everyone else," said Krajisnik, 71.

    But forgiveness cannot come without recognition that crimes were committed, says Radoslava Habul, a Serb married to a Bosniak whose son was killed and daughter injured by a mortar shell in Sarajevo.

    "If those who committed crimes go through the catharsis, we shall accept them and live together," she said.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora