Karadžic, Radovan (b. 1945)

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Serbian leader and accused war criminal.

In 2005 Radovan Karadžić was one of the two "most wanted" fugitives from justice at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia—the other was Ratko Mladić (b. 1943), with whom he stood indicted jointly on many counts. Karadžić is an ethnic Serb born in Montenegro in 1945. His early childhood was overshadowed by his father's imprisonment for his wartime service with the Chetniks, Serb guerrilla fighters who opposed the communist-led partisans. The Chetniks favored the restoration of the prewar Serbian monarchical dynasty and the authority of the Orthodox Church. The same allegiances clearly lodged deeply in Karadžić, but were necessarily concealed as he made his early career in communist Yugoslavia. In 1960 he moved to Sarajevo, where he graduated in medicine and later practiced as a consultant psychiatrist; he has also published poetry and is something of a musician.

As communist Yugoslavia began to break up, Karadžić and a group of nationalist intellectuals formed the Serb Democratic Party in Bosnia, which campaigned with the aim of creating a unified state for all Serbs—a Greater Serbia. They were backed by Slobodan Milošević (1941–2006), president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), the successor state to Tito's (Josip Broz, 1892–1980) federation. Although reduced territorially to Serbia and Montenegro, the FRY controlled the Yugoslav army, by far the most powerful military force in the region. Anticipating international recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a sovereign state (6 April 1992), the Bosnian Serbs rejected the authority of the Sarajevo government, and on March 27 proclaimed the breakaway Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), with its capital and assembly at Pale. The military arm of the new entity was the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA), fifty to eighty thousand regular troops of the Army of Yugoslavia, supposedly natives of Bosnia, assigned by Milošević to fight in what he presented as a civil war, not an invasion. At Milošević's insistence, General Ratkó was appointed to command the Serb forces, although Karadžić was nominally Mladić's political Mladic superior.

Karadžić's brief moment in the international political limelight came in the context of a bigger game being played out by Milošević and Mladić. The BSA overran 70 percent of Bosnia within days, and (assisted by Serbian paramilitaries) carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing, committing atrocities that drew mounting international condemnation. It seems clear that Karadžić had littlé in deciding military strategy, which was coordinated through Belgrade in concert with the operations of the Yugoslav army in Croatia. Karadžić was politically secure only in his power base in Republika Srpska. As long as Milošević had a use for him, Karadžić was allowed to cut a genial and cultured figure in the media (he speaks good English) and at international peace negotiations. By the spring of 1993, however, Milošević was under enormous pressure from western sanctions, and he was forced to withdraw his support for the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. In May 1993 Karadžić was induced to agree to the Vance-Owen plan, which provided for the cantonization of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but stipulated that it must be ratified by the Pale Assembly. Two hardliners, Biljana Plavšić (b. 1930) and Momčilo Krajišnik (b. 1945), engineered a veto, egged on by Mladić. From then on, Karadžić increasingly faded from public view, but he did attempt a bold personal initiative in December 1994. Through a medical-school friend in the United States, he contrived to bring former U.S. president Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) to Sarajevo to negotiate an end to the war, and once more Karadžić's headquarters at Pale became the focus of intense media attention. Why the initiative failed is a matter of debate, but Karadžić emerges from the episode with unexpected credit, given the picture often painted of him as an intransigent nationalist and major war criminal. It is of interest to note that by this time his relations with Mladić, who was now entering a phase of wild defiance of international opinion in his brutal conduct of the war, had broken down completely.

The extent of Karadžić's culpability for genocide and war crimes remains to be decided at The Hague, where he is indicted on two counts of genocide and nine other grave charges of violations of human rights. Whatever the outcome, all the evidence is that Karadžić was, and remains, a charismatic and popular figure among the Bosnian Serbs. The Dayton Agreements left the Republika Srpska intact, and as of 2006 its people are probably hiding him still, after nine years on the run. Karadžić championed the right of the Serbs to self-determination in the face of what he saw as the breakup of Yugoslavia by outside powers, and they will not easily give him up.

See alsoBosnia-Herzegovina; Crime and Justice; Milošević, Slobodan; Mladić, Ratko; Montenegro; Sarajevo; Serbia; Yugoslavia .


Allcock, John B., Marko Milivojević, and John J. Horton, eds. Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia. Denver, Colo., 1998.

Bulatović, Ljiljana. Radovan. Beograd, 2002.

Č avoški, Kosta. The Hague against Justice Revisited: The Case of Dr. Radovan Karadžić. Belgrade, 1997.

Moon, Paul. The Shadow of Radovan Karadzic: An Investigation of a War Criminal. Palmerston North, New Zealand, 1998.

O'Shea, Brendan. Perception and Reality in the Modern Yugoslav Conflict: Myth, Falsehood, and Deceit 1991–1995. New York, 2005. Has a great deal of interest to say about the character and conduct of Karadžić, in the context of a survey of the war in Bosnia written by someone close to events.

United Nations. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Available at http://www.un.org/icty/.

Leslie Benson