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Criminal in the Hague, but Not in Republika Srpska
The autonomous Serbian government in Bosnia is questioning the war crimes verdict against its former president.
Four days before a U.N. war crime tribunal sentenced former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, Serbian officials named a new university dormitory after him.
“We dedicated this dormitory to a man who is without doubt one of the founders of the Republika Srpska, to Mr. Radovan Karadzic,” Milorad Dodik, the republic’s current president, said Sunday at the opening of the dorm. The location was significant itself: it was built in Pale, the town where Karadzic had based his headquarters while he directed Serbian snipers and artillery units to deliberately attack the civilian, mostly Muslim population of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in the 1990s.
The move signaled the eagerness of the Republika Srpska, which is nominally part of Bosnia but manages a separate tax system and police force, to downplay Karadzic’s culpability in the bloodshed ahead of Thursday’s verdict. The U.N. tribunal, which was established to try war criminals from that conflict, found Karadzic guilty of orchestrating the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica that killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in the worst episode of mass killing in Europe since the Holocaust.
The tribunal also found him guilty of nine other counts of war crimes, but acquitted him of a second genocide charge. Human Rights Watch said that the verdict proved “persistence can deliver justice.”
The Republika Srpska, which was founded by Karadzic in 1992 and born out of his campaign of ethnic cleansing, disagrees.
Obrad Kesic, a representative of the Srpska government in Washington, told Foreign Policy on Thursday that there were “definitely problems” with both the tribunal and the trial — problems he said the defense will raise in its appeal of the verdict. More specifically, he said the entire tribunal has been “very biased” against Serbs, and “greatly out of proportion when it comes to prosecuting Serbian officers.”
“Warnings about the politicization of the tribunal have proven to be accurate,” Kesic said. “This has been a failed experiment, and a very expensive one at that.”
Daniel Serwer, the former U.S. special envoy to the Bosnian Federation who helped to negotiate the peace talks that ended the conflict, said that by naming the dormitory after Karadzic, the government there is “honoring his ideas and goals.”
Still, Serwer warned that the move paled in seriousness next to the ways the Srpska government continues to be influenced by Karadzic’s brand of toxic nationalism. Serwer singled out republic’s president, Milorad Dodik, for claiming de facto independence from the central Bosnian government and thereby foiling its goal of joining the EU.
“What is most dangerous about this isn’t that Republika Srpska would honor him, but that the president is advocating the same policy as Karadzic, which is to seek independence from Bosnia,” he told FP in a phone call Thursday. “His insistence on it continues to make Bosnia a dysfunctional state.”
Dodik seems to be channeling the feelings of Bosnian Serbs who are proud to see Karadzic’s name on public spaces in Srpska.
Journalism student Bobana Djevres told Reuters on Sunday that she is glad to see a dorm named after him.
“I think that Karadzic was the most responsible for the creation of the Republika Srpska and for making this town a university center,” she said.
Photo credit: MICHAEL KOOREN/AFP/Getty Images