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Ex-Serbian Leader Charged With Genocide


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

When the old, multi-ethnic, federal state of Yugoslavia came undone in the 1990s, a brutal war erupted among Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Serbs in the Republic of Bosnia, cut an especially ruthless figure. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in the Netherlands, charged him with genocide and crimes against humanity. Back in 1995, Karadjic defended himself this way to the BBC.

RADOVAN KARADZIC: I am the legal and legitimate representative of my people. I fought for my people politically. And during the war, I led my people politically and I did not issue any single wrong order or decision.

SIEGEL: Now, after living on the lam for years and then being arrested, Karadzic is in the dock. On Tuesday, speaking through an interpreter, he made an opening statement in his defense. He spoke of himself as a psychiatrist, as a man of letters, a man who ultimately made peace.

KARADZIC: (Through Translator) Instead of being accused for the events in our civil war, I should have been rewarded for all the good things I've done. Mainly that I did everything in human power to avoid the war, that I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians.

SIEGEL: We wondered how Karadjic's trial is playing back home in the former Yugoslavia. Dejan Anastasijevic is the Brussels correspondent for the Serbian news service Tanjug. He covered the Balkan wars of the '90s, including reporting on the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. And he's been called to testify as a witness against some Serb leaders.

Tell me, what do you hear from home about the Karadjic trial - that it's about time or that it's about a time long past?

DEJAN ANASTASIJEVIC: It's about time long past. There is not much interest back home for that trial. First of all, it did begin a while ago. And while the news of Karadjic's arrest and his cover as a health guru did attract a lot of headlines, once the proceedings started and it became a matter of lots of legal technicalities, people gradually lost interest. So there's not really that much of an interest in Belgrade.

SIEGEL: Not much of an interest? I mean, do some Serbs regard him as someone who is either admirable or being dealt with unfairly, or just someone who's irrelevant to their lives today?

ANASTASIJEVIC: I think it's a little bit of both, maybe a minority still regard him as some sort of a hero. That's not a very big number of people. However, most people just see him as something from Serbia's unpleasant past and would prefer not to hear or see him again. I think most of them are happy that it's somebody else who is dealing with him, some foreign court in a far away country, so they don't have to.

SIEGEL: I wonder, you're a journalist who actually covered that conflict and covered many of the atrocities that are at issue in the trials here. This trial is taking place 17 years after the mass murderers at Srebrenica. Does it work, is it an effective deterrent to try people this long after the events?

ANASTASIJEVIC: I don't think that it's any sort of deterrent. I would like to remind our listeners that the International War Crimes in The Hague was established in 1994, a full year before Srebrenica genocide occurred. And Mr. Karadzic was indicted several months after the tribunal was formed, also before Srebrenica occurred. So there's obviously not much of a deterrence there.

SIEGEL: You know, thinking back to the 1990s - although there were forecasts that after the death of the Yugoslav leader Marechal Tito, the place would fall apart violently - people were shocked at the capacity for sectarian violence in what had been a rather lovely country for many years.

ANASTASIJEVIC: I was shocked. I admit that I was shocked. I could not believe that this was possible, but that it occurred nevertheless.

SIEGEL: Well, now that that seems to be sufficiently forgotten that the trial of Radovan Karadjic, or his testimony on his own behalf, can be stuffed below the fold - at least of the front page - is it a good sign that something really is behind what used to be Yugoslavia? Or is it simply dormant once again and capable of rising?

ANASTASIJEVIC: I'm afraid that without confronting the past which Serbia and, to be fair, other nations in the region failed to do, it's a very dangerous thing. It's also easy way out, say, OK, let's bury the hatchet; put the past behind us and move on. Actually, these things have a habit of dropping out from under the carpet and reviving if they're not dealt with properly. And I'm afraid that this has not happened.

SIEGEL: Dejan Anastasijevic of the Serbian news service Tanjug in Brussels, thank you very much for talking with us.

ANASTASIJEVIC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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