Karadzic still a hero for Bosnian Serbs
Banja Luka — Radovan Karadzic remains a hero to Bosnian Serbs who sing folk songs in his honour and plaster his face and name across t-shirts.
Much attention will be on the former Bosnian Serb president when his genocide trial starts in The Hague on Monday, even though Karadzic has vowed to boycott the opening hearing.
"World powers can put Karadzic on trial but for Serb people he will always remain a hero. For us he will never be a war criminal," said Zoran Petrovic, a salesman.
Petrovic sells t-shirts, calendars, caps and other souvenirs bearing the pictures of Karadzic and his wartime army chief Ratko Mladic who is still on the run from UN justice.
"Karadzic and Mladic are always wanted. They are still selling well," the 48-year-old Petrovic emphasized.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July last year after 13 years on the run. He had built up a new life in the Serbian capital as an alternative medicine practitioner.
Before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the 64-year-old Karadzic faces 11 charges for his role in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
He will have to answer for his role in the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 dead and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.
A random questioning of the Bosnian Serb public indicates that his popularity remains high and that they should thank him for the creation of Republika Srpska, the largely autonomous Serbian entity in modern-day Bosnia alongside the Muslim-Croat Federation.
"He is a God. They can sentence him, but for us he will be the father of our Republika Srpska and a hero," Sretko, a 43-year-old unemployed car mechanic, said.
Serbs proclaimed their republic at the start of the 1992-1995 war and the 1995 peace deal confirmed it as a Bosnian entity.
Karadzic was named Bosnian Serb president in early 1992. Under international pressure he withdrew from public life in 1996 and went underground went the ICTY charged him.
Sociologists warn that Karadzic’s popularity is likely to grow when the UN trial starts.
"Karadzic was turned into a myth. His popularity dropped a little bit as time passed but now with the start of his trial it will increase again," sociologist Ivan Sijakovic said.
For years, Bosnian media was not allowed to mention Karadzic’s name. But he has been glorified in folk songs and there is hardly a public gathering in Republika Srpska where there is not a Karadzic t-shirt on show somewhere.
"’Our national heroes cannot be war criminals’ is a message that Serb people have been given through the media for years," political analyst Tanja Topic said.
"They believe that those who fought for ‘national issues’ could not have committed anything bad," she stressed.
Although Bosnian Serb authorities recognized that their soldiers carried out the Srebrenica massacre, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik met with Karadzic’s family shortly after his arrest to pledge government help.
Sociologists also fear that Karadzic’s trial could stir up post-war tensions in the ethnically divided country.
"The trial will make relations in Bosnia worse. I do not think that it would be good idea to broadcast it," Sijakovic said.