Published on 16 Oct 2012

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.

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One reader comment

  1. Francisco says:

    The same criticism could be made against the journalists who reported the war. The court process has proven that the death-toll of the Bosnian war was about 100,000 inclusive of soldiers, civilians, as well as Serbs, Croats, and Muslims together, which is considerably less than the figures of 250,000 to 300,000 that were reported by the media at the time.

    Were the journalists who were reporting a death-toll that was double to triple what it actually was delusional or were they lying?

    What about the journalists who reported that the Srebrenica victims were civilians, were they delusional or lying?

    The ICMP has identified the massacre victims by name through DNA matching, and lo and behold, about 90% of them were military aged men, and Bosnian military records have been located for over 70% of them.

    Does Ms. Hilsum refer to the victims as “men and boys” to conceal the fact that the vast majority were actually soldiers, because a group of soldiers getting massacred doesn’t pack the same emotional punch, and propaganda value as a group of civilians being massacred?

    Did the Tribunal create a “definitive version of what happened” with respect to the shelling of the Markale Market? The judges didn’t all agree. It was a majority decision with one of the three judges dissenting.

    The dissenting judge made a compelling argument. He noted that the fatal mortar round that hit the market was the only one fired from the compass heading that it came from. A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that travels from the barrel to the target in a high arc, which makes mortars highly susceptible to wind other weather-related conditions. A mortar crew typically has to fire several rounds before it hits its target. There’s a spotter on the mortar crew who has binoculars and is calling the shots. He tells the crew if the shell is landing short or long, and they make adjustments until they’re able to hit what they’re shooting at.

    A mortar almost never finds its target on the first shot, especially not at the distance that the Bosnian-Serbs were from the market, and especially not at the steep angle of decent that this particular shell came down at. The odds that a Serb mortar crew deliberately targeted the market, which was on a narrow street and surrounded by tall buildings, and that they hit it with a single shot are a million to one. If it was a Serb shell that hit the market, then it was a fluke shot and probably an accident.

    There was two way combat in Sarajevo, the Muslims were firing out from the city and the Serbs were firing back into the city. Anytime you have combat in a densely populated urban environment like Sarajevo you run a high risk of civilians getting hit by stray bullets and shells.

    I’m not saying that Karadzic was innocent and pure, but I have been reading the transcripts from his trial and he’s not the monster that he’s made out to be either. He’s certainly no worse than the likes of George Bush or Tony Blair.

    The Media presented a simplistic black and white version of the Bosnian war with Muslim good-guys, and Serbian bad guys. What you get when you actually read the trial evidence is a more nuanced picture of events with good guys and bad guys on all sides of the conflict.

    An example would be things like the shelling of the Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo. Shame on the Serbs for opening fire on a hospital, but shame on the Muslims for placing a mortar crew on the hospital grounds, opening fire at the Serbs, and provoking them to shoot back at the hospital.

    Shame on the Serbs for attacking the UN Safe Area in Srebrenica, but shame on the Muslims for taking advantage of Srebrenica’s status as a UN Safe Area to station an entire infantry division of their army there and for launching attacks out from Safe Area and provoking the Serbs.

    There is more truth in what Karadzic says than he gets credit for. The things he says are sometimes tendentious and misleading, but our news media is just as guilty of those sins as he is.

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