In a defiant interview before his trial verdict, wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic insists that ‘no reasonable court’ would convict him of genocide and war crimes, despite the evidence against him.
“I know what I wanted, what I did, even what I dreamed of, and there is no reasonable court that would convict me, no matter how many high-ranking Bosnian Serb officials have been convicted,” Radovan Karadzic told BIRN in this interview before the verdict in his trial for genocide and war crimes is delivered on Thursday at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
In the interview, which was conducted via email, Karadzic seeks to portray himself as a peacemaker, not the orchestrator of mass murder which he is accused of being by the prosecution at his trial.
He says he does not approve of the unlawful killings during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but does not take responsibility for them, arguing that there was no official command ordering atrocities like the Srebrenica massacres.
He insists instead that his “permanent fight to preserve the peace, prevent the war and decrease the sufferings of everyone regardless of religion” should be praised, not prosecuted.
It is an argument that is likely to be met with contempt by Bosniak survivors of the 1992-95 war, but Karadzic insists that he was not responsible for the horrific crimes that were committed during the conflict.
The Karadzic judgement will be one of the most important war crimes verdicts ever delivered, and his responses to BIRN’s questions, however unacceptable they may be to Bosniak victims, offer an insight into the thinking of the former Bosnian Serb leader as he awaits the decision from the judges at the UN court which may put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
What are your expectations for the judgement on Thursday, considering there have already been many verdicts convicting high-ranking Bosnian Serb officials of the crimes with which you are charged?
My expectations are the same [as they always were]. I know what I wanted, what I did, even what I dreamed of, and there is no reasonable court that would convict me, no matter how many ‘high-ranking Bosnian Serb officials’ have been convicted. This did not just convict them, but also convicted the attempt to achieve international justice itself, sentencing chances for a shared, fruitful life for our communities. Many of those sentences are going to be discussed longer than Dreyfus’s sentence was commented upon. Apart from that, many of those high-ranking Serb officials were not used to this judicial system, and couldn’t prepare their defences properly.
Why would their sentences influence my judgement? The chamber in my case will have only have evidence from my case in front of it, not from other cases. Or are you probably assuming that some factors from outside my case might be influential in my case? If the previous trials have any influence, let alone a decisive one, all the trials subsequent to them would have been unnecessary. And if politics has an influence, then the Goddess Justice is not blind at all.
Some people have criticised the evidence you put forward, suggesting that some of the claims you made had already been heard and rejected during other trials in The Hague, especially about the deadly attacks on the Markale market in Sarajevo and about Srebrenica. How do you respond?
The truth can be rejected as many times as one wants, it will still be the truth. Do you remember the 80,000 rapes, the 300,000 Muslims who were killed, cannibalism in the enclaves, the implantation of dog embryos in women’s uteruses and all of the crap brought up by our opponents’ highest officials during the war? Where did that all disappear to? Nobody dared to bring it before the court, but we sustained horrible damage because of those ‘truths’.
Even so, a lot of mere war propaganda has been brought before the chambers here. To be fair towards those chambers, many of those accused couldn’t defend themselves because of many circumstances: insufficient time and resources, no investigating judge as in our previous system [the former Yugoslav criminal code] dependence on the prosecution’s investigation and its good will to disclose the exculpatory evidence in a timely manner, prejudices, demonisation in the media, the bias of all the Western powers, organisations and public and so on. And the likely opportunism of some chambers. For instance, had the Markale incidents been judged in this UN court on the basis of UN documents, none of the Serbs would have been convicted of the Markale incidents.
With Srebrenica, even what happened in reality is bad enough, so that no exaggeration can help us to reach understanding and peace among us. The unnecessary killing of a single man is horrifying, let alone certainly several hundred at least, who are undisputed victims with ligatures [Srebrenica victims executed with their hands tied behind their backs], for instance. Those who did it are the enemies of the Serbs first, then enemies of those families [of the victims], then of the Muslim community. The same with the 3,500 Serb victims in the same area.
Now, we could compete to say who was more cruel, who killed more women, children and elderly people, who cut more throats, ears and genitals, but it shouldn’t be for the media, but for a consensus in a just and competent Serb-Muslim commission for truth, when the time comes. Anything else will only worsen the matter.
Do you honestly hold out much hope that you will be acquitted of the Srebrenica charges after so many verdicts convicting others have already been handed down by courts in The Hague and Bosnia and Herzegovina?
It is not matter of hope, but of law and justice. The trial is not only about whether something happened at all, but also about possible liability of other people more or less remote from the direct perpetrators. For the very merit [of the charges], I denied many allegations of crimes throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina in terms of several instances: one, whether it really happened in reality at all; two, in what circumstances something happened, who started it and how; three, was it avoidable?; four, was the outcome of it as alleged?; five, who did it, and on whose order?; and six, was it part of the wider policy and so on, and at the very end – whether or not the highest officials were liable.
I strongly contest [the idea] that the police or the army committed some [crime] because it was committed by a member of the army or police. It has to be established whether someone committed a crime on his own, or was tasked to do so by his command. The direct perpetrators mainly hid their misdeeds from their immediate superiors at all costs, thus avoiding punishment, and in such cases it wasn’t perpetrated by the official force at all.
For Srebrenica, unfortunately, I cannot deny everything that is alleged, but I have to contest the extent and background of what happened. Again, it wasn’t an army unit that was tasked to do the misdeed; rather it was a sort of patchwork, a random collection of guys summoned to do the killings, to their surprise, against their own will and interest, and it was so clandestine that the perpetrators hid it from their most immediate commander. But nobody is going to benefit from any exaggeration pertaining to Srebrenica or any other battlefield in our – let’s hope -last civil war. Let us establish the truth!
Bosnian Serb police and military officials have been sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison. As supreme commander of these forces, how do you rate your chances in your own verdict?
Many of the officials mentioned shouldn’t have even been indicted. There is a big misunderstanding and misconception about our armies and other armed forces. In other military and judicial practices, known in the countries where the Tribunal judges come from, there wasn’t Tito’s doctrine of the armed people [compulsory conscription], but instead there were well-trained professional armies and police forces, easy to command and control. Apart from that, this civil war was a continuum from our fratricidal wars, with lot of vengeful feelings, resentments, old hatreds and new ambitions to dominate neighbours.
Whenever one party claims something it doesn’t have the right to claim, the stage is set for disaster.Can you imagine how fellow Muslims would react if Serbs demanded that the whole of Bosnia became a part of a unitary Serbia, without even any autonomy? The Serbs wouldn’t have any right to demand that, let alone to impose that by force. But what was demanded from the Serbs concerning the unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina is of the same nature as the aforementioned hypothetic Serb demand towards the Muslims. If we are not able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other party, we will pay a horrible price.
My chances in the verdict should be as the chances of any state president in the modern world – no more, no less. The courts should be aware of all presidential duties, abilities and limitations, and be devoted to the truth and justice. It is very simple to see from all the evidence that the president in such circumstances couldn’t do any more, and that my permanent fight to preserve the peace, prevent the war and decrease the sufferings of everyone regardless of religion were an exemplary effort deserving respect rather than persecution.
Some observers believe that at several points during your trial and in the trial of Ratko Mladic, the defence teams have attempted to gain advantage by shifting blame from the police to the army and vice versa. Is this true, and do you expect your verdict to be detrimental for Mladic’s case?
First, it was the prosecution’s duty to specify its charges and disclose which unit of what formation committed some deeds. The prosecution took a very comfortable position, generally naming any perpetrators as phantom ‘Serb forces’, without any obligation to specify what force it meant.
Various paramilitaries who I disowned at the beginning of the war, and persecuted throughout the entire war, cannot be considered ‘Serb forces’. There was no evidence and no complete and documented charges with the real perpetrators named by the prosecution. That was why the defence were ‘casting about in the dark’ in order to establish who did what.
There were legitimate actions by the army and the police, and that all was well documented. It comprised the planning, organising, preparatory orders, executive orders and follow-up. There was no evidence that official Serb forces, acting in an official manner, committed any crime. But there was evidence that crimes were committed by some members of official formations, which is completely different from the actions of the units.
I don’t think any defence tried to redirect liability or shift blame onto others. First of all, there was no use for it, and ultimately, I do not think that the judges would appreciate that kind of defence. I had many objections to General Mladic and other old-fashioned officers, but none of them could have been blamed for crimes. If I could, I would have removed some of them that I tried to do much more easily, because I would not cover for anyone. I do not believe that my judgment will have any impact on Mladic’s case. It was my obligation to summon everyone who could have known anything to testify, and it was their right to testify or not.
Your verdict is likely to cause controversy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whichever way it goes. How do you see your importance in the country now, after two decades of absence from its political life?
If there had been no foreign interference in our crisis, I would have achieved a constructive and compromising solution with Mr. [Alija] Izetbegovic. We were on a very fruitful road. In my opinion, it would have been much better for the Muslims to stay inside Yugoslavia, where they would even have been a majority one day, but the Croats didn’t want it in any case. Mr. Izetbegovic was very ambivalent. Mr. Izetbegovic wanted a specific political and religious arrangement for his Muslim community, which couldn’t have been implemented for the Serbs and Croats, and I didn’t oppose it in any way.
But Mr. Izetbegovic assumed he needed independence for the project. So Mr. Izetbegovic proposed what we have now, a division of Bosnia and Herzegovina into sort of cantons, or constituent units. Had it been the Lisbon agreement [proposed pre-war in 1992, suggesting ethnic power-sharing and devolution to local ethnic communities] instead of the Dayton agreement [which ended the war in 1995], we all would be much happier.
As far as my importance for the country is concerned, I believe I am as important as the average citizen, expect to my family and friends. The new generation, which is now as old as I was in 1990, is coming onto the stage, and what they would need me for? If someone needs any advice, it doesn’t cost much.
As far as any possible commotion in the country is concerned, I think there shouldn’t be any, and I do hope that there won’t be any. No individual should be so important, and let us keep our feelings inside, rather than on the streets.
Many protagonists of the changes in 1990 are not with us any longer. Many people much younger and much more handsome than us died on all sides. Let the new generations preserve the country and region from any trouble, and build their future without the burden of the past. But in the first place – forget about achieving any kind of domination over each other and keeping each other in a state arrangement that is unacceptable to one of the sides. Let us finally come to our senses. And there is more risk because of the actions of the Bosnian courts, than of this one. Such flagrant bias must be stopped immediately. It has never been the case that ‘bad delivered good’.
If you were cleared and released, what would you do? Go into politics again?
I hope not into politics again, and even if I wanted to, the new generation would rightfully prevent it. I even didn’t want it then, in 1990, because I had a very pleasant life, family, profession, friends and literature. If there hadn’t been a war, I was going to withdraw from politics soon.
While I was on ‘standby’ in the mountains [while evading arrest], I wrote a novel (The Miraculous Chronicle of the Night) and a comedy, Sitovacija, and some verses for minors. Politics took me 25 years away from me, which means at least five to eight books. Why would I want to sustain more of these losses? I would spend my precious time with my family and my writing.