Delusions or lies? Radovan Karadzic as ‘man of peace’
“Delusions are irrational beliefs, held with a high level of conviction, that are highly resistant to change even when the delusional person is exposed to forms of proof that contradict the belief.”
So says the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, which I consulted after listening to Radovan Karadzic testifying at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
By his own account, Karadzic was not a monster who masterminded mass slaughter, but a mild and tolerant man. “Instead of being accused of the events in our civil war, I should be rewarded for all the good things I’ve done,” he said, speaking in Serbian on the first day of his trial for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The international media got it all wrong, he said. Many of the 68 bodies which lay blown apart and bloodied at the marketplace in Sarajevo in February 1994 were clothes shop mannequins. Others were corpses lifted from the mortuary and scattered at the marketplace for the benefit of the media.
The shell could not have been fired by the Serbs anyway. Srebrenica? “There was no indication that anybody was killed,” he said. And so on. As he has done for 20 years, Mr Karadzic recast the Bosnian war as an attempted genocide against the Serbs, which he had tried to prevent.
Does Mr Karadzic believe what he says? He is, after all, a former psychiatrist, someone who should know what delusions are. It’s not just a question of “mad or bad?” but whether he has convinced himself that what he says is true. Or is he entirely cynical, a liar trying to convince others?
There’s a lot of it about. Lance Armstrong, the champion cyclist appears to have persuaded his whole cycling team to cheat on his behalf. He denies taking drugs, yet page after page of evidence suggest that he’s either lying or delusional. What about Jimmy Savile? He clearly knew what he was doing – several of his victims have said he threatened them so they said nothing to anyone about the abuse they had suffered. But did he also believe his own propaganda? Did he buy into his carefully cultivated image of being a good person who raised money for charity?
Powerful men frequently manage to convince others that they’re virtuous as well as strong. As he faces the judges in The Hague, Radovan Karadzic is trying to leave for posterity a version of events with himself as the saviour of the Serbs and a man of peace.
But few will be convinced. The killing of some 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica has been well documented. The marketplace massacre was questioned at the time, but another trial convicted Serb officers of firing the mortars which killed people in the Sarajevo marketplace.
There are several sides to every story but there are also facts which have now been laid out in some detail through the court process. That, in the end, is what matters. The International Court should leave us with a definitive version of what happened in the former Yugoslavia, so no-one has to go on the delusions or lies of those facing trial.