Serbia: The war criminal Karadzic and Western hypocrisy

By Michael Karadjis

August 2, 2008 (updated October 11, 2008) -- The new Serbian government last month finally cornered Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), one of the two entities which make up Bosnia, during the war in 1992-5 when that statelet was created. Karadzic had been in hiding for many years from the International War Crimes Tribunal in, which in 1995 had indicted him for various war crimes including genocide.

The July 21 arrest led to a wave of hypocrisy in Western capitals, congratulating Serbia on the arrest of the vile criminal. Yet for the last seven years in Afghanistan and five years in Iraq, well upwards of a million people have been killed as a result of the US invasion and occupation of these countries. Whole countries are being destroyed; yet not only do these war crimes of climactic scale go unpunished, but these leading war criminals then see themselves as having the right to designate who is a war criminal.

Daily war crimes are committed against the Palestinian people year in and out by a country which has stood in open violation of international law for decades, yet continues to receive massive military and economic aid from the US.

Such naked hypocrisy can never lead to justice or even a feeling of justice among the oppressed of the world. However, it is a big mistake to jump from this condemnation of the overall system of injustice to any defense of Karadzic, let alone viewing him as some kind of anti-imperialist hero, as some on the left and far right fringes do.

Who is Karadzic and what makes him so important?

Born in 1945 in Montenegro, Karadzic was the son of a Chetnik (Serb-chauvinist) warrior, Vuk, of World War II. The Chetniks first fought the Nazis but then ended up collaborating with them against Tito's communist Partisans. For much of Karadzic's childhood under Tito, his father was in prison.

The victorious partisans set up a multi-ethnic socialist federation, in which Serbs were just one of many equal nations. Extreme nationalism was kept under wraps by Tito, in order that the dominant nations, especially Serbs and Croats, could not dominate the smaller nations, to maintain a united working class. The Chetniks by contrast had aimed to revive the pre-war rule of the Serbian monarchy over the other non-Serb peoples.

However, as capitalism swept across the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s, the ascending bourgeoisie needed a new ideology to replace "communism" and "brotherhood and unity". They found it in a revived national chauvinism.

A psychiatrist and a "poet", Karadzic fell under the influence of leading anti-Titoist dissident Dobrica Cosic, a prominent figure in the SerbianAcademy of Arts and Sciences and the intellectual father of modern Serb nationalism. The rising Serb nationalist, medievalist, lunar-right revival of the 1980s came to dominate the Academy, which, though in Belgrade, chose Karadzic to head the newly formed pro-Chetnik, anti-communist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia in 1990.

This is where we have to understand Karadzic. Neither an International Monetary Fund-linked party technocrat like then Serbian prime minister Slobodan Milosevic, nor a sadistic military officer like General Mladic, would necessarily have ended up destroying Yugoslavia. Rather it was the wind of Serbian chauvinism - itself not something from the sky, but reflecting the rising capitalist class - that swept both along as opportunists of power, political and military.

Karadzic, by contrast, like his close ally Vojislav Seselj, the founder of the quasi-fascist Serbian Chetnik Movement (later Serbian Radical Party), was always an enemy of the old power structure and a natural leader of the new. The entire ideology of Karadzic, Seselj and the Serb nationalist lunar right was fundamentally pro-imperialist: they were re-launching the crusades to finally drive "the Turks" out of Europe (ie, they called Balkan Muslims "Turks”), they were defending Christian Europe against "Islamic invasion." If Tito had identified with anti-colonial movements like that in Algeria against French rule, Karadzic by contrast declared “Bosnia has become like Algeria for the French in the 1950s. After the appearance of fundamentalism, peace with the Muslims is no longer possible.”

Army hijacked

While the new bourgeoisie of other Yugoslav nations also promoted national chauvinism – most notably the regime of Franjo Tudjman of Croatia – that of the dominant Serb nation had an additional weapon to put their chauvinist ideology into practice, with the aim of grabbing the largest slice of the ashes of Yugoslavia: they hijacked the former Yugoslav army, the 4th largest military force in Europe, and drove out the non-Serbs.

In 1992, there was a country called Bosnia, a historic entity, one of the former Yugoslav republics, which was constitutionally a republic of three peoples, Serbs, Croats and
Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), all three of whom were represented in the elected government proportionally, and at every level of the state apparatus. The three peoples were inextricably mixed. About a quarter of the land mass of
Bosnia, containing also a quarter of its population, had no ethnic majority at all; and in about half the areas that did, these “majorities” were tenuous. Major cities were occupied by Serbs, Croats, Muslims, mixed Serb-Croats, Serb-Muslims, Croat-Muslims, Serb-Croat-Muslims, "Yugoslavs", "Bosnians", atheists, Jews, Roma etc, living in the same apartment blocks and working in the same factories and offices, essentially a new nation in formation, a post-capitalist nation under development in socialist Yugoslavia, where Bosnia was the high point of that multi-ethnic state. This coexistence had lasted 800 years, and everywhere were scattered mosques, synagogues, Serbian Orthodox and Croat Catholic churches.

From the outset, this leader out of nowhere had a plan: to destroy Bosnia, root and branch, the entire historic civilisation, so rudely based, as it was, on coexistence between peoples rather than ethnic purity, Serb domination and apartheid. In this, he had agreement from his Bosnian Croat chauvinist counterparts, backed by Tudjman.

To do this, however, the Muslim plurality of the population had to be eliminated. Unlike the much smarter Milosevic, Karadzic made no bones about this; in a speech to the Bosnian parliament months before Bosnia’s independence, he threatened that the Muslims would “disappear from the face of the Earth.”

The blueprint for this genocide was laid out by the SDS leadership in “The Strategic Goals of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, adopted by the Republika Srpska national assembly in May 1992. These goals were: (1) Separation as a state from the other two ethnic communities; (2) a corridor between Sermberija and Krajina; (3) the establishment of a corridor in the Drina River valley, i.e., the elimination of the border between Serbian states; (4) the establishment of a border on the Una and Neretva rivers; and (5) the division of the city of Sarajevo into a Serbian part and a Muslim part, and the establishment of effective State authorities within each part.”[1] Looking at a demographic map of these regions, particularly the DrinaValley and the “corridor”, one can understand that this could only mean the physical elimination of the non-Serb, mainly Muslim, majorities, of these regions. Mladić gave the order: “Inflict the greatest losses and force the enemy to abandon the regions of Birač, Žepa and Goražde together with the Moslem population. First offer the disarming of militarily capable and armed men, and if they do not accept, destroy them.”[2]

He set out to do that in 1992 -- and succeeded. In the northern spring and summer of that year, his Chetniks and the now completely Serb-run "Yugoslav" army swept across Bosnia and uprooted, bombed and massacred the non-Serb population of 70 per cent of Bosnia (Serbs were only 30 per cent of the population). While the July 1995 massacre in the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica – where Mladic’s troops killed over 8000 Muslim captives in a few days – is the most terrible crime committed, the massacre in the whole of Muslim-majority east Bosnia occurred over many months of 1992, alongside the massacre in north and west Bosnia, while the mixed population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, along with dozens of other towns and cities, were besieged and bombed daily throughout these years. Officially, 100,000 people were killed, though like with the Iraq Body Count, real numbers may be much higher. 83 per cent of civilian victims were Muslims, and millions were driven from their homes or made refugees.

Nearly 1700 mosques were destroyed, many flattened and turned into parking lots, whereas when revenge – never justified but essentially inevitable – set in, only 34 Orthodox churches suffered the same fate. Thus mosques were destroyed at a ratio of 50 to 1 compared to Orthodox churches (some 340 Croat Catholic churches were also destroyed). The National Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with over “a million books, more than a hundred thousand manuscripts and rare books, and centuries of historical records”, according to professor of Islamic Studies Michael sells, went up in flames, the biggest book-burning in history, as did the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, containing more than five thousand Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, from many parts of the Middle East.

The high point of this 3.5 year genocidal war against Bosnia’s Muslims in the heart of Europe with only whimpers from the European imperialist powers within earshot away was the massacre of 8000 Muslim captives in Srebrenica, when it was captured by Karadzic’s army, under the command of Mladic, in July 1995. At the end of this monstrosity, Mladic declared the Serb people had finally liberated Srebrenica from "the Turks". It is somewhat unfortunate that even this crime has come under the spotlight for moral relativists. Ed Herman, in particular, has penned some appalling work on this (for a full rebuttal of these left-revisionist works, see my article at:

Karadzic’s capture again brought out some of this. For example, Louis Proyect, the moderator of the Marxism List, wrote:

“In the latest issue of Links, Karadjis holds forth on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Serb warlord who is qualitatively worse than all the other warlords in Yugoslavia, including the Muslim Naser Oric whose anti-Serb pogroms near Srebrenica unleashed Karadzic’s bloodlust revenge.”[3]

This dishonesty is astounding, and can only be uttered by someone so enamored to the cause of Serbian chauvinism that he allows himself to write things he knows are untrue. His suggestion here is that the war in east Bosnia began when Oric launched “anti-Serb pogroms.” This then provoked Karadzic into his “bloodlust revenge”, by killing 8000 Muslims in Srebrenica.

Proyect however well knows that the massacre and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from east Bosnia began in earnest – and extremely bloodily – from April 1992, and that is why the Muslim military leader got holed up in the Gaza-like ghetto of Srebrenica in the first place. Before that, most of east Bosnia, including all the region surrounding Srebrenica, had a Muslim majority. Tens of thousands of Muslim refugees poured into the Srebrenica ghetto, which then became known as a Muslim “enclave” in “Serb” east Bosnia. Naturally enough, this led to desperate raids out of the ghetto into the lands formerly their own, mostly to get food and seize animals.

These raids, which peaked around late 1992 and early 1993, were often led by Oric, and sometimes bloody vengeance was exacted on small numbers of Serb civilians. I have never covered for any attack on civilians, but these raids were more or less the exact equivalent of the raids out of the Gaza ghetto, the Gaza concentration camp, by desperate Palestinians, which similarly result in deaths of Israeli citizens, and can hardly be compared to the systematic crimes of the Israeli occupier.

Not only were the numbers of Serb casualties far less than the Muslim casualties either before or after this time, but above all, Proyect has casually reversed the chronology and causality involved. Surely he would have been more correct to say that the massive bloodlust pogroms against the Muslims throughout 1992 is what led to Oric’s much later and smaller-scale “bloodlust revenge”. How the latter can then be claimed as provoking the deliberate, planned capture and massacre of thousands in Srebrenica years later is a tall story indeed.


This then is the legacy of Karadzic, the utter destruction of the nation of Bosnia, in the same way as Bush is responsible for the wholesale destruction of Iraq. In 1994, Karadzic’s ``SerbRepublic’’ annulled all decisions of the ``National Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Herzegovina’’ (ZAVNOBiH), the Partisan assembly in World War II which gave birth to both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Communist Yugoslavia. By contrast, the Bosnian government continues to celebrate the anniversary of the first ZAVNOBiH session as the birth of the Bosnian republic. In 1996, retreating Chetnik forces destroyed the memorial to Partisan war dead and victims of fascism in Sarajevo.

But imperialism also wanted the destruction of that Bosnia, because its heartland cities and industrial centres represented a still multi-ethnic working class, the last embers of what was socialist about the very contradictory phenomenon of Titoist Yugoslavia. Thus even from before the war began, the European imperialist powers put forward the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan, drawn up by the Serb and Croat chauvinists -- indeed by Karadzic himself – for the ethnic dismemberment of Bosnia into “three constituent (territorial) units”[4], despite the intermingling of populations. This directly led to the ethnic cleansing.

The EU continued to put forward such partition plans throughout the war. In mid-1993, EU negotiator Lord Owen from the UK Foreign Office and the UN envoy, Thorvald Stoltenberg, decided the best way to achieve “peace” was to offer Karadzic everything he wanted -- a full republic occupying 52 per cent of Bosnian territory within a loose Bosnian confederation of three republics. Owen and Stoltenberg, Milosevic and Tudjman, the Bosnian Serb and Croat paramilitary leaders Karadzic and Boban, met and agreed on principles.[5]Alia Izetbegovic, president of the legal, UN-recognised government of Bosnia, was not invited to any of these meetings to dismember his country. In September, and again in December, the Bosnian parliament flatly rejected this imperialist carve-up.

Meanwhile, the imperialist powers embargoed arms from the Bosnian government to force it to surrender, in violation of Article 1 of the UN Charter, on the right of UN member states to self-defence. Only Iran and some Muslim states managed to smuggle some arms trough in violation of the imperialist embargo. The UN General Assembly twice voted to lift the illegal embargo against Bosnia, yet this was blocked by the Security Council mainly due to the insistence of Britain and France.

Examples of NATO enforcement of the embargo include the interception by US officers, in September 1992, at Zagreb airport of an Iranian plane bound for Bosnia with 4000 automatic rifles, and the turning back by NATO navies of a large shipment of Iranian arms to Bosnia in January 1993, at a time that Bosnia could have used such arms to face the huge combined assault by Serb and Croat nationalist forces.[6] In April 1993, the US even forced the Pakistan government – at the risk of being declared a “terrorist state” – to sack the then head of the ISI, Javed Nasir, due to his role in attempting to get arms to the Bosnian Muslims.[7]

Finally, the US took over, and after the Srebrenica genocide, intervened in late 1995 with a brief bombing of the Bosnian Serb artillery that had been bombing Sarajevo daily for years, a show necessary in order to hand over half of Bosnia to the "Serb Republic”, violently “cleansed” of its non-Serb plurality – obtaining "peace" via a total victory of Karadzic's war aims.

It is no wonder then that Holbrooke, the chief US architect of this Serbian victory at the 1995 Dayton Accords, made a secret deal with Karadzic to grant him immunity provided he “disappear” from public life.

Former Serbian Interior Ministry cabinet chief, Vlado Nadezdin, recently claimed this agreement was signed between Karadzic and Holbrooke before Dayton. "I was then chief of cabinet to the Yugoslav Interior Minister Milana Milutinovic and I saw that document. The agreement contained a number of points, at the top of the page was the president of the Republic of Srpska, the president's cabinet, in the left-hand corner was Radovan Karadzic's signature, and in the right, Richard Holbrooke's. The main clause of the agreement out of the three or four, stated that the Hague Tribunal was not responsible for Radovan Karadzic”, he said.

This confirms similar accusations by Florence Hartmann, the former spokeswoman for Hague Tribunal Chief Prosecutor. In a recent book she claimed Russia and America systematically blocked for the past decade the arrest of Karadzic. Most recently, she claims, in 2004 American forces tipped off Karadzic that he was about to be arrested by the Serbian government.

Hartman claimed Western leaders wanted to avoid their relations with Karadzic coming to light and admitting that they did not make an effort to stop the Srebrenica genocide. Yet other revelations suggest another US-Karadzic deal had already included conspiring in the capture of Srebrenica (see, which seems likely given that the Muslim town was handed to the now-recognised Serb Republic at Dayton as if nothing had happened.

Meanwhile, the Belgrade daily Blic claimed in early August that the CIA had protected Karadzic from arrest until 2000. Hartmann also told Blic that the Hague on several occasions gave the US exact locations where Karadzic was hiding, but “they did nothing.” Information “was abundant, however, it would always turn out that one of the three countries – the U.S., Britain or France – would block arrests.”

Hartmann also claimed Karadzic's arrest “was never a problem for Serbia as much as for the West – unlike the case of Ratko Mladic, whom the Hague sees as a firm link of crime that connects Belgrade and Bosnia”, due to Mladic’s status as a general in the Bosnian Serb Army but having originally been a general in the Belgrade-based “Yugoslav” army.

Karadzic, by contrast, “was known to distance himself from Serbia”, especially as Milosevic had long agreed to imperialist partition plans giving the SerbRepublic half of Bosnia, whereas “true believing” right-wing fanatic Karadzic held out for much more till the end. "Now that Karadzic has finally been arrested, he can tell a lot about secret deals that led to the fall of Srebrenica. His testimony represents a great risk for the great Western powers”, Hartmann said.

It is not only the US at risk, but even more the former leaders of the then Tory regime in the UK, the most prominent imperialist spokespeople for Serbian victory from beginning to end. Tory MP and relative of the former Montenegrin royal family, Jovan Gvozdenovic (John Kennedy), organised two large donations of around 100,000 pounds to the ruling Tory Party in 1992 and 1994. The money was donated by a network of British based companies that Kennedy was involved in, partly or wholly owned by a Serbian parent company with strong links to Karadzic.[8] The large London-based Serbian firm Genex was owned in Bosnia by Karadzic’s people. Kennedy led delegations of British MP’s to meet Karadzic and other SDS leaders. Kennedy was a researcher for and close friend of Tory MP Henry Bellingham, parliamentary secretary to Malcolm Rifkind, British Defense Secretary, and reportedly “had access to the highest levels of the Conservative Party.”[9] The only MP to come out openly to call for support for Milosevic, right-winger David Hart, was also an adviser to Rifkind.

It is significant that no-one had been asking Serbia to extradite Karadzic, but only Mladic, believed to be in Serbia, given his long term military connections. Karadzic, who had no such traditional connections, was alleged by both Serbia and Western governments to be in the hills of Bosnia or Montenegro (his birthplace), in fact they held up Bosnia's EU candidacy process on this account, yet it turns out he was living for years right under the very noses of the authorities in downtime Belgrade, where he had been masquerading brilliantly as a alternative therapies quack dealing in “energies” and the like.

New situation

But 13 years have gone by, and Holbrooke's long gone. A new situation now allows a new government coalition in Serbia to arrest and extradite Karadzic. The coalition includes both the Socialist Party – the former party of Milosevic – and the Democratic Party, the party that handed Milosevic to the Hague. Both parties are now linked to the Second International, espouse “neo-liberalism with a social face”, and are strongly pro-EU.

As a maverick right-wing extremist, ideologically linked to those now in opposition in Serbia, Karadzic can now be handed over as a trophy to the EU. The circumstances suggest both the west and Belgrade long kept quiet so that he could be traded at the right time.

Serbian nationalists and their supporters often claim the Hague is “anti-Serb” because the majority of indictees are Serb. Even a far better article, by Paul D’Amato, which made no apologetics for Karadzic at all, made a similar claim. After noting that, “on first look, the ICTY offers an image of impartiality”, listing some of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Kosovar Albanian indictees, D’Amato writes:

“However, of the 161 individuals indicted by the ICTY, from common soldiers to generals, police commanders and political leaders, three-quarters are Serbs or Montenegrins.”

This is a very strange argument. Why should the number of indictees be 25:25:25:25
Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians, as if they all committed, or were able to commit, crimes in equal proportion? Would we complain if a world court indicted 70 per cent Israelis and "only" 30 per cent Palestinians for war crimes, that the court was "anti-Jewish"?

Yes, some three quarters of indictees from the Croatia and Bosnia wars are Serbs, most of the rest Croats and a small per cent Bosnian Muslims - an excellent summary of the proportion of war crimes committed by each. Over Kosova, six Albanians and seven Serbs have been indicted.

The Hague is however anti-Balkan – only Balkan peoples have been indicted, no imperialist leaders have been indicted for war crimes, particularly for horrendous crimes committed during the bombing of Serbia in 1999. This aspect of D’Amato’s article is completely valid.

Clearly, this fact suggests that any justice served by the Hague can only be selective at best. This point can and must be made without any doubts that Karadzic is indeed a war criminal of the tallest order, but it makes it difficult to judge the current Serbian government’s actions. While the Serbian ultra-right mobilises against the “traitor” government, the decision to arrest Karadzic is arguably a great day for the Serbian people, removing an appalling stain, dissociating their nation from some of the most vile rubbish to walk the Balkans since 1945.

The rather pathetically small demonstrations against the arrest, mostly hard-line Radical Party ranks, give a good idea of the extent to which most Serb people have moved on and rightly want nothing to do with those who destroyed their nation and the rest of the region. Those who understand this as the ‘resignation” of the Serb people to imperialist pressure greatly underestimate the intelligence and political level of the majority of Serbs; this is in fact a form of anti-Serb racism of those who prefer to support Serbian fascists, and denounce anyone criticising the politics of the Serbian ultra-right as “Serb-bashers”, copying the Zionist slur of “anti-Semitism” against anti-Zionists.

If this arrest can advance reconciliation among the peoples of the Balkans – impossible without the main perpetrator of the genocide behind bars – this may be a benefit greater than the demerit of sending a Serb leader to a court that refuses to prosecute imperialists.

The Hague’s bias had much greater relevance in the trial of Milosevic over his crimes against humanity in Kosova, because these crimes – all real and vile enough – took place in the context of the untried crimes against humanity being inflicted on the Serbian people by the world’s worst war criminals.

Bosnia was an entirely separate and different war. Karadzic did not fight imperialism, and neither did the latter fight him.

However, if the Holbrooke strategy was to cover up the crimes that imperialism and Karadzic were jointly responsible for, the current imperialist powers supporting the Hague process want him as a scapegoat for these joint crimes - as long as he doesn't say too much. Though the ultra-right has failed to mobilise, even the fact that it maintains the passive electoral support of some one third of voters, far higher than it should be, is partially a reflection nevertheless of the Hague’s hypocrisy.


[1] It is remarkable how similar this is to the plans of their Chetnik forebears in World War II. Their plan was outlined as follows in 1941: “To cleanse the state territory of all national minorities and anti-national elements” and “To create a direct continuous border between Serbia and Montenegro and between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing Sandzak of its Moslem inhabitants and Bosnia of its Moslem and Croatian inhabitants,” Tomasevich, J, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia 1941-45: The Chetniks, Stanford, California, 1975.

[3] Proyect’s strange article can be found on his blog at Apart from this particular aspect, the article contains a number of highly inaccurate statements, as well as very imaginative speculations, about this issue and about the views of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia and myself on these issues, as is usual in his world on this issue.

[4] Statement of Principles for New Constitutional Arrangement for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lisbon 23 February 1992, from Yugoslavia Through Documents, Ed Trifunovska, S, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Netherlands, 1994, pp 517-519.

[5] Report of the Co-Chairmen of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, UN Document S/26066, July 6, 1993.

[6] Gordon, M, New York Times News Service, January 25, 1993.

[7] ‘Ex-ISI Chief Reveals Secret Missile Shipments to Bosnia defying UN Embargo’,

[8] The Sunday Times, May 19, 1996, p1.

[9] Malcolm, N, “The Whole Lot of Them Are Serbs,” The Spectator, June 10, 1995, p16.

[Michael Karadjis is the author of Bosnia, Kosova and the West: The Yugoslav Tragedy: A Marxist View. Published by Resistance Books, 2000, 256 pp, $24.95. He is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia. A shorter version of this article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #761, August 6, 2008.]