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Karadzic trial: proud Serb defiance vs. victims' stories

The Radovan Karadzic trial may not deliver justice, but it will give victims a chance to tell what happened.

By Kyle Richard Olson / March 3, 2010


If Radovan Karadzic suffers remorse for the bloodshed suffered under his charge, he has not shown it this week. The former supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb Army entered the courtroom proudly as his trial resumed on Monday, ready to deliver a message to the world. The Serb role in the 1992-1995 Balkan War was “just and holy,” he declared, and Serbs acted in self-defense against the Bosnian “dark forces.” With a flamboyant confidence fit for the stage, Mr. Karadzic seeks to justify his role in the greatest European tragedy since the Holocaust. 

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But while Karadzic may view the courtroom as his theater, most of the audience sees his trial as a reminder of something all too real.

At last, Karadzic meets the bar of justice. On Monday began one of the most significant trials of our time. Karadzic has not been shy. His aim is to subvert the “biased” Western narrative and declare his version of what took place in Bosnia during the Balkan War. He now has his chance to tell the truth. So, too, will the victims.

For over 12 years, Karadzic remained at large as an indicted war crimes fugitive. In July 2008, he was finally discovered near Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade, disguised as a new age healer. He was then transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. There, Karadzic will defend himself against the charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

Will this trial bring justice? Nothing can right the wrongs suffered in Bosnia during the war. Yet some have criticized the ICTY for either going too far or not far enough in seeking just resolution to the Balkan conflict. Despite these criticisms, the court still provides one thing that nothing else can: a voice for the victims. If history is based on who writes it, this trial can offer their account of what really happened. 

The indictment is chilling. It describes how in Sarajevo, Karadzic led a four-year campaign of terror to purge the city of non-Serbs. Rocket launches, snipings, and shellings shrank Sarajevo’s population by 64 percent of its prewar size. Casualties approached 75,000, with the city left in ruins. It also points to Karadzic as the mastermind of the infamous Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, where 7,500 Muslim men and boys were systematically marched off and slaughtered.