Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

A Life On The Run

Karadzic’s cat and mouse game with his pursuers ends in bizarre circumstances.
By Caroline Tosh
As details emerge of captured Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic’s life in hiding, it becomes easier to understand how he managed to evade arrest for so long – in spite of a five million US dollar bounty on his head.

Recent pictures show a frail, bespectacled man with a long, white beard – unrecognisable as the stocky, beetle-browed former political leader last seen over a decade ago.

Karadzic was arrested on July 21 in Serbia after spending close to 13 years on the run.

According to Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister for relations with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the ex-politician has been practising alternative medicine in a private clinic in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, under the false identity of Dragan Dabic.

This seems a far cry from his high-profile past as Bosnian Serb war-time leader during the conflict of 1992 to 1995, which tore the Balkans country apart and resulted in the loss of some 100,000 lives.

Karadzic is charged at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for war crimes and genocide – including the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in which more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed.

In 1996, a year after he was indicted, Karadzic went into hiding.

Since then, as Serbia has come under increasing international pressure to hand him and his former general Ratko Mladic over to the tribunal, the once flamboyant political leader has played a prolonged game of cat and mouse with his pursuers.

Yet while some information was known on the whereabouts of Mladic – who for some time has been believed to be hiding in Belgrade aided by supporters in the military – Karadzic’s trail was always something of a mystery.

Before his arrest, reports placed him in the wild, mountainous border lands abutting Serbia, the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska, and Montenegro.

From time to time, there were “sightings” of the politician and former psychiatrist, having coffee in Sarajevo, or more bizarrely, disguised as a monk.

Pressure on Serbia to hand over war crimes fugitives peaked in 2005, after the now infamous “Scorpions” video footage, showing Serbian paramilitaries executing Bosnian Muslims in 1995, was released. This prompted a wave of surrenders of Bosnian Serb officials to the tribunal, but still no Karadzic or Mladic.

That year, Karadzic’s wife Ljiljana made an emotional plea for her husband to give himself up to the Hague court for the sake of his family.

"Our family is under constant pressure from all sides. We are being threatened in every way, our lives and our property. We are living in a constant atmosphere of concern, pain and suffering,” she said, before begging him to surrender.

In February 2007, the search for Karadzic was stepped up as NATO troops raided the Pale homes of his children, Sonja and Sasa. The following month, police in the Montenegrin capital detained and interrogated his family members who continued to insist they knew nothing of his whereabouts.

Karadzic was born in 1945 in a stable in Savnik, Montenegro. His father, Vuk, had fought as a “Chetnik”, or Serb nationalist guerilla, against Nazi occupation and communist partisans during the Second World War.

In the Sixties, Karadzic took psychiatry and medicine at the University of Sarajevo.

While living there, he met his wife and discovered a love of both politics and poetry – a subject he later studied at Columbia University from 1974 to 1975.

He then spent several years working as a psychiatrist - a career interrupted briefly by a short spell in prison, after he was convicted of embezzlement and fraud.

In 1990, he focused his energies on politics, helping to found the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, before becoming its president. A major aim of the party was to unify Serbs to live in a common state.

In just two years, Karadzic was appointed president of the newly declared Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would later become Republika Srpska.

According to Karadzic’s indictment, from 1991 to 1995, he acted with others to participate in crimes in order to secure control of areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina which had been proclaimed part of this so-called Serbian republic.

Like his former close ally, former Yugoslav president and Hague indictee Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic has dismissed the legitimacy of the Hague court.

“If The Hague was a real juridical body I would be ready to go there to testify or do so on television, but it is a political body that has been created to blame the Serbs,” he said in an interview with UK newspaper the Times in February 1996.

Despite spending years on the run, Karadzic has somehow managed to pursue a career as a writer.

In 2004, a novel he reportedly penned while in hiding – Miraculous Chronicles of the Night – won a Serbian literary prize.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR editor in London.

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