The Show Goes On

The show trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continued on March 1 before the Hague Inquisition, but also in the media. Both in the West and in the Muslim world, Karadzic and the Bosnian Serbs have been convicted by the press of vilest atrocities long ago. One could almost feel the frustration of the commentators and reporters that there even has to be a trial in the first place, so strong are their convictions about Karadzic and the Bosnian War. Evidence? Facts? True believers need no such things. Nor do the Hague prosecutors, apparently.

Challenging Cherished Myths

Reading through the coverage of the trial inevitably reveals that reporters and editors aren’t so much telling what happened in the courtroom, but trying to argue with Karadzic’s defense. Take, for example, Ian Traynor of the Guardian, who "reports" from the trial as if he were the prosecutor rebutting Karadzic’s opening statement. Other journalists took a similar approach, typically presenting the accusations as indisputable facts then saying that Karadzic "denied" war crimes.

He did, in fact, challenge the Official Truth about several key episodes of the Bosnian War, saying that there was no genocide in Srebrenica, and that Sarajevo was divided rather than besieged. The Bosnian Muslims, he argued, used civilian buildings as fortifications, and often shot at their own people for propaganda purposes. Moreover, he also claimed the war was a result of Muslim desire to establish dominion over all of Bosnia, driven by a radical Islamic agenda. He says he has evidence to back all of this up. If he does, that is more than the prosecutors, the Tribunal itself, or the media have produced so far.

Consider a feature (video) by Al-Jazeera reporter Rageh Omar, which opened with the images of the grieving Muslims at the Srebrenica memorial and a video montage implying that the Bosnian Serb forces rounded up eight thousand or more Muslim civilians and executed them in broad daylight. Yet actual forensic evidence has found around 3800 bodies, 3600 of which were men aged 15 to 65 — legal age of conscription into the Bosnian (Muslim) Army. And less than five hundred had blindfolds or bindings, indicating executions. But the ICTY and the media continue to claim that the Serbs killed eight thousand people, and declare this to be genocide, based on questionable testimonies and badly mishandled evidence.

A Different Tune

The very same day Karadzic appeared in a Hague courtroom, one of his former adversaries was detained at Heathrow airport. Ejup Ganic, once the right hand of Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic who styled himself the "vice-president" of Bosnia, was arrested by British police acting on a Serbian warrant.

Belgrade is charging Ganic with responsibility in the May 1992 ambush of the retreating Yugoslav Army column in Sarajevo. The crumbling federal army had made a deal with Bosnian and Macedonian authorities to depart unhindered. Izetbegovic’s forces violated that deal, and the resulting massacres of retreating Army columns ensured the bitter enmity of many Army officers, who then joined Karadzic’s nascent military.

One would think, then, that an opportunity to examine these events in a court of law would be greeted with enthusiasm by the politicians and the press that keep talking about the need for "justice, truth and reconciliation" in the Balkans. Yet the response in the very same media that have covered the Karadzic trial with so much zeal and emotion this week has been completely different when it came to Ganic.

The Economist, for example, dismissed the ambush as a matter of "forty rifles" and bemoaned the damage allegedly done to "Serbia’s attempts to rejoin the European fold" by "dragging up the past." Others focused not on what Ganic may or may not have done back in the 1990s, but on the "tensions" and "muddled ties" his arrest may cause, "feeding Balkans hysteria" in a year when Bosnia is having a general election.

What are they implying, that the Karadzic trial has no effect on Balkans relations, or tensions or ties? That the incessant propaganda about the Serbs as genocidal aggressors is good, perfectly normal and desirable while a mere mention that a Muslim could have been responsible for an atrocity is a cause for panic? Talk about a partisan press

Just Cause?

The Tribunal and the media maintain that the Bosnian Serbs, and Karadzic as their leader, sought to occupy Bosnia and destroy Croat and Muslim populations as part of some grand conspiracy to create an ethnically pure "Greater Serbia." Even a cursory look at the facts indicates that these charges are absurd. Alija Izetbegovic never denied being an Islamic revolutionary. He openly stated that he would "sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia." Karadzic may have mishandled the Bosnian Serb war effort, both strategically and tactically, but there is no doubt that it was the Muslims who sought dominion over the Serbs and Croats, not the other way around.

One of the things Karadzic said in his opening statement was that the Bosnian Serb cause was "just and holy." He didn’t actually call the war itself holy — though the distinction escaped many reporters. ICTY translations have been notoriously unreliable. For example, a phrase attributed to Karadzic — "marble evidence" — does not actually exist in Serbian. He could have called evidence concrete, but never marble. So it isn’t surprising that Karadzic’s description of his "holy" cause — freedom from a Muslim government bent on dominance — is being miscast as some sort of crusade. The Tribunal and the media have twisted words before.

Exercise in Futility

Given that the countries sponsoring the Tribunal have also played a major role in supporting Izetbegovic’s drive for a centralized Bosnian state — before, during and after the war — and occupying a portion of Serbia to carve out an "independent," ethnically cleansed "state" of Kosovo, there is no chance of Radovan Karadzic getting anything even remotely resembling a fair trial. Too much political capital has been invested in the Bank of Collective Serbian Guilt for the investors to admit the error of their ways now.

But the persecution of Radovan Karadzic and other Serb leaders isn’t going to help the Empire any. Least of all will it inspire gratitude in the Muslim world, a goal several policymakers have openly alluded to in the past. Back in the 1990s, to an Empire in search of a cause it seemed like a no-brainer: claim a "genocide" through hysterical propaganda about the evil Serbs slaughtering innocent Muslims, step in to save the day, and emerge as a knight in shining armor. Over and over the Western leaders, from Bill Clinton to Tony Blair, have repeated this trope. The world’s Muslims didn’t buy it. Instead, the Muslim public opinion chose to regard the West as an evil, conniving force that stood idly by and watched the slaughter.

Ironically, that was one of the major talking points of the whole hysterical propaganda effort.

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 debuted in November 2000.