Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Karadzic's Secret Life Draws the Tourists
Until recently, a small pub named the Mad House in the New Belgrade suburb of the city was known only to a few people, mainly residents of nearby concrete tower blocks typical of post-World-War-Two architecture in the former Yugoslavia.
But that changed after one of its regulars, who happened to be one of the most wanted men in Europe, was arrested last month.
The capture of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic – who it is claimed often drank in the pub – has suddenly placed the Mad House in the spotlight.
These days, crowds flock to the bar, now included on a Belgrade sightseeing tour – called Following Karadzic’s Footsteps – which includes places where Karadzic lived and socialised while he hid from justice under a false identity.
According to the Serbian authorities, Karadzic was captured on July 21 in an undisclosed location in a Belgrade suburb. The accused, however, claims he was detained three days before, in a bus taking him to a vacation spot outside the city.
Before he was arrested, Karadzic spent several years disguised as long-haired, bearded alternative health guru Dragan Dabic, and moved freely throughout Serbia, right under the nose of the local authorities.
It was as Dragan Dabic that Karadzic allegedly frequented the Mad House.
A regular client of the pub who wished to remain anonymous said that most tourists who come here order Karadzic’s favourite red wine Medvedja krv – Bear’s Blood – and some even ask to have it served in the glass he used.
“I don’t think there is a particular glass he used. It is a trick used by the pub’s owners to cash in on Karadzic,” he said.
Above the table at which the owners claim Karadzic regularly sat is a photo of him along with Bosnian Serb general and war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic. Next to that hangs a picture of the late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The photos have apparently hung in the same place for the last ten years.
Tourists can also visit a bakery and a pancake house in which Karadzic reportedly ate; see his home in Block 45, a district of concrete tower blocks; and hop on a bus on the same route as the one on which he was allegedly arrested.
Tanja Bogdanov, director of Belgrade tourist agency Vekol Tours which organises this tour, says the addition to the regular sightseeing trip around Belgrade has been a great success.
She stresses that the tour has no political connotations whatsoever.
“It is important to say that our guides are not allowed to say anything while taking the tourists through Block 45 in New Belgrade. We don't want to express any political opinions,” she said.
Bogdanov explains that was made at the request of their foreign partners and has been specially arranged to cater for foreign travellers.
“I am a tourist worker, and [the sites are] an attraction,” she explained.
Judging by the droves of people signing up for this tour, it seems that many are fascinated with Karadzic’s ability to avoid arrest for so long.
However, some in the region find this morbid interest in the war crimes suspect distasteful.
“It is sad that tourist packages celebrating the real great people of this country do not exist, but we have a Belgrade tour dedicated to Radovan Karadzic,” said expert on Serbian culture Milena Sesic Dragicevic.
Dragicevic said that people should set aside their pre-occupation with Karadzic, and instead face up to the atrocities committed during the Bosnian war.
“On the surface, this may seem like a smart business move, but it actually shows the real depth of a moral and ethical crisis in our society. Everyone now talks about Radovan Karadzic, aka Dragan Dabic, but people in Serbia still do not talk about Srebrenica,” she added.
Prominent Belgrade-based movie director Gorcin Stojanovic agrees.
“A tour named Following Karadzic’s Footsteps should actually be organised in Bosnia, and it should include all places where horrible war crimes were committed, of which Karadzic has been accused,” he said. “That tour would be something.”
Iva Martinovic is an RFE reporter and IWPR contributor in Belgrade.
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