Marcus Tanner: Karadzic, the psychiatrist who became a genocidal madman

Share
Related Topics

I will never forget the first time I met Radovan Karadzic – because I got him so wrong.

Standing in a tatty Sarajevo school room, I encountered what I thought was a rather dotty-looking school teacher parading in front of an ethnic map of Bosnia and pointing at various counties with a cane. "This is Serbian land," the new leader of the Bosnian Serbian Democratic Party shouted, jabbing at the huge map in a sweeping motion with his bamboo cane, his wild grey hair flying all over the place.

"This man is hilarious," I remarked to the Bosnian Serb wife of a BBC correspondent after our "interview" was over. I was yawning, unable to take all the nonsense in. "You just don't get it," she answered, almost in tears. "He is absolutely serious, and a madman."

Most of us didn't get it. Used to the manic, genocidal ravings of the Croatian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic seemed donnish and almost a bit of a laugh by comparison. True, his printed poetry was a little odd, and disturbing, to put it mildly. But could a man who had once worked as a psychiatrist and physio for the Sarajevo football team seriously be dreaming of the annihilation of that city, the same city in which he had spent most of his adult life? None of us believed it.

The next time I encountered the Karadzic clan was hours before the siege of Sarajevo began in 1992. Tensions had mounted since Karadzic had made a frightening speech to the Bosnian parliament, warning the Muslims of annihilation if they went ahead with their planned referendum on independence.

I was rushing into the soon-to-be infamous Holiday Inn as his wife, Sonja, came rushing out with her suitcases and entourage in tow. The Karadzics clearly knew what was coming, because about 20 minutes after they evacuated the hotel a Muslim paramilitary group virtually tore it to pieces.

I waited under the concrete stairwell as the bullets flew, before fleeing to the nearest block of flats, madly waving my British passport in the air as if it was some kind of talisman.

After that there was no going back. The Karadzics: ma, pa, and portly daughter, decamped to the old Austro-Hungarian spa resort of Pale and the siege of Sarajevo began in earnest. At the end of it, three long years later, about 10,000 Sarajevans were dead and at least five times that number seriously injured.

Among the dead was the father of a particularly close friend of mine, who was killed waiting in a queue for water. That was a special ploy of Karadzic and his military sidekick, Ratko Mladic – to cut off the city's water supply so that a big queue built up in front of one of the few dribbling pumps. When the queue was particularly dense, the Serbs would pound it with shells, so that a lot of Muslims, or "Turks", as the Serbs disdainfully called them, were killed.

So perished mild, patient father-of-one Mr Pecanin – one of the almost countless innocent victims of Karadzic's inexhaustible rage against the city that he thought had denied him his due; had failed to respect his poetry; had not invited him into its bosom; had kept him out at as a Serb, as a mountain man, as a Christian.

For years, nationalist Serbs have idolised Karadzic as an almost mythical figure, the equivalent of the hajduks, or Serbian outlaws of old, who defied the Ottomans. It will be interesting to see if the legend lives on, once the self-appointed executor and persecutor of Bosnia's Muslims and Croats faces the mundane circumstances of a Hague courtroom.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine