Everyone’s Favorite Villain

A one-line communiqué from the office of the Serbian president flashed across the world on Monday: Radovan Karadzic, wartime leader of the Serbs in Bosnia, was arrested in Belgrade. He is wanted by the Hague Inquisition for allegedly masterminding the Bosnian War, the siege of Sarajevo, and the "genocide" in Srebrenica – in effect, for being the president of the Bosnian Serb Republic during the war, and therefore responsible for everything that (allegedly) took place during the conflict. For the past twelve years, Karadzic had disappeared from sight; as it turned out, he lived in Belgrade under an assumed identity and practiced alternative medicine.

Karadzic’s arrest occasioned a veritable orgy of propaganda about the Bosnian War, with media necromancers raising the specters of any half-truth, rumor, libel or outright lie ever associated with the former psychiatrist who, together with the late Alija Izetbegovic, played a key role in the Bosnian drama.

Fear and Gloating

News from Belgrade quickly drew current and former Imperial politicians to the media spotlight. Triumphal gloating was the order of the day.

Richard Holbrooke called Karadzic "one of the worst men in the world" and "the Osama bin Laden of Europe." Madeleine Albright told the NPR that Karadzic was "behind the systematic ethnic cleansing – murder – of several hundred thousand Bosnians." (The official figure of war dead, both civilian and military, was established recently as just under 100,000.)

White House press secretary Dana Perino hailed Karadzic’s arrest as a sign of Serbia’s commitment to justice. Meanwhile, Emperor Bush was meeting with leaders of the terrorist KLA, now "president" and "prime minister" of the separatist province of Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu and Hashim Thaci.

Nor did the Eurocrats remain reticent in their praises of Karadzic’s demise. Commissioners Solana and Rehn lauded Serbian "cooperation." Angela Merkel of Germany called it a "vindication for the victims." The list goes on.

Bosnian Muslims were overjoyed. In Sarajevo, some danced on the streets and waved black flags of jihad as news came in (video). Serbian officials mostly kept blathering about how great this would be for their dream of joining the EU; one exception were the Radicals, who declared it a "difficult day for Serbia" and claimed that extraditing Karadzic to an institution that made a point of acquitting Muslim and Albanian warlords accused of murder and torture of Serbs was absurd.

The Warmonger?

So who, exactly, is Radovan Karadzic? Is he really the "Osama bin Laden of Europe," a warmongering genocidal fanatic personally responsible for the Bosnian War? Hardly. Those willing and able to go beyond sound bites in their quest for actual information ought to read an essay by Srdja Trifkovic, published the morning after Karadzic’s arrest. Cutting through the layers of propaganda built up by the mainstream media, Trifkovic lays out the situation in Bosnia that preceded the conflict, and the role of Karadzic, Alija Izetbegovic, Slobodan Milosevic, Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman – and foreign powers – in the Bosnian tragedy.

The Inquisition claims that Karadzic was a co-conspirator in Slobodan Milosevic’s alleged "joint criminal enterprise" to establish Greater Serbia. But Karadzic and Milosevic never got along well, nor did Karadzic take orders from Belgrade. Furthermore, rather than being a warmonger, Karadzic actually tried to make a deal with the Bosnian Muslims at least three times. First he approached Adil Zulfikarpasic, the chief sponsor and co-founder of the SDA party; Izetbegovic sabotaged these talks, and soon elbowed Zulfikarpasic out of the party. He also tried dealing with Fikret Abdic, who was more popular than Izetbegovic among Bosnian Muslims. Izetbegovic again thwarted any attempted agreement, and Abdic retreated to his western Bosnian holdings, where he made a separate peace with the Serbs later on. The third occasion, in March 1992, Karadzic and Izetbegovic actually signed a treaty accepting Bosnia’s independence, but as a confederation of ethnic provinces. At this point, American ambassador Warren Zimmerman encouraged Izetbegovic to torpedo the treaty.

It is said Karadzic wanted war; yet he publicly pleaded with the Muslims not to start a fight. On the other hand, Izetbegovic did want a war, as that was the only way of achieving his goals laid out in the "Islamic Declaration" as early as 1970.

The Scapegoat

"Karadzic never understood… Izetbegovic’s grand strategy, and that time was not on the side of the Serbs," writes Trifkovic.

"In 1992-1993 Karadzic made a fundamental miscalculation that made the war unwinnable for the Serbs. Ever obsessed with maps, square miles and territorial percentages to the detriment of strategic planning, he sat on his advantages and hoped that in the fullness of time the world would recognize the Serbs’ apparent victory…

"Blinkered by his flawed assumptions, Karadzic failed to grasp the tectonic shift that took place in January 1994, when the U.S. sponsored a Croat-Muslim alliance and the Europeans realized that there would be no settlement unless they surrendered political leadership to Washington…

"From spring 1994 on the Muslims could no longer lose the war, which, in view of their weak starting position, was tantamount to winning it."

Bosnia was used by the U.S. to establish the Imperial prerogative to intervene in other countries without much regard for the UN or international law. What soon followed were Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There is no way the Empire will even entertain a challenge to its narrative, as without the Bosnian myth it crumbles entirely. Says Trifkovic:

"Radovan Karadzic will be duly convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, and he will not come out of jail alive. The verdict is already written, but it reflects a fundamental imbalance. It ignores the essence of the Bosnian war – the Serbs’ striving not to be forced into secession – while remaining mute about the culpability of the other two sides for a series of unconstitutional, illegitimate and illegal political decisions that caused the war."

The judgment against Karadzic, writes Trifkovic, "will be neither fair or just, and therefore it will be detrimental to what America should stand for in the world. It will also give further credence to the myth of Muslim blameless victimhood, Serb viciousness, and Western indifference."

United in Hatred

Far-fetched? Not at all. In November 2001, as debris from the 9/11 attacks was still being cleared, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen proposed a "second front" against terrorism – in Bosnia. Did he advocate going after the Islamic militants who settled there, or their financial aid networks, or the imported clerics with their fiery sermons? Oh no. Rather, he claimed that "bagging Karadzic" would help the U.S. win propaganda points among the world’s Muslims, who were "sniffing glue from an anti-American tube." Cohen even used a Nazi analogy, claiming Karadzic and Mladic "have the mentality of Nazis without the might and expertise of Germany," and argued that going after them would be a "happy marriage of justice with self-interest."

Washington and Brussels’s insistence on painting themselves as saviors of Balkans Muslims from the evil, genocidal Serbs only serves to inflame the fires of jihad. Any help from the West is dismissed by Muslim militants as ineffective and belated, while the notion of Muslims threatened by genocide is exploited to the fullest to swell the ranks of the mujahedin.

There is something disturbing about how Karadzic’s arrest is being cheered by slimy Eurocrats, Imperial interventionists and frenzied jihadists alike. Either he actually is a paragon of evil – which, assertions and allegations notwithstanding, there is little evidence for – or the three most destructive forces in the world today can agree on somebody (or a whole nation of somebodies, rather) they all love to hate.

Which makes the current Serbian government’s talk of a bright future ahead just a bit naïve.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.