The New York Times: Karadzic Sent to Hague for Trial Despite Violent Protest by Loyalists
Long one of the most-wanted fugitives in the world, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader blamed for inciting his followers to join him in a brutal ethnic war, was en route to The Hague early Wednesday, according to the Serbian war crimes prosecutor.
A motorcade carrying Mr. Karadzic to the airport left hours after stone-hurling nationalists clashed with the police in central Belgrade at a rally to protest his arrest last week on war crimes charges, and his likely extradition to stand trial before an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Mr. Karadzic was escorted by masked Serbian security officers and taken from the Belgrade war crimes court at roughly 3:45 a.m., according to the prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic. Soon after, his plane was in flight, and it landed in Rotterdam, not far from The Hague, about two hours later.
He is the highest-level politician from the former Yugoslavia to be transferred to the court since Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, who was arrested in 2001 and died in his cell there in 2006 while awaiting a verdict.
The indictment of Mr. Karadzic charges that as president of the Bosnian Serb republic in the early 1990s, he helped orchestrate a 43-month siege of the city of Sarajevo, devised a systematic campaign to kill or drive out tens of thousands of non-Serbs from Serbian towns and villages, set up concentration camps and was an engineer of the massacre of nearly 8,000 unarmed men and boys captured at the United Nations-protected enclave of Srebrenica, in Europe’s worst mass execution since World War II.
While Serbia waited to hear whether Mr. Karadzic had filed an appeal against his arrest, and supporters celebrated him as a hero, officials were preparing to transport him to The Hague. About 15,000 supporters, some bused in from across Serbia and Bosnia by the far-right Radical Party, gathered on Tuesday to protest the new government that arrested him on July 21.
Loyalists wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Mr. Karadzic’s image waved Serbian flags and chanted “Long Live Radovan!” and “Uprising! Uprising!” About 100 ultranationalists wearing masks, who had separated from the group, burned flares, attacked traffic lights with clubs and hurled stones at storefront windows. The police responded with tear gas, and the Serbian news media said more than 45 people suffered minor injuries.
“Karadzic is a hero because he defended Serb lives during the terrible wars of the 1990s,” said Elena Pavovski, 24, a supporter of the Radical Party, whose members sang patriotic songs next to a banner on Republic Square that threatened Serbia’s pro-Western president, Boris Tadic. “Everyone knows that the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was designed to try Serbs while the war criminals who killed Serbs are set free.”
The rally was seen as a test of the new government, which is made up of Mr. Tadic’s Democrats and the Socialist Party of the former Serbian strongman, Mr. Milosevic, which controls the Interior Ministry and the police.
Before the rally began, Mr. Tadic implored the protesters to remain peaceful. He was determined to avoid a repeat of demonstrations in February, when thousands of radicals rampaged through Belgrade to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence, looting shops and setting part of the United States Embassy on fire.
The embassy warned Americans to stay away from central Belgrade on Tuesday night, while the embassy itself was guarded by troops with machine guns.
Mr. Karadzic, a former psychiatrist, evaded arrest for more than a decade, living openly in Belgrade for at least part of that time as an ascetic New Age guru with an assumed name, a bushy beard, a mistress and a fake family in the United States.
Ivana Ramic, spokeswoman for the Serbian war crimes court handling the case, said Tuesday that the court had not yet received an appeal. Mr. Karadzic’s nephew Dragan Karadzic was seen delivering several suitcases to the Serbia prison where his uncle was being kept.
Belgrade had made clear it was determined to send Mr. Karadzic to The Hague as swiftly as possible to prevent an escalation in tensions and to satisfy the European Union, which considers handing over war crimes suspects a prerequisite for Serbia to join the union. Diplomats for the European Union said Brussels postponed a trade deal with Serbia on Tuesday to wait for Mr. Karadzic’s transfer to take place.
Serbian analysts said the emotional and violent outpouring of support for Mr. Karadzic showed that Serbia had yet to reckon with its role in Srebrenica, 13 years after the massacre.
“Our elites refuse to confront openly what Serbia did, for fear of being branded as traitors,” Brankica Stankovic, one of the country’s leading television journalists, said Tuesday.
The demonstration coincided with an announcement by Bosnia’s war crimes court that it had sentenced seven Bosnian Serbs to prison terms ranging from 38 to 42 years for taking part in the mass killing of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.
Ms. Pavovski, the Radical Party supporter, said she was unmoved by what had happened at Srebrenica.
“Nobody has proved that a massacre took place,” she said. “Srebrenica is the product of a media war against Serbia and the Serbian people. Karadzic was fighting to defend Serbia.”
An opinion poll published three years ago by Strategic Marketing Research in Belgrade found that more than half of 1,200 respondents either did not know about war crimes in Bosnia, or did not believe they had taken place..
The failure to grapple with the past, analysts said, has been exacerbated by the belief of some Serbs that the United Nations tribunal in The Hague is an unjust entity meant to prosecute Serbs.
According to legal experts, as of early this year, 45 Serbs, 12 Croats and 4 Muslims were convicted of war crimes in connection with the Balkan wars of the 1990s. More Croats than Muslims have been indicted on war crime charges, but several were acquitted because of insufficient evidence, the experts said.
Mr. Karadzic’s supporters said they were incensed by the recent release of high-profile suspects accused of war crimes against Serbs, including Naser Oric, a Bosnian Muslim, and Ramush Haradinaj, an ethnic-Albanian former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Western diplomats said public perceptions of war crimes in Serbia would be critical to the country’s drive to rejoin the Western fold by demonstrating a willingness to cooperate with the court.
Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, said the Serbian public had been graphically confronted with the facts of Srebrenica for the first time in June 2005, when Serbian television broadcast a video of the killing of six Muslim men by members of a Serbian paramilitary unit.
But while the video showed irrefutable proof that Serbia’s police had taken part in the massacre, she said there remained public amnesia about the killings.
“Srebrenica is not taught in our history books in schools, it is not widely shown in popular culture,” Ms. Kandic said. “This country needs to have a historical reckoning about the past.”