It’s Time to Test The Karadzic Myth

21. July 2008.00:00
The man who believed he was more a myth than reality is about to be humbled by a very human court.

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By Aleksandar Hemon In Sarajevo, Radovan Karadzic lived in a building across from my high school. I only found that out recently, as I don’t remember ever seeing him in those days. Granted, this was a while ago—I attended Gimnazija Ognjen Prica from 1979 to 1983, but now it seems to me that I should have noticed him: the huge head, the gray mane, the stern jaw, the deep dimple, the eyes that seemed incapable of producing a non-murderous gaze.

Not remembering him, however, is hardly surprising, as it is only with the after-knowledge of his crimes that I began thinking I might have been able to detect the karadzicness in Karadzic. The fact of the matter is that Karadzic, at that time and right up until before the war, was just an inconspicuous denizen of the city he would set out to destroy— indistinguishable from his environment. In his brilliant essay on Karadzic (“Stocking Hat” in Sarajevo Blues) Semezdin Mehmedinovic writes about thumbing through a 1991/1992 Sarajevo phone book and finding 21 entries under the family name Karadzic. In addition to Radovan, there were “10 Muslims, 9 Serbs and 1 Croat.”

The first time I heard Karadzic’s name was when he became the (huge) head of the SDS. As far as I was concerned, he came out of nowhere. Later, I learned that he was a psychiatrist and a poet, one of those who spent a lot of time in the kafana, drinking, gossiping and reciting Russian poets, thus reaffirming the alleged existence of the Slavic Soul. I was familiar with some of the other Founding SDS Fathers: Nikola Koljevic, Slavko Leovac and Vojislav Maksimovic, all of whom were my ex-professors; Aleksa Buha, a philosophy professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, which I had graduated from; Momcilo Krajisnik, who had worked with my mother at one point; Velibor Ostojic, a speech coach at Radio-Sarajevo, where I had worked, to whom I had been sent in order to fix my mumbling.

But now they were planets in a different universe, all now revolving around Karadzic. In their public appearances they were in stark contrast with Karadzic and his mountain-esque crassness: the professors all looked like professors—intellectual and somewhat out of place in the limelight, while Karadzic reveled in the attention. He was the star of Serbdom, making grand gestures while speaking, making grander pronouncements of the impeding anti-Serb gloom and doom. He projected the image of comfortable ruthlessness, of someone who does not care what others might think, which is always fascinating and frightening to Bosnians, ever mindful of what the people—svijet—might say.

I remember going to an SDS press conference in 1991. Karadzic was at the centre of the desk facing the journalists, his long arms spread like wings, his hands resting on the edges, as if he were ready to lift the desk and hurl it at the leery press. Next to him was Koljevic: small, mousy, behind a large, goggle-like pair of glasses, clearly a supporting actor. Karadzic spoke sternly, unflinchingly, uninterested in charming the press, as if he were doing us all a favour by talking to us at all—all but few chosen press members were in his mind proven enemies of the Serbian people. As usual, he claimed that there was some kind of a threat to Serbdom, and if they didn’t react with determination the Serbs would get “fucked.” He did not apologize for using the profane word in public; indeed, he claimed that it was a legitimate word, often used by the Serbian people. His stubborn crassness suggested his resolve not to mince words, not to participate in all that fuddy-duddying, because there was a job to be done, the job of saving Serbdom at all cost.

It was the same forceful, blatant determination that he projected early in 1992, in the infamous, chilling speech to the Bosnian parliament convened to legislate the independence referendum. Exuding the same ruthless ease, he warned the parliament that the Muslim people risked extermination if they voted for independence. He appeared ready to work

This post is also available in: Bosnian