The murderer our leaders encouraged
AFTER 13 years, Dr.Radovan Karadzic has finally been captured to face trial at the Hague as a war criminal. It was Karadzic and his military partner General Mladic (still at large) who stand accused for the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica, probably the worst atrocity since World War II in Europe.
There was more than a suspicion over the past decade that Western forces in former Yugoslavia were reluctant to pursue Karadzic, whether because he had protection or because powerful people had an interest in not seeing him in the dock, because he knew too much.
Milosevic died while at the Hague, Arkan the notorious criminal warlord was gunned down in Belgrade when he threatened to go there.
We must hope that Karadzic's trial helps people remember how his "Bosnian Serb republic" was carved out, and educates a younger generation. There is no shortage of witnesses who can testify.
Here is HM, a student from Hranca, a village near Bratunac, tht was surrounded by Serb territorials on May 3, 1992
"Troop carriers were placed on the road connecting the village of Konkevic Polje with Bratunac.Soon after the nearby houses were fired upon, and the locals driven from their homes. I escaped into the woods. While I was hiding, my father and Hamid Ali, a hodza (Muslim mullah, or priest) stayed in the house.Later when I met my father, he told me that the Serbs had found them. The Serb territorials drenched the house with petrol in order to burn it. When my father gave them his cheque book and 50,000 dinars, as well as his pistol, they gave up the idea. The Serbs drove my father and the hadji out and opened fire on them.
Then they began to rob and burn our village. My neighbour who was hidden in the nearby woods, and in a brook, watched all of it."
HM then gives names of forty people whose homes were burned. He tells how some local people, including a five year old child were killed. Then on May 9 the Chetniks came back and surrounded the village again, and burned the remaining 55 houses. "The ethnic cleansing operation on my village was completed on 11 May 1992".
Though HM and his friends hid out in the woods they were found, and taken captive to Bratunac.
"When we arrived, some Chetniks who called themselves the White Eagles ordered us to form two rows and to sing Chetnik songs. While we were lining up they beat us with whips.
"Before they drove us to the school in Bratunac four men were taken aside (he gives their names); It is not known what happened to them".
At Bratunac, having been deprived of their watches, ID papers and whatever money they had, HM and his friends were beaten several times. They witnessed men being taken outside and killed. The school was visited by men in masks who read out lists of names. Those whose names were called were taken away to be tortured and killed. This continued till May 13.
HM also witnessed something else:
"It was a dreadful sight when the Chetniks brought Milutin Vuksic, a Serb, into the room. He was arrested for trying to hide his Muslim neighbours. They took him to the locker room and we could hear him scream, since it all took place near the school. He was tortured and then we couldn't hear him any more."
That day HM was among prisoners taken to Pale, the Bosnian Chetnik 'capital', where Radovan Karadzic had his headquarters. There were more beatings, but HM was among the lucky ones, handed over in a prisoner exchange on May 17, thus surviving to tell.
Another survivor was GB, just 15 when the Chetniks came to her village on May 9, 1992. They took her and her father and other family members and neighbours away, beating and killing some of the males. GB and her cousin H were separated from the rest and taken to the woods.
H was raped first. "The man who was raping her had a knife in his hand and was threatening her with it. The other three masked Chetniks took me near H. One of them shouted at me:'Take off your clothes," cursing my mother and Alia Izetbegovic. to me.
"When I refused the other one drew a knife and threatened to kill me. ..They raped me while holding a knife to my throat, saying "If you utter a sound you will be killed'.
After the rape they took me back to the road.
After all this I was taken to Kladanj together with the other girls, and then to Tuzla where we were examined by the gynaecologist at the Public Health Centre, Dr.Musatafa Mujbegovic and my statement has been confirmed".
These are two extracts from Rivers of Blood, a collection of eye-witness accounts published by the Bosnia Solidarity Campaign in 2001, taken from reports originally compiled by the State Commission for the Collection of Evidence on War Crimes, based in Tuzla.
Rape, torture and atrocities were not incidental to Karadzic's Bosnian war. They were part of the policy of ethnic cleansing and assertion of racial supremacy. As Kemal Pervanic*, himself a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, explains in the foreword to Rivers of Blood:
"According to this plan it is not enough to conquer and rule. Their prime task is to remove, displace or eliminate the local population through a reign of terror that ensures survivors never want to return".
Those here who tried to excuse or deny such policies, and rubbish reports of atrocities, didn't want us to listen to eye-witnesses and survivors. Like the neo-Nazi Holocaust revisionists who want to play games with statistics, the smart crowd at Living Marxism only wanted to discuss camera angles and whether some emaciated looking prisoner was really behind the barbed-wire. Affecting tight-lipped smiles at our credulity for images, they seemed to want us to accept that Omarska was some kind of holiday camp. But as Ed Vulliamy reminds us, the reality was what the cameras were not invited to see.
"Scenes of routine sadism such as that described by survivor Halid Mujkanovic, concerning a prisoner forced to perform fellatio on a fellow inmate, then ordered to bite off his testicles while a live pigeon was stuffed down his throat to stifle his screams as he died. The victim was Fikret Harambasic and the man was forced to castrate him in order to save the lives of his roommates, threatened with execution if there were no 'volunteers'. The crowd of guards who oversaw this entertainment 'looked as though they were attending a sports match, supporting a team', said Mujkanovic".
The Edge of Madness, by Ed Vulliamy, Guardian g2, 23.07.08.
It was the poet and psychiatrist Dr.Karadzic who unleashed such scenes from hell, but it was the great power statesmen with their plans for partition who encouraged and abetted the warlords, Croat as well as Serb, who set out to carve up Bosnia.
Although Bosnia had existed before as a country, it was the partisan revolution during World War II which relaunched a republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, after it had first been broken up by the pre-war Yugoslav(Serb) monarchy and then largely annexed by the wartime Croat Ustashe state. Tito's policy was to recreat a buffer between aggressive Serb and Croat nationalisms, but also to let it develop as a mixed population symbolising the aims of "unity and brotherhood". Not only were communities interspersed, but in cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla at least a quarter of the people had intermarried, and were of mixed descent.
"They want to partition Bosnia? What am I supposed to do, divorce my wife? Partition our children?", said Adzic, a Muslim who had not been in a mosque since he was a kid, married to a Serb. "I never thought I would see such things in my country".
Bosnians told me they had wanted to be part of the federal Yugoslavia -"Where I could travel from Istria to Macedonia without needing a passport" - but "Not to be part of Greater Serbia". Karadzic's secession, with its inevitable ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs, was encouraged by Serb leaders like Milosevic and the fascist Seselj, and assisted by the Yugoslav People's Army. But not by them alone.
As Ed Vuliamy reminds us again:
"The governments of Britain and France especially - as well as the United Nations leadership - saw in Karadzic not the war criminal they call him today, but a fellow politician with whom to do business. Karadzic dealt - directly or indirectly - with Lord Peter Carrington, Malcolm Rifkind, Lord David Owen, Cyrus Vance, Douglas Hurd and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as an equal deserving full diplomatic protocol. A recent book by the lawyer Carole Hodge finds Karadzic, in return, praising Britain's "refined diplomacy". To the private hilarity of the Serbs, western diplomats accepted Karadzic's endless, empty guarantees and his posturing and fleeting "ceasefires". They agreed to turn back aid to the desperate "safe areas" declared but betrayed by the UN. They connived in maps and "peace plans" that gave Karadzic everything he had won by violence and tolerated the siege of Sarajevo, which he is accused of personally overseeing".
It was a Serb, Rade, a Trotskyist, who did most to open my eyes to what was happening in ex-Yugoslavia, and who encouraged some of us to form Workers Aid for Bosnia. I remember the way he answered doubters at a meeting in Conway Hall, though sadly few of those who kidded themselves that Milosevic was defending socialism risked exposing their illusions to such voices of reality, Then when we wanted to invite Rade to speak in London a second time he was barred from entering the country because of government sanctions against Serbia - at the same time as Karadzic was enjoying lavish hospitality in Whitehall.
Amid all the bitterness and suffering they endured at the hands of Serb nationalists and murderers, Bosnians repeatedly referred to them as "Chetniks" - the wartime term for armed Royalist bands - rather than merely saying "the Serbs". "All Chetniks are Serbs, but not all Serbs are Chetniks", they kept reminding themselves. The pursuit and arrest of war criminals like Karadzic, whatever the circumstances (such as Serbia's wish to be accepted by the EU), questions about the trial, or truisms about the hypocrisy of the West, is one in the eye for the nationalists, and one up for those who want reconciliation - and not least all those decent Serbs.
Just remember next time you hear some ignoramus like Terry Wogan wingeing because people in former Yugoslav republics are voting for each other's Eurovision song entries, it might be an indication that for all the "age-old hatreds" our media kept evoking, people have much in common, and despite the real crimes and barbarities conjured into being by a perverted intellectual like Dr.Karadzic, the decent, civilised people can be,when given the chance, a majority.
* Kemal Pervanic has written about his experiences at Omarska in
The Killing Days: my journey through the Bosnian war,
available from Amazon.