Karadzic, Radovan

views updated

Karadzic, Radovan

[JUNE 19, 1945–]

Leader of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS); became first president of the Republika Srpska in 1992 but was forced to flee office after being charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws of war for his involvement in ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs during the years 1990 to 1995

Radovan Karadzic was born to Vuk and Jovanka Karadzic on June 19, 1945, in the village of Petnjica, in Montenegro. In 1960 Karadzic moved to Sarajevo to study medicine. During the 1960s, Karadzic married his Ljiljana Zelen, and became involved in politics. In 1971, he received a medical degree in psychiatry from the University of Sarajevo. From the 1970s to the late 1980s, Karadzic worked as a psychiatrist in Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, as a team psychiatrist for the Sarajevo and Red Star soccer teams, and at the Vozdovac Health Center in Belgrade.

Rise to Political Power

In 1990, in the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Karadzic cofounded the party of the Bosnian Serbs, Srpska Demokratska Stranka (SDS), and became its first president. The SDS was formed to challenge nationalist Muslim and Croat parties in the November 1990 multi-party elections, and won 72 of the 240 Assembly seats. The mission of the SDS was to form a unified Serbian state, or Greater Serbia, by linking Serboccupied parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with Serbia. Karadzic declared a large portion of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina as exclusively Serbian. However, large numbers of Bosnian Muslims and Croats already resided in these territories. The SDS mission, therefore, included a policy of ethnic cleansing to eliminate non-Serb populations in these areas. In order to implement such a policy, the SDS needed to convince the Bosnian Serb population that preemptive action against non-Serbs was critical for self-preservation.

In 1990, Karadzic and the SDS began saturating the Bosnian Serb population with nationalist propaganda. Karadzic, following the lead of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, gained control over airwaves and publications. SDS-influenced media sources manipulated and falsified news reports, creating the perception of intense and ancient hatreds between the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. Bosnian Serbs became fearful of oppression and extinction at the hands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. This ethnic fear and hatred set the stage for the SDS to finalize plans for ethnic cleansing. In late 1991, the SDS worked with the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) to arm civilian Bosnian Serbs.

On March 27, 1992, Bosnian Serb leaders approved a Constitution for the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, later known as the Republika Srpska. On April 6, 1992, the European Community officially recognized the Serbian Republic. On May 12, 1992, the Bosnian Serb Assembly created the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA), comprised of JNA forces that were citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the same day, Karadzic became the President of the three-member Presidency of Republika Srpska, and Supreme Commander of the BSA. General Ratko Mladic became Commander of the BSA, directly subordinate to President Karadzic. On December 17, 1992, Karadzic was elected sole President of Republika Srpska.

The Ethnic Cleansing Program

In late March 1992, while the politicians were drafting the new constitution, Bosnian Serb forces seized control of municipalities in eastern and northwestern Bosnia by committing executions, sexual violence, torture, and destruction of property. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were transported to SDS-established detention facilities where many were tortured, raped, and killed. The systematic terror provoked thousands of Bosnian Muslims to flee to the Srebrenica region, where the United Nations had established a safe zone. On July 6, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, acting on orders from Karadzic, shelled the safe area. Between July 11 and July 18, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces entered the zone and executed thousands of Bosnian Muslims. From April 5, 1992, to November 30, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces also engaged in a prolonged attack on Sarajevo. Forty-four months of daily shelling and sniping by Bosnian Serb forces wounded and killed thousands of citizens. Following NATO air strikes in late May 1995, Bosnian Serb forces detained over two hundred United Nations peacekeepers and observers as hostages in Pale and Sarajevo to prevent further air strikes.

On July 25, 1995, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Karadzic and Mladic for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws or customs of war. An amended indictment against Karadzic, confirmed on May 31, 2000, charged him, on the basis of individual and superior criminal responsibility, for crimes committed in connection with ethnic cleansing, the attacks on Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and the taking of hostages. Karadzic was charged with two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of violations against the laws or customs of war, and one count of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. On July 19, 1996, Karadzic resigned as president of Republika Srpska and as president of the SDS. He went into hiding and remains a fugitive.

SEE ALSO Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia, Independent State of; Ethnic Cleansing; Humanitarian Intervention; Incitement; Massacres; Mass Graves; Memorials and Monuments; Memory; Mladic, Ratko; Nationalism; Peacekeeping; Propaganda; Refugees; Safe Zones; Srebrenica; Superior (or Command) Responsibility; Yugoslavia


Bassiouni, M. Cherif, and Peter Manikas (1996). The Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. New York: Transnational Publishers, Inc.

Cigar, Norman, and Paul Williams (2002). Indictment at The Hague. New York: New York University Press.

Oberschall, Anthony (2000). "The Manipulation of Ethnicity: From Ethnic Cooperation to Violence and War in Yugoslavia." Ethnic and Racial Studies 23(6):982–1002.

United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (2000). "The Prosecutor of the Tribunal Against Radovan Karadzic Amended Indictment." Available from http://www.un.org/icty/indictment/english/kar-ai000428e.htm.

WGBH/Frontline (1998). "Frontline: The World's Most Wanted Man." Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/shows/karadzic/etc/synopsis.html.

Zimmerman, Warren (1995). "The Last Ambassador: A Memoir of the Collapse of Yugoslavia." Foreign Affairs 74(2):1–20.

Laura E. Bishop