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.
    Reuters

    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

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora