Profile 03 Mar 12

Karadzic: War Criminal or Poet?

To the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, was a true sensation, and one to be exploited day after day.  

By Nidzara Ahmetasevic in Sarajevo

It is also clear that, owing to the lack of firm information about the arrest and “secret life” of the alternative medical practitioner, “Dr Dabic”, the media resorted to publishing speculative and unconfirmed information, which was quite often almost impossible to believe or to take seriously.

At the same time, the victims on whose account Karadzic was indicted in the first place tended to be left behind. In some cases, their stories were reported solely to fill empty space on pages dedicated to other, more sensational, news items.

As far as Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerned, analysis of media reporting in its two entities, Republika Srpska and the Federation, shows that they focused on different issues, depending on the ethnic character of their readers.

In their reports published in this period, the media did not refrain from using the language of hatred either, motivating animosity and intolerance, mainly on national, but also on a religious basis. Once again, the media became a means of political propaganda and subject to manipulation by leading politicians, whose statements, regularly conveyed by the media, helped distract public attention from truly important issues related to this arrest.

It seems, following analysis of around 500 texts published between July 22-31 in five daily and three weekly newspapers, that professionalism once again stepped back, leaving sensationalism to fill the vacuum.

However, it is worth noting that in this respect the Bosnian media were not much different from the rest of the region’s media.

What made reports on the arrest and Karadzic himself different from those published in other countries was the fact that somewhat more attention was paid to what he had said or done before the 1992-5 war in Bosnia.

One day after the arrest, Oslobodjenje, the daily newspaper with the longest tradition in Bosnia, reminded its readers of what Karadzic had said at various public gatherings and assemblies before the war broke out.

Almost all newspapers cited the words he pronounced before the Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991, when he warned Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] that they faced annihilation if warfare came to Bosnia.

The magazine Dani took such an approach, dedicating an entire issue to Karadzic and publishing articles about his arrest and reactions to it. The result was a chronology of his crimes as seen by journalists and columnists of this magazine.

Comparing the media in the Federation and Republika Srpska, the main difference was that the former wrote about Karadzic as a war criminal, even calling him a “monster” (Dnevni avaz), while the Bosnian Serb media, such as Nezavisne novine, mentioned in almost every article that he was “the first president of Republika Srpska”.

Another difference was that Republika Srpska media concentrated more on the political disputes between the two entities’ leaders that were sparked by the arrest than on the actual arrest and indictment.

One night after the arrest, some Federation leaders addressed the public, not only welcoming the arrest but also calling for the abolition of Republika Srpska.

The politicians in the Serb-dominated entity reacted almost immediately, condemning the statements. A political dispute was thus begun, one which has outlasted the period covered by this monitoring.

Indeed, it increased tensions so much that it led to a marked deterioration in the situation in the country, prompting representatives of the international community to express concern.

Much attention was paid to allegations concerning the existence of an agreement between Radovan Karadzic and the former US envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke. Karadzic and his associates, as well as some foreign and local diplomats, claim this agreement was concluded in 1996, as a result of which he withdrew from public and political life. The US authorities and the ambassador himself strongly denied these allegations.

The Bosnian media published many speculative articles concerning the arrest, pertaining to its place and time, as well as to the authorities that performed it and their reasons for doing so.

Columnists in the Federation media mostly claimed it was a political action undertaken by the new authorities in Serbia to further the country’s integration into the European Union.

On the other hand, journalists in Republika Srpska praised the democratic outlook and progress of Serbia, claiming that the fact that Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade proved that Republika Srpska had not been involved in concealing the ICTY fugitive over the past 13 years.

The peak of sensationalism in the Bosnian media was certainly an article published by Dnevni avaz, alleging that police had found pornographic videotapes in the apartment in which Karadzic had been hiding, showing him with various partners. To Dnevni avaz, this meant that he was “bisexual”. Day after day, Dnevni avaz described Karadzic thus and with other abusive words.

Indeed, its journalists and editors sometimes seemed to be competing with one another in attaching new nicknames to him, using “monster”, “butcher” and so on. On the day of his arrest, the front page of the newspaper contained a headline about Karadzic’s capture and a photograph showing him holding a knife.

Readers of the daily newspapers in the two entities were thus overwhelmed with words of hatred.

Within its coverage of the event, Oslobodjenje published the first interview with victims of the war, quoting a woman who allegedly said:

“Republika Srpska is full of killers.” The same newspaper published a photograph of Milorad Dodik, the Serbian entity’s prime minister, next to one of Karadzic, accompanied by the headline: “Continuity”.

It also published an article whose author concluded that “the Serbian people should not forget that most of them excitedly followed Karadzic’s criminal appeal”.

Nezavisne novine wrote that the Bosnian Serb prime minister’s cabinet had received many telephone calls from people “using inappropriate and vulgar language and offences, based on ethnic and religious affiliation”, adding that the calls came mainly “from abroad and from the Federation”.

At the same time, the Republika Srpska media claimed it had tried to inform the public about events “in an objective manner”, noting in their articles that “Dr Dabic” was a professional figure, as well as a writer and poet who had received awards for his work.

Glas Srpske carried a statement by Tanja Jovanovic, published in Zdrav zivot [Healthy Life] magazine, who was allegedly an associate of “Dr Dabic”. “We are shocked. Our Dr Dabic was a fine man, with good manners. He was a true professional,” it read.

An article on a father and son, Orthodox priests Jeremije and Aleksandar Starovlah, who were “beaten up” and accused of helping Karadzic hide in the course of an international military operation in Pale, was also published in Glas Srpske. It seemed like political propaganda. “Not even four years after the brutal Sfor [the former NATO military deployment to Bosnia] operation in Pale have the beaten Orthodox priests received any compensation,” it said.

Overall, reporting on this event of such great importance to Bosnia and Herzegovina showed how much the country remained divided. The fact that some media presented Karadzic mainly as a poet, while others depicted him purely as a monster, only goes to show how well the divisions created during the war have survived.

However, the media were almost entirely in agreement when it came to victims: they all treated them as marginal. Over the ten days of this monitoring, some newspapers did not even give the victims of the war a mention.

It may be appropriate to conclude with a statement made by the Oslobodjenje guest columnist, Emir Suljagic, who did focus his attention on the victims.

Suljagic wrote that they were “now facing a years-long distressing and difficult trial, which will make these people suffer their traumas all over again. However, the wounds which will be reopened by this trial were never healed in any case”.

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Karadzic: War Criminal or Poet?

To the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, was a true sensation, and one to be exploited day after day.  

Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

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