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How Radovan Karadžić Embraced Evil

March 24, 2016 10:13 PM
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Before he was sentenced yesterday for war crimes, including ethnic cleansing that killed 8,000, the Bosnian Serb leader was a psychiatrist, a poet, and also a faith-healing quack.

BY 2008, Radovan Karadžić was Europe’s most wanted man and its greatest embarrassment. The self-declared republic the former psychiatrist and poet had carved out of Bosnia had brought death camps, mass executions, and genocide back to the heart of a continent that had fooled itself into thinking it had left such abominations behind.

The atrocities in Bosnia had drawn expressions of horror and outrage from the capitals of Europe, yet it had taken three years to stop the killing and twelve more years had slipped by in which the West’s combined intelligence agencies supposedly stretched every sinew to find the perpetrators. Yet Karadžić, the war-time president of Bosnia’s Serb Republic and high priest of ethnic cleansing, remained at large. And every day he was at liberty called into question the world’s promises to sit in judgment on the killings it had failed to stop.

The pursuit of Karadžić had been marked by false starts, blunders, betrayals, and near misses, from the abortive negotiations over surrender, the spy drama of the Gourmelon affair and the consequent long-running Franco-American spat, followed by a series of would-be American ambushes that the fugitive always managed to avoid, either by blind luck, tip-offs, or a highly sensitive nose for danger.

As the years went by, the sense of urgency had ebbed. Washington and its allies had fought new wars, chasing new fugitives and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Diplomats speculated Karadžić was dead. His family was even trying to obtain a death certificate.

For many Bosnian Muslims, outrage at the failure to find their former tormentor had given way to cynicism and despair. Meanwhile in Belgrade, the reforming president Boris Tadić had vowed to track down the remaining fugitives. The European Union had made it a condition for Serbia’s further progress toward membership. Elections in May 2008 had shown growing support for Tadić’s promise of prosperity tomorrow in return for Westernization today. He would never again have such a strong mandate, but neither the president nor the Serbian assembly controlled the Security Information Agency (Bezbednosno-Informativna Agencija, or BIA), whose job was it was to find the wanted men. The BIA was still run by people put in place by Tadić’s predecessor, Vojislav Koštunica, a nationalist opposed in principle to cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, particularly when it came to handing over Serb leaders. Rade Bulatović, the BIA director, had been Koštunica’s national security adviser.

Every few weeks, investigators from the ICTY tracking unit would fly to Belgrade with spreadsheets listing Karadžić contacts and possible leads. They would sit around a table with their Serbian counterparts on the Belgrade “action team” and grade their homework. Had the BIA checked this cousin, visited this associate or supporter? Had these doors been knocked on recently? Were they were making good use of the electronic surveillance equipment provided by the Americans, British, and French? Were they still listening in case someone dialed any of the long list of cell-phone numbers linked to Karadžić’s family and closest associates? The Serbian secret policemen would accept these assignments sourly, grumbling that they had no need of lectures from foreigners on how to do their jobs.

This was the frustrating state of affairs in early 2008 when out of the blue, luck for once abandoned the fugitive in favor of his pursuers. One of the many dormant phone numbers on the BIA’s list suddenly rang after four years of silence. More interesting still, the person using the SIM card in question was Luka Karadžić, Radovan’s younger brother and staunchest defender. Luka was a blustering small-time businessman preoccupied at the time with defending himself against charges of killing a young woman in a drunk-driving incident in 2005. But who was Luka calling?

The voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar to the BIA eavesdroppers. It was male but high-pitched with a Belgrade accent, but the stilted, perfunctory conversation told them nothing more. A couple of investigators were sent to take a look at the address to which the mystery man’s phone number was registered. They returned having discovered his name was Dragan David Dabić, a somewhat eccentric old character who lived in one of the high-rise apartment blocks that lined Yuri Gagarin Street, named in honor of the first man in space, in the shabby remains of the concrete Socialist dream that was New Belgrade. Above a bushy white beard and glasses, he sported a topknot tied with a black bow perched distractingly on his snowy hair.

Dabić made a living as a New Age mystic, offering spiritual cures for chronic diseases and everyday maladies. In the world of alternative medicine, he was a minor celebrity with a regular column in the national magazine Healthy Living, a part-time gig representing the Connecticut-based vitamin company CaliVita, and a joint project with a well-known sexologist aimed at rejuvenating the sperm of infertile men. The therapist in question, Savo Bojović, claimed that sluggish sperm would start moving faster if Dabić placed his hands in their vicinity.

Dabić seemed an unlikely acquaintance for the hard-drinking, splenetic Luka Karadžić, who had hitherto shown little interest in healthy alternative lifestyles. So the BIA officers dug a little deeper, and the more they looked into the life of the white-haired shaman, the stranger he appeared. According to his identity records, Dabić came from a town called Ruma west of Belgrade, halfway to the Croatian border, but there was one rather glaring discrepancy. There was another Dragan Dabić in Ruma with exactly the same date of birth. This version looked nothing like the looming Gandalf-like figure in New Belgrade. He was a squat former construction worker with short gray hair and a drooping mustache who grew tomatoes and made plum brandy. He had barely strayed more than five miles from his birthplace in his entire life and did not even own a mobile phone. The records showed only one Dragan Dabić had been born in Ruma in the 1940s, so one of these two men was clearly an impostor, and it did not take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce which.

There were other aspects of Dabić which did not fit the life-style of spiritual healer. He carried half a dozen mobile phones and used some of them to maintain contact with hardline Serb nationalists campaigning against the Hague Tribunal. A BIA officer was sent back to 267 Yuri Gagarin Street to hang around and take a closer look, strolling past him in the street. The officer returned with a startling suggestion. Perhaps this hairy spiritualist was not the mysterious link to Radovan Karadžić the surveillance team had suspected. If you cut off the topknot, shaved the beard, and removed the glasses, Dabić could be Karadžić himself!

This startling possibility brought with it a dilemma. The Tadić government said it wanted to catch Karadžić, but it was not clear whether the BIA leadership shared its enthusiasm. By May 2008, however, Bulatović’s future was unclear. It was no secret that Tadić wanted to replace him, and after the parliamentary elections his supporters were close to putting together a majority coalition. If they succeeded the president would have the votes he needed to remake Serbia’s security services. The country had reached a tipping point, and the BIA officers on the Dabić case made a calculated gamble on which way it would tilt. Instead of going to their boss, the BIA officers took their story straight to the president’s office, to a man called Miodrag “Miki” Rakić. Rakić was a chubby, keenly intelligent strategist who was the power behind the throne in the presidency. Since 2008, he had been given an urgent new task: cutting through the inertia and resistance of the security services to catch the last handful of war crimes fugitives.

“Some of the guys we were working with approached me and said they had someone under long-distance surveillance,” Rakić recalled. “They said, We don’t know who it is but we know he’s not the guy he’s pretending to be. He’s hiding his identity and maybe it’s Karadžić himself.”

A few weeks later, the BIA men returned. They had been watching Dabić closely and were almost sure he was Karadžić in disguise. They still had not told their bosses what they were doing and were therefore risking their jobs. They wanted to know whether, in the event they were found out, Rakić would protect them.

At that moment, this was a guarantee Rakić was not in a position to offer. The fate of the investigation— and by extension, Karadžić’s destiny— was being determined elsewhere in Belgrade, in the corridors of Serbia’s national assembly. The general election in May had produced a hung parliament. The generally Western-oriented pro-European parties clustered around President Tadić had emerged as the biggest single bloc, but it was outweighed by the combined strength of the two leading nationalist parties, the Radicals and the Democratic Party of Serbia led by Tadić’s predecessor and fiercest rival, Koštunica. When it came to forming a majority coalition, the final say belonged to the Socialist Party.

On July 7, the Socialist Party of Serbia finally swung its twenty votes behind the pro-European bloc, and in doing so sealed Karadžić’s fate. The party of Slobodan Milošević, who had raised Karadžić to his wartime zenith, struck the blow that would complete his downfall, bringing him to justice in a matter of days.

The formation of a government allowed President Tadić, for the first time since he was elected in 2004, to reshuffle the leadership at the BIA. He replaced Bulatović with the thirty-six-year-old career policeman Saša Vukadinović, who had led the fight against organized crime in the provinces and then run Serbia’s prisons for a year. He was smart, ambitious, and unburdened by nationalist political allegiances.

When Vukadinović met Bulatović to discuss the transition, the outgoing spy chief never raised the subject of the Karadžić file, and his younger successor did not press him. Bulatović handed over his office keys and computer passwords, and left.

By this time, word had reached Karadžić he was being watched. According to his lawyer, Sveta Vujačić, the fugitive began to spot unfamiliar faces in mid-July, brushing past him on the stairwell at his apartment block or at his favorite bar, the Luda Kuća (the Madhouse). “He knew he was encircled,” Vujačić said.

The endgame had begun, in which the fugitive king was running out of pawns to shield himself from his hunters. But he was not prepared to simply wait for them to come knocking on his door. On July 17, the BIA surveillance team sounded the alarm after seeing two unidentified men enter the Dabić apartment with large bags. It looked like the old man was getting ready to run.

The next evening, Dabić left 267 Yuri Gagarin Street in a light blue T-shirt and a broad-brimmed straw hat that was pulled low over his face. He was weighed down with baggage: a white plastic bag, a raffia shopping basket, and a knapsack, all of which appeared to be full. He walked to a nearby bus stop where he was soon discreetly joined by one of his BIA trackers. They boarded the number 73 bus bound for the suburb of Batajnica about eight miles to the northwest. Dabić sat near the front. His shadow was several seats back.

Dabić’s intentions were obscure. He had told friends he was going on holiday in Croatia. His lawyer later claimed he was heading for a spa at Vrdnik, northwest of Belgrade. The old man had indeed packed swimming shorts and a cap, along with his laptop, CD-ROMs, and at least some of his mobile phones. But reaching Croatia or Vrdnik would normally have entailed a long-distance coach trip, rather than the number 73 bus. Some of Karadžić’s pursuers theorized there must have been an accomplice waiting in a car somewhere along the bus route, ready to take him to another hideout. If so, the accomplice went undiscovered. Dabić never got that far.

As the bus lumbered through the streets from the concrete towers of New Belgrade into the older, richer, and leafier district of Zemun, the eccentric, confected character known as Dragan Dabić, now in his last minutes of a long-running performance, put on his clear-glass spectacles and opened a spiritual text. Through the window, city blocks gave way to green fields turning gold in the light of a Balkan summer evening.

The unhurried calm inside the bus contrasted with the hectic activity in the surrounding streets triggered by Dabić’s departure from New Belgrade. Vukadinović had set a snatch plan in motion. A few stops before Batajnica, in the greenbelt around Belgrade, a couple of patrol cars steered in front of the bus and four plainclothes policemen got on, two in the front and two in the back. They made their way toward the middle seats, posing as inspectors, showing their badges and asking to see tickets. The old man in the straw hat was reaching into his pocket for his fare when he felt a policeman’s grip around his arm.

The officer ordered the driver to stop the bus and the captive was escorted onto the grass shoulder. At 9:30 p.m. on July 18, 2008, the flamboyant fiction that had been Dragan David Dabić evaporated. In his place, the ghost of Radovan Karadžić, who had haunted the Balkans for a decade, rematerialized on a Belgrade roadside as a flustered old man, his straw hat askew, clutching a white plastic bag to his breast.

It was a banal end to a life on the run that Karadžić himself had envisioned in almost mythical terms, his people’s last hope hiding in plain sight from a legion of oppressive foes. As he grew older and more isolated, he drew increasing comfort from the notion that he was the spiritual reincarnation of Serb heroes of a bygone age. He wove his own legend, drawing on a life immersed in a cultural tradition in which mysticism, epic storytelling, warfare, and politics were all tightly enmeshed.

Radovan Karadžić was born in Petnjica, a mountain village in Montenegro, at the very end of the Second World War. The conflict left a deep imprint on the Karadžić family as it did on the rest of Yugoslavia, and the family, like the country, was never able to shake it off. Eight members of the clan were killed by Partisans in 1942 and their bodies thrown down a well. Radovan’s father, Vuko, a village cobbler, was part of the flotsam of conflict. He joined the Chetniks, monarchist paramilitaries who fought on both sides in the war. They initially resisted occupation by the Axis powers, but as the conflict wore on, they found more and more reasons to collaborate with the Germans and Italians, allowing them to settle old ethnic scores with Bosnia’s Muslims and fight new ideological enemies: the Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito.

In the closing stages of the war, as it became clear the Partisans would emerge the victors, Vuko went home to Petnjica, only to be drafted as a Partisan cobbler, mending the worn boots of Tito’s guerrilla fighters. He no doubt hoped his services would excuse him for his time in the Chetnik ranks, but he was wrong. The Communist secret police sought him out after the war and he only narrowly escaped execution. Instead, he was locked up for five years, leaving behind an infant son he hardly knew, a boy called Radovan. The child was raised for his first five years by his mother, Jovanka, who struggled to grow enough potatoes and grain for them to survive. As an adult, he would make many boastful and dubious claims about his life, but his accounts of rural destitution were no exaggeration.

Karadžić seems to have long harbored ambitions of acting out his life in a bigger arena than the one he was born into. Even when his father returned from jail, he looked elsewhere for male role models, back in time to the godfather of romantic Serb nationalism who bore the same family name, Vuk Karadžić.

In the nineteenth century, Vuk Karadžić had modernized the Serbian language and rescued Serb culture from the doldrums of Ottoman subjugation, resurrecting the tradition of the epic poem. Radovan would come to see himself walking the same path as his nation’s statesman-poet, and he would present his own life story as an epic, a fateful trajectory from humble village origins to reluctant national leader to martyrdom on the world stage.

The biographical facts are less straightforward. The ambition was always there, but his sense of national destiny was slow to arrive. In 1960, when he was fifteen, he persuaded his parents to let him leave home in search of a better education. But instead of heading for Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and of all things Serb, he went to study in Sarajevo, the ethnically diverse capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the only one of the six constituent republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that was not defined by a dominant ethnic group.

As a young man in 1960s, Karadžić thrived in Sarajevo. He qualified as a psychiatrist and at the same time met his future wife, Ljiljana Zelen, in medical school, launching a career and a family all at once. Throughout, there was no hint that he was destined to become a nationalist ideologue. Sarajevo was not the place to go to avoid Muslims or Croats. It was where national or religious identity was of passing interest or no interest at all.

Karadžić worked for a time as the in-house psychiatrist to Sarajevo’s multiethnic soccer team, trying with limited success to instill in them a will to win. The players struggled to take his “psycho-training” sessions seriously. On one occasion, he got them to lie on the floor in a darkened room while he played taped music and told them to imagine themselves as bumblebees flying from flower to flower. As the team captain at the time, Predrag Pašić, recalled the players’ responses: “Someone was sleeping, someone snoring, someone else was farting, and someone cursing about bumblebees. The whole bumblebee thing was a huge joke to us.”

They may have laughed at him but none of the players ever took him for a nationalist. “Looked on from that perspective,” Pašić said many years later, “it seems strange that there was such a huge contrast with what Radovan would later become.”

In retrospect, Jovanka Karadžić would declare herself equally taken aback by her son’s career. “I tried to teach him to be honest and law-abiding. I educated him under adverse circumstances to live as a doctor and a gentleman,” she would recall wistfully. “I never for a single second thought he would go into politics. I always knew politics was not good, and I never wanted him to do it. Oh, how I wish he hadn’t.”

Throughout the 1970s, he showed no signs that he would follow such a route. In 1974, he won a one-year fellowship in New York at Columbia University, working on a thesis that sought to synthesize the two passions in his life at that time, psychology and poetry, exploring how the former underpinned the latter. The following year he spent in Belgrade, trying to further his career in sports psychiatry and living in an apartment block on Yuri Gagarin Street, the same road he would later inhabit during his last days as a fugitive. The wanderings suggest a man searching for a niche in which he could excel. But the pull of family and his Sarajevo home kept bringing him back to Bosnia.

It is hard to scan Karadžić’s biography and find a starting point for the path that would one day bring him before a war crimes tribunal. He did spend a year in jail and was clearly embittered by the experience, though not noticeably radicalized. In 1984, he was accused of involvement in a construction scam. Along with Momčilo Krajišnik (a close friend destined to be the Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker and a fellow war crimes defendant), he was alleged to have diverted building materials from a state enterprise to his own chicken farm, Karadžić’s bid to cash in on hungry tourists coming to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. He was finally released for lack of evidence but only after spending twelve months behind bars without a trial. Yet there is no outward sign his jail time awoke the rebel in him. Far from it. He returned quietly to his psychiatric practice.

If there is a trace of inner tumult anywhere in Karadžić’s life it is in his poetry, the one constant through the decades. From a young age, he wrote verse in prodigious quantities, with imagery that was mostly romantic but with decidedly violent undertones. And that was just his poetry for children. In his 1982 collection for young readers, There’s a Miracle, There’s No Miracle, a poem called “War Shoes” is decorated with childish renderings of houses and clouds, tanks and cannons blasting away merrily in between, all on a purple background. In the poem, the shoes are dozing but watchful. If a foreign army should approach, the little readers will have to defend their playgrounds and picnic spots. The verses warn the reader there will be “Days of heroism, nights of chivalry” ahead, when the time came “for the gun barrels to speak.”

Another of Karadžić’s poems, “Sarajevo,” published in his first book in 1971, presciently talks of the Bosnian capital burning “like a stick of incense.” A verse from the same period urges spiritual catharsis through violence: “Let’s go down to the cities / To beat up the bastards.” It makes a rhyming couplet in Serbian, but just who the “bastards” were supposed to be and who was supposed to beat them up was left unspecified.

The reaction to Karadžić’s poetry in Sarajevo’s literary circles was mixed. One critic in the mid-1980s accused him of engaging in “verbal narcissism.” Karadžić’s sense of destiny remained intact, however. He informed the chief psychiatrist at the clinic where he worked that he was destined to become “one of the three most important poets writing in the Serbian language.”

The foreboding tone of his work, coupled with the disconnect between Karadžić’s certainty in his own genius and society’s indifference, raises the question of whether he had harbored destructive feelings for his adopted hometown long before the collapse of Yugoslavia. His wife rejected the suggestion. “They say in the West that Radovan wanted to destroy Sarajevo in revenge because he was marginalized as a Montenegrin at parties,” Ljiljana said. It was an illuminating insight, as few had previously been aware that her husband had felt snubbed at gatherings of the Bosnian intelligentsia. Ljiljana insisted the infamous Sarajevo-in-flames poem had not been a statement of intent but “just a moment of depression.” “Why don’t they ever mention his poems about nature and children?” she asked an interviewer.

It was Yugoslavia’s violent implosion that gave Karadžić the chance to escape mediocrity and live his life on the heroic scale envisaged in his poetry. Yet his first tentative venture into politics was hardly headed toward militant Serb nationalism. He had a brief flirtation with the embryonic Green Party, during which he declared “Bolshevism is bad, but nationalism is even worse” and was remembered principally for making suggestions about environmentally responsible food labeling.

In early 1990, the possibilities offered by the collapse of Communism seemed dizzying. New parties of all complexions were springing up everywhere. Karadžić and his circle of Serb intellectuals knew they wanted to be part of it. They were just unsure what sort of party it should be.

The story of Karadžić’s sudden political ascent is a reminder that there was nothing inevitable about Bosnia’s plunge into ethnic violence. The man who would emerge as the central protagonist in the tragedy was dithering about what he wanted and what he stood for. He initially ruled himself out of the leadership of any Serb national party, arguing his life was already too full of family and professional commitments. But no one else emerged who was acceptable to Belgrade, where the nationalist writer and ardent Milošević supporter Dobrica C´osić was holding auditions for the post. C´osić was a dominant figure in post-Communist cultural life and his iconic status in the nationalist pantheon would be confirmed two years later when he was elected as the Yugoslav president. At the beginning of 1990 he was looking for someone suitable to carry the Serb flag in Bosnia and picked Karadžić only after several other more prominent figures had dropped out.

Once Karadžić accepted the task, a path through the thickets of post-Yugoslav politics was cleared for him by his new friends in Belgrade. C´osić advised him on how to organize the new Serb Democratic Party (SDS), emulating the title, flag, and emblems of a parallel Belgrade-backed group that was proving successful in Croatia. Would-be rivals in Bosnian Serb politics were persuaded to step aside.

Throughout the election campaign of 1990, Karadžić’s instincts were to treat the other nationalists parties, the Muslim Democratic Action Party and the Croatian Democratic Union, as partners in opposition to the Communists. He went out of his way to refute the sort of alarmist claims of a radical Islamic threat to Europe that he would be championing before long.

The abrupt change from ambivalence to demagoguery might be explained in part by the circumstances. The old League of Communists and its offspring were destroyed at the polls, and without this common enemy the nationalist parties discovered they had very different visions for their country. The Croats wanted Yugoslavia to devolve into a loose confederation of largely independent republics. The Serbs wanted the opposite, a federation with a strong center in Belgrade, run by them. The Bosniaks, anxious to avoid conflict, opted for a vague compromise between the two.

While the outside environment was in convulsions, there were dramatic changes in Karadžić himself. He had hesitated over taking up the burden of leadership, but once it was placed in his hands he was captivated by the power it brought. He was stunned by the sudden adulation of Serb voters for a previously unknown psychiatrist who they now hailed as a savior from the anxieties of post-Communist existence.

Once he had tasted the thrill of political potency, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to keep it. First of all, that meant bowing to Milošević. He first met the Serbian president in September 1990 and quickly fell into step as a loyal lieutenant. There was little choice. Serb leaders in Croatia who had not been sufficiently aggressive in demanding full self-government for Serb areas were unceremoniously dumped by Milošević and disappeared into obscurity.

Karadžić always presented the relationship as a partnership of equals, but it was closer to patron-client. His biographer, Robert Donia, notes that Milošević would call him “Radovan,” while Karadžić never dared to copy such familiarity. He addressed Milošević as “President”: “Milošević frequently summoned Karadžić to Belgrade and Karadžić invariably cancelled or rearranged other plans to make the short trip to meet in Milošević’s private office. Milošević only occasionally gave Karadžić direct orders, but when he did, Karadžić obeyed them.”

In 1991 Karadžić began to push autonomy for Serb majority municipalities from the republic’s government in Sarajevo, cranking up the tensions in Bosnia, as Yugoslavia began to break apart from its western end. Slovenia and Croatia fought for and won their independence, but Croatia only got away at a price. Under Milošević’s guidance, Croatian Serbs seceded and declared their own republic.

When Bosnia’s moment of decision approached in the spring of 1992, Karadžić prepared to follow the same course, stockpiling the weapons that arrived in a constant flow on night convoys from Belgrade.

By the hot summer of that year, Karadžić dominated the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska that had wrenched itself away from a newly independent Bosnia. He looked down from the heights around Sarajevo as his artillery poured shells into the heart of the city that had been his home for almost all his adult life.

For the benefit of the cameras, he invited a Russian nationalist writer, Eduard Limonov, to join him on the crags. Performing for the famous visitor, Karadžić embarked on a soliloquy on the great geopolitical game that he claimed was under way below them. The Muslims might be the urban majority, he told the Russian, but the land beneath their feet belonged to the Serbs.

“We may be negotiating about territory but we own this country. This is our country,” Karadžić said. And while Limonov, apparently inspired by the spirit of Orthodox Slav unity, is allowed to fire off a few machine-gun rounds at the city below, the Bosnian Serb leader takes the opportunity to recite his Sarajevo poem, imagining the city as flaming incense, where disaster is stalking the streets and even the trees are armed.

“Everything I saw in terms of war,” he tells Limonov. “That was twenty-three years ago… And many other poems I wrote have something of prediction which frightens me sometimes.”

On the way to doomed peace talks in Geneva in 1993, Karadžić had a verse sung in his honor to the accompaniment of a gusle, a single-stringed Serb fiddle. It compared the chubby president, girded with his ever-present white scarf, to the dashing Karadjordje, the warlike founder of modern Serbia who had led a Napoleon-era uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

“Oh Radovan, you man of steel, the greatest leader since Karadjordje, defend our freedom and our faith, on the shores of Lake Geneva” the gusle player sang for the Serbs’ latter-day liberator. He cut such a plump, vainglorious figure, with his trademark vertical quiff like a gray cockatoo, that Western reporters who witnessed these performances initially had trouble taking him seriously. Distracted by the poetry, the self-regard, and the colorful silk ties, they did not pay enough attention to what he was saying. In a chilling speech to Bosnia’s parliament six months before the shooting started, he warned Bosnia’s Muslims they could “disappear” in a war, having no means to defend themselves.

In an intercepted telephone call later produced as evidence in his trial, he told a party colleague: “They have to know there are 20,000 armed Serbs around Sarajevo… Sarajevo will be a karakazan [black cauldron], where 300,000 Muslims will die.”

At the beginning of the conflict, the Republika Srpska was run by a triumvirate. Besides Karadžić, it included Nikola Koljević, Yugoslavia’s foremost Shakespearean scholar, an urbane but tragic figure whose son was killed in an accident before the war and who went on to shoot himself in January 1997; and Biljana Plavšić, a stern biology professor and advocate of the pseudoscience of racial genetics.

“It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation it simply becomes concentrated,” Plavšić explained in 1994.

By the end of 1992, Koljević and Plavšić had been relegated to the role of deputies. Karadžić emerged as sole president and supreme commander of the armed forces, a title that would eventually constitute the point of departure for his indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity in The Hague. The indictment notes that from at least March 1992 until about July 19, 1996, Karadžić was the highest civilian and military authority in the Republika Srpska.

In his years in the dock following his capture, Karadžić had reason to regret his many past vanities. His coveting of imperious titles, grandstanding, playing Nero above Sarajevo, intoning verses while the smoke rose from the city—it all came back to haunt him. So did his boasting to the Republika Srpska parliament in the summer of 1995 that he had ordered the Srebrenica massacre in his “Directive 7” to General Mladić. “I was in favor of all decisions made and I support them. The time had come,” Karadžić told the assembly.

In court, his best defense lay in the carping of his detractors, those around him who had sought to portray him as cowardly; intimidated by his military commander, Ratko Mladić; and out of touch at the height of the war, when he was often to be found gambling at the Hotel Metropol Palace in Belgrade or skulking at home.

In her 2005 jailhouse memoir, I Testify, Plavšić complained about “the continuous picking of his ears with a pencil, spreading dandruff from his hair, biting his nails until they bled and his changing day to night, was drawing more and more attention from people … Presidency meetings were supposed to be held every day at 11 a.m. Everybody was on time, except the President… who was regularly late between one and two hours… On two or three occasions, I personally called his house and his wife always gave the same short answer: ‘Radovan is sleeping,’ and then she would just hang up.”

No matter how dysfunctional and erratic his leadership style may have been, Karadžić proved extraordinarily hard to dislodge from power, even after NATO arrived to keep the peace. When he realized that Western commanders were unwilling to have him arrested, he became steadily more brazen, testing the West’s resolve in enforcing the basic terms of the Dayton Accords that subordinated the Republika Srpska to an overarching Bosnian state and allowed the return of deported communities to their homes. All three parties to the Bosnian conflict dragged their heels in implementing different parts of the agreement, but the scale of Serb obstructionism soon became a serious challenge both to the peace and to its American backers.

In June 1996, Richard Holbrooke, the former American envoy who had left government after Dayton to go into banking, wrote to President Clinton to warn him about the consequences of the unraveling of the Dayton Accords: “The implications of Karadžić’s defiance go far beyond Bosnia itself. If he succeeds, basic issues of American leadership that seemed settled in the public’s eye after Dayton will re-emerge. Having reasserted American leadership in Europe, it would be a tragedy if we let it slip away again.”

The White House was duly alarmed. Holbrooke was pulled back into government service and sent to Belgrade to salvage Dayton. There he met Milošević and two Karadžić lieutenants, Momčilo Krajišnik and Aleksa Buha, the Serb statelet’s parliamentary speaker and foreign minister, respectively. They struck a deal that removed Karadžić from power in exchange for allowing his party, the SDS, to continue to function and to take part in that year’s elections. Milošević’s intelligence chief, Jovica Stanišić, was dispatched by helicopter to Pale to secure Karadžić’s signature on his political suicide late at night on July 18, while Holbrooke and his team were treated to a dinner of lamb, yogurt, and spinach as they waited at Milošević’s Belgrade villa.

Stanišić returned with the signed document at two o’clock in the morning, and the deal was done. Karadžić would later claim that Holbrooke had promised Krajišnik and Buha that immunity from prosecution was part of the bargain, something Holbrooke always vehemently denied.

“That is… C-R-A-P… crap,” he told the BBC in 1995. “It is something that Mr. Karadžić put out in order to cover his massive humiliation at being forced to give up his two titles, president of Srpska and president of his party. So he put this lie out, and because he hasn’t been captured some people still believe it. But it isn’t true.”

Karadžić and his supporters frequently suggested that they had documentary evidence to prove Holbrooke’s alleged pledge of immunity but never produced it during the five years of his trial. On the other hand, several U.S. officials, including those who worked with Holbrooke, say it is quite possible the dogged, overbearing negotiator may have deliberately given the impression that the indictments were nothing to worry about in order to secure the deal, while committing nothing to paper.

The Hague was not the only option Karadžić explored in the uneasy transition between war and NATO-enforced peace. Boris Yeltsin told his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, that after Dayton the Russians had arranged for Karadžić to be flown to Belarus in a bid to sell it to him as a potential seat of exile. Karadžić took one look at the country’s grim capital, Minsk, and asked to be flown home.

In Pale, Karadžić withdrew from public view and concentrated on making money from the black-market trade in fuel and timber, while seeking to control Bosnian Serb politics from behind the scenes. Under his sway, the SDS continued to prevent Bosniaks and Croats from returning to their villages and persisted in the harassment of Serb opponents.

The root of the problem was a lack of political will in the Western capitals where an arrest operation would have to be authorized. And even when the realization dawned that Karadžić’s presence was poisoning the peace settlement and substantial resources were belatedly deployed, the effort was a failure. The shambolic poet-psychiatrist-warlord-gambler managed to stay one step ahead of the enormous military and intelligence effort to find him, remaining at liberty for more than a decade.

In the early years of the millennium, something of an obsession grew up around the tiny village of Cˇelebići, high up in the mountains southeast of Foča near Montenegro. Rumors swirled in intelligence reports and in the press that Karadžić was being sheltered there. Correspondents frequently trekked up to the craggy hamlet and described the locals’ distaste for outsiders, a form of journalism that was ultimately self-fulfilling. In February 2002, dozens of French and German troops blew holes in the walls around a farm and stormed in with armored cars and helicopters. There was no sign of any fugitives and no arrests were made. NATO claimed to have found a large cache of weapons and insisted that the dramatic raid demonstrated the determination of the alliance.

pointing to a variety of Montenegrin monasteries turned out to be built entirely on false leads, many provided by U.S. and British informants either for money or as deliberate disinformation. Similar misdirection eventually led to the biggest fiasco of the entire Karadžić manhunt, on April Fool’s Day in 2004.

At about one o’clock that morning, Jeremija Starovlah, an Orthodox priest in Pale, was shaken awake by his wife, Vitorka. The phone was ringing and she was fearful it meant something had happened to their youngest son, who was away from home. Jeremija padded toward the living room, while Vitorka and the couple’s eldest son, Aleksandar, stood in the hallway in their pajamas. As soon as the priest picked up the phone, the whole house was shaken by an almighty blast. Out of the darkness and the smoke, SFOR soldiers rushed in through doors and windows, shouting, with guns raised. Both Jeremija and Aleksandar were lying motionless on the floor. They were taken to the hospital in a coma.

Vitorka, with the backing of the Serbian Orthodox church, accused NATO of beating the men senseless. The alliance apologized profusely but insisted their injuries had been the unintended consequences of the explosives used to blow off the front door in the course of a raid aimed at finding Karadžić. NATO had received a “credible” tip that the fugitive was being harbored by the priest, a vocal Karadžić fan, and was being guarded inside the house by armed men.

It was a debacle. Yet another false lead had been compounded this time by excessive force and the cavalier use of explosives. The version of events put out by Western officials was that while British and American troops had secured a perimeter around the priest’s house, French commandos had blown up the door but miscalculated the amount of plastic explosive needed. The concrete interior had channeled and amplified the shock wave from the blast and grievously injured the Starovlahs.

The incident brought thousands of Bosnian Serbs into the streets in Karadžić masks, waving the Serb tricolor, and enhanced the fugitive’s image as folk hero. A few months later, he completed the West’s humiliation by publishing his latest collection of poems in Serbia. It was curiously titled Under the Left Breast of History and included a section headed “I Can Look for Myself,” an apparently mocking reference to NATO’s continuing failure to find him. In October 2004, his latest novel, Miraculous Chronicles of the Night, written while he was in hiding, sold out at the Belgrade International Book Fair. NATO was floundering while its quarry was hitting his literary peak.

In frustration, the focus of the pursuit turned toward Karadžić’s money. The High Representative in Sarajevo at the time was Paddy Ashdown, a former Royal Marine commando and ex-leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats. The post gave Ashdown vice regal powers to run Bosnia as an international protectorate, and he used them to the utmost, cutting off public funding to the SDS on the grounds the money was being used to finance Karadžić’s flight from international justice. Ashdown’s office found that tens of millions of dollars were missing from the accounts of the Republika Srpska’s forestry commission, electric power corporation, and other utilities. Ashdown was convinced that the missing money was used to fund the Preventiva, as Karadžić’s bodyguards were colloquially known.

The flow of money was duly cut off. Judging by Karadžić’s spartan lifestyle in Belgrade in his last years on the run, and the fact that the Dragan Dabić cover was at least partly self-financed through fees from his services as a spiritual healer, it is fair to assume Ashdown’s efforts helped to cramp his style. But it brought the world no closer to capturing Karadžić.

Failure followed failure. After a tip-off that Karadžić was getting medical attention in Pale, Italian carabinieri and German troops closed down large areas of the town in March 2004 and went door to door in the driving snow, searching for wall cavities in Ljiljana’s pink house.

U.S. troops picked up a Bosnian Serb general, Bogdan Subotić, on the suspicion that he was the channel to Stana Kojić, a Serb fortune-teller in Bijeljina whom Karadžić consulted in his constant quest to remain one step ahead of his pursuers. The consultations with Kojić doubtless provided Karadžić with material that he ultimately incorporated into his spiritualist shtick as Dragan Dabić. But the questioning of General Subotić led nowhere.

As the years went by, the techniques used by the American military became increasingly heavy-handed to the point that Western diplomats in Sarajevo, including American embassy officials, began to worry that they were pushing at the borders of legality. That uneasiness reached a peak in July 2005 when Karadžić’s thirty-three-year-old son, Saša, was picked up at home in Pale and led away in handcuffs with a flak jacket over his head to a helicopter that flew to the U.S. base Camp Eagle in Tuzla. There he was held in solitary confinement for ten days, in the hope of sweating him into giving away his father’s whereabouts.

“He knew we could hold him for seventy-two hours and he was as cool as a cucumber for those three days. But what he didn’t know was that the commander could order another seventy-two hours, and then another. He started sweating and crying,” a U.S. official recalled.

The interrogation was fruitless, but Saša Karadžić’s treatment prompted the family to try to insulate themselves from the increasingly desperate search. After exploring the possibility of declaring her husband dead, Ljiljana made a dramatic appearance on Serb television on July 29, 2005, calling on him to give himself up: “This is a message to my husband, Radovan Karadžić. I have to address you this way, because there is no other way. Our family is under constant pressure from all sides. We are being threatened in every way: through our lives and our property. We are living in a constant atmosphere of anxiety, pain and suffering. That is why, between loyalty to you and loyalty to our children and grandchildren, I had to choose and I have chosen. I find it painful and hard to ask you, but I beg you with all my heart and soul to surrender. That will be a sacrifice for us, for our family. In the hope that you are alive and that you are free to make the decision yourself, I beg you to make the decision and do it for all our sakes. In all my helplessness and my weakness, the only thing that I can do is beg you.”

By the time of this appeal, Karadžić was already cocooned in Belgrade and beginning to emerge in public as Dabić, using papers provided by the Serbian State Security Service, based on a personal history stolen from the real Dabić in Ruma.

“I think it was the conclusion of the secret police that it was safest to use the identity of a peasant who didn’t move around,” Bruno Vekarić, the deputy war crimes prosecutor in Belgrade, said.

The first time anyone in the Serbian alternative therapy world came across the white-bearded wanderer was in late 2005, when he appeared in Belgrade at the house of Mina Minić. Minić advertised himself as a clairvoyant, but he failed to see through his visitor’s disguise. His impression of Dabić was that he looked “like a monk who had done something wrong with a nun.”

Dabić told Minić that he had been living in New York but had come home after an ugly split with his wife, who was spitefully refusing to forward his medical credentials. Dabić was eager to learn the ways of the visak, a pendulum claimed by Balkan seers to identify disturbances in the energy fields around sick or troubled patients.

Dabić soon acquired his own visak, and his career as a mystic healer blossomed. He adopted the un-Serbian middle name of David and used it increasingly as a professional moniker. He also set up a website called Psy Help Energy which advertised the David Wellbeing Programme offering help from “experienced experts from pioneering areas of science where there are immense possibilities for interaction with natural forces in and around us.”

Among other services available were acupuncture, homeopathy, “quantum medicine,” and traditional cures. He also sold necklaces he called Velbing (well-being): lucky charms that he claimed offered health benefits and “personal protection” against “harmful radiation.” He used elements of his training in psychiatric care and embellished them with Oriental-inspired theories of “the life force,” “vital energies,” and “personal auras.” He told his clients his topknot acted as a sort of spiritual radio receiver, drawing in energy from the environment. The website provided no address, and the two numbers it listed were prepaid mobile phones.

The showman and the man of destiny still craved a broader public, however. He pestered Goran Kojić, the editor of Healthy Living, for a writing slot.

“Here was this strange looking man. He said he was freelancing for a number of private clinics and he wanted to publish,” Kojić said. “He said: ‘I have a diploma but I don’t have it with me. My ex-wife has it in the United States.’ I said I can’t publish you as a psychiatrist without a diploma, but I will take you on as a ‘spiritual researcher.’”

His column was titled “Meditations,” and it stressed the benefits of tihovanje, a form of meditation practiced through the centuries by Orthodox monks.

“If you use tihovanje, you will achieve higher states of being because it is from your own culture,” Dabić wrote. He gave a public lecture on the subject in October 2007. By now he was a regular at seminars and panel discussions on alternative medicine. Healthy Living’s third annual festival in Belgrade advertised a presentation by David Dabić on “nurturing your inner energies.” Videos of these occasions show a soft-spoken pensioner sitting the way Karadžić the warlord used to sit with his feet pointing inward and balancing on the outside edge of his soles.

In his neighborhood, the kids called him Santa Claus, and the kindly old man used to stop and talk to them on the way home from the corner grocery store. He lived on the third floor of 267 Yuri Gagarin Street in apartment 19. The landlord, Maksimović, whose name was on the door, later insisted he had no inkling of his tenant’s true identity. According to one visitor, there was a framed photograph on a table showing four boys all dressed in yellow L.A. Lakers T-shirts who Karadžić said were grandsons living in America. The picture was presumably provided by the secret police minders who initially presented him with the Dabić identity.

The neighbors said he had lived in the apartment since early 2007, at first alone and then he appeared to have found a woman companion in the last eight weeks there. Her name was Mila Cicak, a fifty-three-year-old unemployed nurse, but she angrily denied tabloid reports she had been Dabić’s lover. She described herself as a friend who helped Dabić in his work. She too had no clue as to her friend’s true identity.

It was hard to blame her. Another of Dabić’s neighbors, who lived across the hall from him, was a woman who worked for Interpol and whose job it was coordinate the hunt for international fugitives like Karadžić.

“Every morning this woman switched on her computer and there was a picture of Radovan Karadžić and Osama bin Laden. And each morning she would say good morning to Dragan Dabić,” Vekarić said.

So convincing was Dabić in his role of healer that the closer people got to him, the more they believed in him and the more shocked they were when he was unmasked. Maja Djelić was an acupuncturist who was one of Dabić’s closest friends. On the way back from a conference in October 2007, Djelić had a headache and Dabić had made it disappear by touching her temples with his hands.

“The people dealing with this stuff are usually charlatans, but not him. You could feel he had good bio-energy,” she said later. The last time Djelić heard from her guru, in June 2008, just a few weeks before his arrest, he sent her an e-mail pondering the properties of the “magic number 11.” He had promised to teach her the secrets of transmitting bio-energy. Like many who knew Dabić, she had trouble coming to terms with the fact that he did not exist.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay a friend to the man I knew,” she said after the arrest. “I still believe in three days they’re going to come back and say it’s not him.”

Many of Dabić’s evenings were spent in the Luda Kuća (Madhouse) bar, a one-room establishment set among a few trees and a patch of grass under a cluster of tower blocks on Yuri Gagarin Street in a district known as Block 45.

In the heyday of Tito’s Socialist Yugoslavia, Block 45 was a model suburb. It was near the Sava River and the blocks were interspersed with gardens. The well-to-do lived cheek by jowl with city workers. But the previous three decades had not been kind to the district, and its decline had sharpened since Serbia had been cut off by sanctions. By 2008, the gardens of Block 45 were unkempt, it was unsafe at night, and graffiti was climbing the walls of the apartment blocks like an implacable disease.

The Luda Kuća was a smoke-filled, rough-edged place that appealed to a shifting crowd of outsiders— impoverished war veterans, Bosnian Serbs, and Montenegrins. It served country wine, šljivovica (plum brandy), and pungent undiluted nationalism.

On the wood-paneled walls were pictures of the Serb modern nationalist pantheon: Slobodan Milošević, Vojislav Šešelj, Ratko Mladić, and, of course, Radovan Karadžić—each one a hero to the people, each one indicted for war crimes. For the clientele, there was no contradiction. When Karadžić was finally unmasked, the regulars felt honored rather than hoodwinked. Tales of Dragan Dabić passed overnight into legend.

One winter’s night, during one of the bar’s gusle jam sessions, Dabić turned up to listen and was eventually persuaded to join in. Rašo Vučinić, a young, black-haired, mustachioed nationalist who had been another of the gusle players that night recalled: “He was wearing a black hat and a black coat and he was standing at the threshold, listening.”

“You young players are the greatest treasure of the Serbian people,” the old man told Vučinić. “Sing with and through the gusle. Speak about the Serb traditions. Hold the banner of our glory high.” Then he wrote out the lyrics of Serb songs about the war in Bosnia.

When Dabić was cajoled into picking up the gusle himself, he played beautifully, according to Luda Kuća lore. After his arrest, the gusle he played was treasured as a relic. It was carved from elm with a large eagle at its head and portraits of national heroes on its body, including one of Vuk Karadžić, Radovan’s nineteenth-century forebear and idol.

Those who witnessed the legendary gusle night shook their heads in disbelief at the memory. There was Radovan Karadžić, their hero and icon, playing the gusle for them under his own portrait, and no one had a clue who he was. The audacity!

Karadžić’s lawyer, Sveta Vujačić, has his own Luda Kuća tale of sitting alongside Dabić while the whole bar broke into a ballad in Karadžić’s honor. “Rašo, come down from the mountain,” they sang, using an affectionate diminutive for Radovan.

“For Radovan and me it was hard not to show emotions. Everyone in Luda Kuća was singing,” Vujačić recalled.

Many Luda Kuća regulars claimed they had detected an otherworldly vibration emanating from the man they knew as Dr. David.

“Some might say he looked like a weirdo, but I looked at him as a living saint, and I didn’t even know who it was,” Vučinić, the gusle player, said.

The bar’s owner, Tomas Kovijanić, another Montenegrin from a village close to Petnjica recalled: “There was something special about him, an aura or charisma. He had the appearance of a saint, a prophet, a magus.”

“Every day I saw him, and not even remotely would I have recognized him,” he said. One day, Kovijanić, a burly wisecracking fifty-four-year-old known to his customers as Miško, got talking to Dabić about the mountains of Montenegro, regaling his elderly customer about a childhood spent less than a mile away from the Karadžić home. They were family friends, he had bragged to his subsequent embarrassment.

“He was listening but said nothing nor made even a single gesture that gave away he knew the places I was talking about,” the bar owner said.

In the summer of 2007, a swarm of bees had settled on a tree above the Luda Kuća and built a hive that grew so heavy it fell to the pavement. As Kovijanić remembered the incident: “People got worried about being attacked and somebody brought some insecticide, but Dr. David—Radovan—said, ‘Don’t kill the bees. Bees are blessed, living beings and deserve to be saved.’ He brought a box and led the rescue effort. A friend of mine was a beekeeper and he came to take them away. Radovan wouldn’t leave until they picked up every last bee.”

Kovijanić said, “I am proud that he was here, that he felt safe and secure here. I am just sad because of what has happened and that he is going to a dungeon in The Hague.”

Vujačić first heard of Karadžić’s arrest two days after the event but a day before it became public. He was traveling back from Kragujevac from the latest installment of Luka Karadžić’s drunk-driving case, in which a twenty-one-year-old woman had been killed in a head-on collision with his car three years earlier. The travails of the Bosnian Serbs’ former first family seem likely to keep the lawyer busy for many years to come.

Karadžić’s immediate circle of friends and supporters had not been able to get through to him for two days and were sufficiently concerned about his radio silence to break cover and call the lawyer.

“For Radovan not to be picking up his phone was really unusual,” Vujačić said. “He always carried at least two phones and was always in contact… One of those numbers he’d had for two years.”

The reaction among Karadžić’s friends to his disappearance speaks eloquently about the BIA’s previous efforts to find him. It shows there was a close-knit support network constantly in touch with the fugitive and with each other. It also proved they did not bother to change phones or SIM cards very often. The Serbian spy agency’s failure to track this chatter suggests that—prior to the change of management—it had not been trying very hard to find the fugitive.

Working for the Karadžić family does not appear to have made Vujačić rich. His office is a cramped apartment on the fifth floor of a central Belgrade block, reached by a creaking ascent in a vintage elevator through a dark, untended stairwell. The lawyer claims the office was burgled ten times in the years Karadžić was on the run, each time by BIA agents. They looked through his files and occasionally confiscated a bottle or two from his impressive whisky collection. Above replenished supplies of Teachers and Famous Grouse on his bookcase, one framed photograph now has pride of place: It shows Vujačić and Karadžić arm in arm, smiling for the camera. It was taken at four o’clock in the morning of July 22, 2008, the only picture to emerge from Karadžić’s short stay at the Ustanička Street court. It was also the first photograph to show Karadžić’s face after his life on the run. Shorn of Dragan Dabić’s woolly white beard, he is clearly older and gaunter, with hollow cheeks, but he is immediately recognizable as the Balkan warlord who had seemingly vanished a decade earlier.

Karadžić’s arrest made headlines around the world. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, hailed the arrest as a historic moment. Holbrooke declared “the Osama bin Laden of Europe” had been captured. The news brought people into the streets in central Sarajevo to celebrate a day Bosniaks thought would never come.

In Belgrade, ten thousand supporters were bused into town by the nationalist parties to chant and protest. It was the biggest demonstration against any of the war crimes arrests to date, but it altered nothing. Serbia had already changed course. The vote for Tadić and his modernizers reflected a popular desire to cast off old warlords like Karadžić.

Nine days later, shortly before four in the morning on July 30, Karadžić was driven to the Belgrade’s international airport and flown to The Hague, where he made his first appearance before the tribunal the following day. The defendant waived his right to a defense lawyer claiming to have “an invisible adviser,” presumably God. In court, he would represent himself.

His five-year performance before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was the realization of a long-held dream: to stand in the global arena and present himself as a mouthpiece for the Serb nation. Throughout his life in hiding he was pulled in two directions: horror at the thought of incarceration and a fierce desire to return to center stage. Several times, he tried in vain to engineer deals that would maximize his air time and minimize his jail time.

Once both had been thrust upon him, he seized the role of the Serb martyr in chief. While the prosecutor tried to focus on his individual responsibility, he presented his wartime actions as the expression of the national will of a long-suffering people. “The entire Serb people stand accused,” he declared in his closing statement.

“Excellencies, the Serbs were cornered and they behaved far better than anyone else would have behaved if cornered in that way,” Karadžić told the court. He spun an extraordinary inversion of wartime history in which the Serbs had been victims of aggression and there had been no systematic ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats.

“There is no example of a case when official authorities rounded people up and drove them out,” he insisted, conceding that the occasional rogue individual might have acted differently. It was an extraordinary claim about a war that led to two million people being driven from their homes, more than half of them non-Serbs forced out of the Republika Srpska.

In the Karadžić version of history, these people “did leave their homes with a heavy heart but they left of their own free will.” Had Karadžić not been involved, the bloodshed would have been far greater, but he “really was a true to friend to the Muslims.”

In the courtroom and in the public gallery on the other side of the bulletproof glass, mouths gaped at the sheer audacity of Karadžić’s rhetoric. But he cared nothing for the ridicule or contempt of outsiders. He was spinning new myths for his people to help propel them forward for generations to come, just as he had been borne aloft by the old legends of Serb suffering, carrying him to greatness and justifying each step along the way.

Julian Borger is the diplomatic editor for The Guardian. He covered the Bosnian War for the BBC and The Guardian, and returned to the Balkans to report on the Kosovo conflict in 1999. He has also served as The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent and its Washington bureau chief. Borger was part of the Guardian team that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism for its coverage of the Snowden files on mass surveillance. He was also on the team awarded the 2013 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) medal and the Paul Foot Special Investigation Award in the UK.


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