Since its illegal formation in 1993 in contravention of the Charter of the United Nations, the Hague Tribunal, also known as International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and by its acronym ICTY, has served as a battering ram for knocking down international law and, just as importantly, procedure (and here). Its very founding on the false premise of urgently dealing with a humanitarian catastrophe, as the situation in the Balkans was depicted by the three Western powers then in control of the Security Council, ignoring the absence of any provision in the Charter enabling the setting up of such a court, was in itself an ominous legal precedent. Its subsequent mode of operation, overturning many of the foundational principles of civilized criminal law procedure, dealt a further blow to the integrity of the international legal system. The scope and grave consequences of the resulting disorder are becoming increasingly clear with the passage of time.
Beyond the cant about lofty humanistic motives, it became evident to perspicuous observers soon after the Tribunal started its sessions that in fact ICTY was brazenly fulfilling a political task on behalf of the states that organized and financed it. Its principal political directive was to wipe clean the nasty role of the Western powers, including Germany, in the violent destruction and dismemberment of Yugoslavia and to cast the defiant Serbs as the designated fall guy for the externally instigated carnage. It was in addition given the task, plainly awkward for an allegedly judicial body, to shape its judgments so as to rewrite history, not just of the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s but, more ambitiously, to recast the history of the entire region, often going back centuries, to suit its sponsors’ current geopolitical designs and narratives.
Like the shabby B-movie that it is, the ICTY pseudo-judicial theatre also had to have its cut-out, cartoon character “good and bad guys”. One of its best known cut-out villains is Dr Radovan Karadzic, the war-time leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Media magic, buttressed by a generously garnished indictment relying on prosecutor-friendly tools such as Joint Criminal Enterprise, charged Dr Karadzic with every heinous crime in the book, up to genocide and beyond if possible. The soft-spoken Sarajevo psychiatrist and poet was handily turned into a model villain, perfect for the Tribunal’s publicity gallery.
Eventually, Dr Karadzic was sentenced to forty years in prison, but on appeal that severely lengthy sentence based on dubious and circumstantial evidence was malevolently enhanced to life imprisonment, no doubt just to rub it in, because either way it made no difference to a man of seventy-five. Incidentally, Dr Karadzic was not the only ICTY defendant who after making the mistake of filing an appeal ended up with an increased sentence, a practice that – to put it charitably – is most untypical for civilized jurisprudence. (Albania under Enver Hoxha had it, thus making the Tribunal not entirely unique in this regard.)
Assiduous ICTY watcher and our valued U.S.-based associate Andy Wilcoxson (and here) miraculously managed to arrange with prison authorities for a wide-ranging interview with Dr Karadzic. The interview yielded a number of insightful observations about the Yugoslav conflict and its background, some of which are shared here.
Speaking of the preparations for the bloody Yugoslav denouement, Dr Karadzic points out that “all the relevant governments and their services knew for decades in advance that it might happen after Tito’s death, but in spite of that, they instigated the war and carnage. Now, they are pretending to be innocent and searching for a causes in personal psychologies of leaders, as if it was irrational, imagined, unreal and exaggerated event. There was nothing like that in the Yugoslav, nor Bosnian crisis. In addition to that, all of our opponents in this crisis didn’t differ racially from us a bit. As a matter of fact, almost the entire Muslim community previously had been Serbs, but converted to Islam, mainly unwillingly and under duress, during the long Ottoman occupation. Many Croats also had been Serbs of Catholic faith, but after the Austro-Hungarian occupation, after the Berlin Congress in 1878, had declared their Croatian affiliation. (A Russian imperial diplomat Alexander Gilferding wrote a book about it in 19th century.)”
Dr Karadzic continues trenchantly that “since we are living in a ‘post-truth era’, facts are not relevant any more. Simply speaking, the international media, under governmental direction (not the other way around) create an image needed for their purposes, and the process goes on unhindered. All the technological advancement of human kind is (ab)used for the worse. So, the ‘Serbian cause’ was the last defense of a nation’s very survival, not the killing innocent and anonymous people in mosques or on beaches. One may observe what happened to the Serbs in Kosovo, in Croatia, in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation (the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia) and what is happening to them now in Montenegro. There are almost no Serbs left in Croatia, because out of more than 600,000 now there is about 100,000 left. There are almost no Serbs in Kosovo, or in the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia. By September 1992 there wasn’t a Serbian settlement on Muslim/Croat territory that was safe, they had already been destroyed, while nothing of the sort happened on the Republic of Srpska territory, where many Muslim or Croat settled places, villages or towns, were untouched. Serbs had never attacked any Muslim or Croat village unless they had previously been attacked from it, and if attacked, the Serbs demanded perpetrators to be handed over to the security forces. If there was a skirmish, civilians might have been hurt only accidentally, and after such a skirmish the rest of civilians would help the Serb forces to collect killed and wounded terrorists, who anyway were not a proper army, but acted deep within Serb territory as terrorists. On the other side, the Muslims, and to a lesser degree Croats, attacked every Serbian village they could reach, killing everyone, even animals, and burning everything. This is all well documented, and there can’t be any doubts about it.”
About his “media image”: “Pertaining to me, Radovan Karadzic, the media had been even more harsh and deceitful than with the denigration of the Serbs. All the negotiators had very correct relations with me, some were even friendly and understanding, and they all certainly realized that it was a civil war with many rogue elements. Even the main European powers were saying the same. Many of the mediators and ‘peace keepers’, including generals Nambiar, Morillon, Rose, McKenzie and others, had seen for themselves what was going on. Many of them reported that media were mistaken and biased, that all the sides are committing atrocities, but only the Serbs admit it, while others deny.”
On the important subject of Richard Holbrooke’s role in the final stages of the Bosnian war: “Most astonishing of all was Holbrooke’s transformation: together we created the Dayton Agreement, in Belgrade, in the presence of Presidents Milosevic and Bulatovic, and our associates…We cooperated well, with mutual understanding, and parted amicably. In June 1996 Mr. Holbrooke led a campaign for my stepping down from office, promising immunity, telling that there will be some rhetoric against me, but no trial. The main concern of the internationals was whether I would run for another term in Presidency in the forthcoming elections. I kept my word. However, he didn’t deliver, maybe he couldn’t, his part of the agreement, while I did deliver my part. This included my absence from public life and media… By keeping me far from the media, they insulated themselves from any of my reactions, comments or denial, and could continue to denigrate me without any risk. Finally, Mr. Holbrooke called me a ‘European Bin Laden’, and said that he regretted that there was no death penalty. Meanwhile, I was informed that many his friends, some obscure individuals, were instigating through NATO to eliminate me by killing me.”
And a very instructive insight into how easily provincial leaders with an inferiority complex fall into the trap of misjudging Western colleagues based on the latter’s proclaimed standards of integrity, instead of relying on their own objective experience and common sense: “When we concluded this agreement of my stepping down, President Milosevic told me that it would be improper and impolite to expect that such a big power’s representative should not be trusted, and to demand from him to sign what was agreed to. ‘If they are not to be trusted’, President Milosevic told me, ‘then they wouldn’t be a great power anymore.’” Did Milosevic remember that conversation as he was being hauled off to the Hague? One wonders.
Concerning the imputation of genocidal enmity toward Muslims and Croats: “The vast majority of [my business associates] had been Muslims, one of them a Croat, and none of them Serb. My internist was a Croat, while my optician, my dentist, both of my lawyers, my tailor, shoemaker, hairdresser, barber, and all other suppliers had been Muslims. (I have published this information, with their initials, and nobody denied it!) Even during the war, I had people of Muslim and Croatian ethnicities as close associates, many of them serving in our Army, where there was even a completely Muslim unit (The ‘Mesa Selimovic’ brigade).”
About the coming world realignment: “Nations that may be targeted by NATO and its member states are looking for new alliances, and seeking new ‘mentors’ that are less dangerous and more useful and reliable. I already said in some interviews than in many cultures there are two main archetypes of female figures: a mother and step mother, a good aunt or fairy and evil witch. Immediately after World War II we in the Balkans perceived the U.S. as a good aunt, while now small nations see China and Russia as good aunts, while the U.S. they see as an evil witch. So, intimidating the entire world is not fruitful strategy and tactics, and it will fail very soon.”
Why were the Serbs selected for exemplary punishment as the “bad guys”?: “First, because of ethnic and cultural closeness with Russia, it is envisaged in the West that they wouldn’t join any action against Russia. Furthermore, President Milosevic was seen by the West as the last Communist dictator, which he really wasn’t. He was a leftist, and he was an autocrat, but he was considered to be very close to America. He was convinced that Clinton would be a great President, and that nothing would spoil traditionally good relations between the two nations. Also… the Balkans had always been of the greatest interest to powers which wanted to keep Russia far from the ‘warm seas’ and to deny it free access to Middle East resources.”
What interests predominated in the decision to attack Yugoslavia in 1999?: “Germany wanted revenge for the two World Wars and to take the region back to the ‘status quo ante’; different circles in the U.S. had an interest to destroy the Yugoslav military industry, since Yugoslavia had 7% to 10% of the world market, particularly in the third world and non-aligned countries; others didn’t want to be out of this affair, or couldn’t resist the pressure of the mentioned powers. The middle range officials in these countries, our allies in all the wars in the 20th century, neglected this long lasting friendship and devotion of the Serbs to the Anglo-Saxon nations (Great Britain and U.S.) and France, smashing Serbia to smithereens, which may be forgiven, but not forgotten, ever. And that is an enormous loss for them, much higher than any benefit. Therefore, this was not in their national interest, but in the interest of small groups and lobbies within these countries… Still it puzzles me – why the U.S. and other Western powers didn’t support some of the secular Muslim parties instead of the fundamentalist SDA.”
But there were, by all accounts, personal pecuniary motives as well: “What makes this ‘business’ even more disgusting is a sort of private interest of the high officials, like the mentioned lady [Madeleine Albright], particularly in Kosovo. Some of them, after playing a disgraceful role in the war, went on to establish their private businesses there, participating in the privatization of resources and assets. Finally, they knew exactly the nature of the conflict in Bosnia, they knew who was doing what, but they did something unimaginable, by forging facts and influencing the media, covering up exculpatory evidence, exerting pressure on judicial institutions… Mr. Holbrooke himself confessed that the main benefit of the Indictment against me was to prevent me from going to Dayton, allowing them to alter the Agreement that was previously reached by the two of us with the assistance of our respective teams.”
Asked how it feels to be perceived as a “war criminal”: “What crosses my mind when they label me a war criminal? As when Mr. Izetbegovic, a friend of Al-Husseini and Hitler, labels his Serb colleagues in the Presidency as “Nazis”? I am not surprised by what the architects of this crisis say about me, because it is inherent to everything they had done. I can hardly believe how many serious, intelligent and educated people are so lazy, sluggish and ready to accept the media presentation of a contemporaneous event. Reading some of them I sometimes think they may be drugged, because they write about the Bosnian crisis as if they had been there all the time, while the majority of them had never been there.”
And, finally, turning with respect to the interviewer, Andy Wilcoxson: “We can see how extraordinary are alert, curious and responsible persons like yourself, who do not take the media truth for granted.”