Radovan Karadzic, for more than 12 years the most wanted fugitive in Europe, is now behind bars in The Hague, awaiting trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995. At his initial hearing before a judge at the International Criminal Court, the former Bosnian Serb leader said he intended to serve as his own defense lawyer, and chose not to enter a plea, saying he needed to study the charges against him.
Those charges stem from his alleged role in the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys near the Bosnian town of Srebrenica as well as the three-and-a-half-year siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in which 11,000 died. Karadzic is accused of approving both atrocities. His military commander, Bosnian Serb General Radko Mladic, is accused of carrying them out. Mladic is still at large.
The lead prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Serge Brammertz, hailed the arrest of Karadzic as an important step in bringing to justice one of the architects of Europe?s worst massacres since World War II and a clear demonstration that nobody is beyond the reach of the law.
According to state-owned Serbian television station RTS, Karadzic told Serbia?s chief prosecutor before his extradition that he had made a deal with former U.S. peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke that would exempt him from a war crimes indictment, in return for giving up leadership of his political party and dropping out of public life. The story is not new, and Holbrooke has repeatedly denied such a deal ever existed. Last week, the U.S. State Department also issued a statement denying it made any agreement with Karadzic that would have given him immunity from war crimes charges.
Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor-in-chief of the Serbian newspaper Politika, says the reaction in Serbia to the arrest of Karadzic was one of "shock and disbelief." Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Ms. Smajlovic said no one believed that he was hiding in the middle of Belgrade "under the noses of the police and an unsuspecting public," posing as an expert in alternative medicine. In a ruse worthy of any thriller, Karadzic had completely transformed his appearance into a man resembling a New Age mystic, with a flowing white beard and black robe. Ms. Smajlovic says that in the last decade it was "fashionable to be a war hero or war criminal," but now that "gurus and spiritual healers are all the rage," Mr. Karadzic had used "his psychiatric expertise to excel in this new line of merchandise."
Most Serbs oppose the idea of turning Karadzic over to the International Tribunal, but most see it as a necessary move. Many Serbs still deny the atrocities Karadzic is accused of directing ever happened. Ljiljana Smajlovic says most Serbs do not see Karadzic as a criminal, but neither do they regard him as a hero. Furthermore, she notes, there is no "gloating or triumph" over the Karadzic arrest, "even on the side of the government." She says she believes the demonstrations in Belgrade following his arrest were aimed at protesting "the fact that the Serbian government is being too subservient to the West" in acceding to the extradition. However, she admits, most Serbs "want to become part of the European Union." With E.U. Foreign Ministers withholding approval of membership in the alliance until Karadzic and Mladic were captured, Ms. Smajlovic says Karadzic was an "obstacle that had to be removed."
The Tribunal itself is seen by some Serbs as further Western subjugation of Serb nationalism. Ljiljana Smajlovic says people in Serbia are not "particularly proud" that Karadzic has been extradited to The Hague because for many the Tribunal is seen having "so little credibility." In fact, she says, it is "detested" in Serbia. Ms. Smajlovic says she thinks the new government of Boris Tadic had no desire to try Mr. Karadzic in Serbia. And, as she points out, he is not even a Serbian citizen. So the only alternative to The Hague would have been a trial in Sarajevo.
But Bosnian journalist Dzeilana Pecanin says she talked with someone who in fact suggested that Sarajevo might have been the best venue for a trial. Ms. Pecanin says maybe that would be the "ultimate satisfaction" for all the people who lost their loved ones and that perhaps The Hague might even be "too civilized." She notes that her own father was killed while "queuing in an infamous water line in Sarajevo." Djeilana Pecanin says she is "sure" The Hague tribunal will give Mr. Karadzic a "fair trial" and that ultimately the punishment will be "fair and just" as well.
In Bosnia, the reaction to the week?s events was utterly different, says Dzeilana Pecanin, a war-time reporter with the Bosnian daily newspaper Oslobodjenje and currently chief of the VOA Bosnian Service . Ms. Pecanin says that for the first time since the war ended, people came out into the streets "spontaneously," and hundreds of people were "screaming with joy." Although many other people charged with war crimes have been arrested, Ms. Pecanin says, "for Bosnia and for Sarajevo, Karadzic is the ultimate symbol of destruction and death."
In much of the rest of Europe, the response to the Karadzic arrest was one of jubilation. Matthias Rueb, Washington correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says the arrest was greeted as a "sensation" in Germany. Even more important from a political perspective, Mr. Rueb says, Serbia?s new government has "shown its commitment" to doing what is needed to rejoin the international community. Mr. Rueb says it is also significant that Belgrade has sent back those ambassadors that were recalled after most European countries recognized Kosovo?s independence. He suggests that Belgrade has finally recognized that Serbia cannot simultaneously hold onto Kosovo and gain EU membership. Ironically, he says, Serbs are beginning to realize that "Greater Serbia" can exist only in a united Europe.
To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.