Newspaper article

War Criminal Radovan Karadzic Shows What Happens When You Give in to the Politics of Fear

Newspaper article

War Criminal Radovan Karadzic Shows What Happens When You Give in to the Politics of Fear

Article excerpt

Try as they might for balance and fairness, many foreign correspondents will from time to time find themselves writing about someone they simply loathe.

For me, Radovan Karadzic was one of those people.

Last week, the Bosnian Serb leader was finally convicted of genocide and other war crimes by an international court after a trial that lasted eight years. Karadzic, now 70, was one of three main leaders of Serbs during the wars that tore apart the old Yugoslav federation a generation ago. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, died in the court's custody in 2006. The Bosnian Serb military leader, Ratko Mladic, is still on trial.

The Balkans have suffered periodic outbreaks of horrific sectarian bloodletting throughout their history, and it was from that memory that Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic built a sense of victimization and fear that exploded across the region in the 1990s.

It's an extreme example, for sure, but one worth keeping in mind today, when anger and fear of the other dominate the political climate in Europe and the U.S. The best leaders inspire people to overcome those feelings. The worst feed that alarm, and then exploit it for political gain.

The Serbs had legitimate concerns in the wake of the breakup of Yugoslavia. There were few leaders who were both effective and well- intentioned. Still, there is also a reason why these three men were the highest-profile targets among 161 people indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Milosevic was the mastermind of the Serb venture, a blustering man capable of answering a single question with a half-hour monologue. His meaty hands seemed built for grabbing political power by any means -- in his case, keeping Serbs in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia together into one country -- under his leadership. Mladic was about his military exploits, no matter how brutal they might turn out to be.

Karadzic, a onetime psychiatrist and a wannabe poet with an unruly head of hair, was the shy but ambitious country boy who came to Sarajevo determined to make it big. He lived in the city for 30 years, built a career there -- and then led a three-year siege that left more than 11,000 of its people dead.

I worked in Sarajevo during the siege, a time when you could watch television reports from the other side showing Karadzic's forces firing mortars, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns in your direction; when you had to time the hair-raising run down Sniper Alley for when you hoped the gunmen on the hillsides were tired, hung over, or in the process of handing off to a new shift.

I would see the casualties in Sarajevo and elsewhere -- including my own colleagues in the media -- being rushed into an operating room, their skin a pinkish-gray color strangely reminiscent of a newborn kitten. I tried to report fairly, but striving for "balance" came to feel pointless, even reckless, when one side was committing genocide. …

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