Serbia: The war criminal Karadzic and Western hypocrisy


The Serbian government last month cornered Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Since being indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague for war crimes including genocide, Karadzic had been hiding until his July 21 arrest.

His arrest has been followed by a wave of hypocrisy throughout the West, which rushed to congratulate Serbia on the arrest. Yet in Afghanistan and Iraq, upwards of a million people have been killed as a result of the US invasions of these countries, which are being obliterated.


Daily crimes are committed against the Palestinian people by a country in violation of international law while receiving massive military aid from the US. While these phenomenal crimes go unpunished, the leading war criminals responsible for them believe they have the right to designate who should or should not be punished.

Such naked hypocrisy can never lead to true justice, or even a feeling of justice among the world's oppressed.

However, it is a mistake to jump from this observation to any defense of Karadzic.

Born in 1945 in Montenegro, Karadzic was the son of a Chetnik (Serb-nationalist) warrior of World War II. The Chetniks first fought the Nazis but ended up collaborating with them against the anti-fascist partisans led by Broz Tito. For much of Karadzic's childhood, his father was in prison.

The victorious partisans set up the multi-ethnic socialist federation of Yugoslavia, in which Serbs were one of many equal nations. Extreme nationalism was kept under wraps, to prevent domination by the leading nations, especially Serbs.

The Chetniks, by contrast, aimed to re-impose the Serbian monarchy over the non-Serb peoples.

As capitalism was increasingly re-established in Yugoslavia during the 1980s, the ascending bourgeoisie needed a new ideology to replace "communism" — and found it in a revived national chauvinism.

A psychiatrist and "poet", Karadzic fell under the influence of dissident Dobrica Cosic, a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts and the "father" of modern Serb nationalism. The Serb nationalist, lunar-right revival of the '80s came to dominate the academy, which chose Karadzic to head the pro-Chetnik, anti-communist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia in 1990.

Neither an International Monetary Fund-linked party technocrat like Serbian prime minister Slobodan Milosevic, nor a military officer like General Mladic, would necessarily have ended up destroying Yugoslavia.

Rather, the winds of Serbian chauvinism, reflecting the new capitalist class, swept both along as opportunists of power.

Karadzic, by contrast, like his close ally and founder of the Serbian Chetnik Movement Vojislav Seselj, was always an enemy of the old order and a natural leader of the new.

While the emerging capitalists of other Yugoslav nations also promoted chauvinism — especially the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman — that of Serbia had an additional weapon to put their ideology into practice. To grab the largest slice of the old Yugoslavia, they hijacked the former Yugoslav army, the fourth largest in Europe.

Destroying Bosnia

In 1992, the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia was constitutionally a republic including Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) — all represented in the government and every level of the state apparatus proportionally. They were inextricably mixed.

A quarter of the land mass of Bosnia, with a quarter of its population, had no ethnic majority at all. In many that did, the "majorities" were tenuous. Major cities contained Serbs, Croats, Muslims, mixed Serb-Croat-Muslims, "Yugoslavs", "Bosnians", Jews and others, living in the same apartment blocks and working in the same places.

This coexistence had lasted 800 years, and everywhere were scattered mosques, synagogues, Serbian Orthodox and Croat Catholic churches.

From the outset, Karadzic planned to destroy Bosnia, so rudely based on coexistence between peoples rather than ethnic purity, root and branch and had agreement from his Bosnian Croat chauvinist counterparts.

To do this, the Muslim plurality of the population had to be eliminated, as Karadzic was not shy to say. In a speech to the Bosnian parliament, he warned the Muslims would "disappear from the face of the Earth".

In 1992, his Chetniks and the now-completely Serb "Yugoslav" army swept across 70% of Bosnia and uprooted, bombed and slaughtered the non-Serb population. While the July 1995 massacre in the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where more than 8000 Muslim captives were killed, was the most terrible crime, massacres in all of the Muslim-majority east Bosnia occurred over many months in 1992, alongside massacres elsewhere in Bosnia.

The mixed population of the capital Sarajevo, and dozens of other towns and cities, were besieged and bombed daily.

Officially, 100,000 people were killed, though real numbers may be much higher. Eighty-three percent of civilian victims were Muslims. Millions were driven from their homes.

Nearly 1700 mosques were destroyed, compared to 34 Orthodox churches. The National Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with over "a million books, more than a hundred thousand manuscripts and rare books, and centuries of historical records", according to professor of Islamic Studies Michael Sells, went up in flames. So did the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, containing 5000 Islamic and Jewish manuscripts from many parts of the Middle East.

This is Karadzic's legacy.

But imperialism helped destroy Bosnia, because its heartland cities and industrial centres represented a multi-ethnic working class containing the last embers of socialist Yugoslavia.

Even before the war began, European powers put together plans drawn up by the Serb and Croat chauvinists for the ethnic partition of Bosnia into three states, despite the intermingling of populations — directly encouraging ethnic cleansing.

Role of US and Europe

The European Union continued to put forward partition plans throughout the war, while embargoing arms to the Bosnian government to force it to surrender. In late 1995, the US took over, launching a brief bombing of the Bosnian Serb artillery, that had bombed Sarajevo daily for years, while handing over half of Bosnia to the now ethnically purified "Serb Republic".

"Peace" was obtained via victory of Karadzic's war aims.

Little wonder then that Richard Holbrooke, the US architect of this Serbian victory at the 1995 Dayton Accords, made a secret deal with Karadzic to grant him immunity provided he "disappear" from public life.

Former Serbian interior ministry official, Vlado Nadezdin, claimed, "I was then chief of cabinet to the Yugoslav Interior Minister Milana Milutinovic and I saw that document. The signatories were Richard Holbrooke and Radovan Karadzic."

This confirms similar accusations by Florence Hartmann, the former spokeswoman for the Hague Tribunal Chief Prosecutor. She has claimed that in 2004, US forces tipped off Karadzic that he was to be arrested by the Serbian government. Hartman claimed Western leaders wanted to avoid their relations with Karadzic coming to light.

Other revelations suggest a US-Karadzic deal had included conspiring in the capture of Srebrenica, which seems likely given the Muslim town was handed to the Serb Republic at Dayton.

The West had not been asking Serbia to extradite Karadzic, only Mladic, believed to be in Serbia due to his long term military connections. Karadzic was alleged to be hiding in the hills of Bosnia or Montenegro — the EU held up Bosnia's EU candidacy process on this account — yet he had for years been in Belgrade, masquerading as a alternative therapies quack.

Changing situation

But 13 years have passed and Holbrooke is long gone. A new situation has allowed a new pro-EU government in Serbia to extradite Karadzic.

As a maverick right-wing extremist, linked to the Serbian opposition, Karadzic can be handed over as a trophy to the EU. The circumstances suggest the West and Belgrade had been waiting so he could be traded at the right time.

However, if the Holbrooke strategy was to cover up the crimes that imperialism and Karadzic were jointly responsible for, the imperialist powers supporting the Hague process want him as a scapegoat — as long as he doesn't say too much."

Can the Hague offer justice? The fact that it has not indicted imperialist leaders for war crimes, particularly the horrendous crimes during the US-NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, suggests justice can be selective at best. This point can be made without covering for Karadzic's crimes.

Thus, while the Serbian ultra-right mobilises against the "traitor" government, the arrest is arguably a great day for the Serbian people, dissociating them from possibly the most vile piece rubbish in the Balkans since 1945.

If this can advance reconciliation among the peoples of the Balkans — difficult to achieve without the main perpetrator of genocide behind bars — such a benefit may outweight the demerit of sending a Serb leader to a court that refuses to prosecute imperialists.

The Hague's bias had relevance in the trial of Milosevic over Kosova, because his crimes there took place in the context of crimes being inflicted on the Serbian people by the world's worst war criminals.

Bosnia was an entirely different war. Karadzic did not fight imperialism, and neither did the latter fight him.