Radovan Karadzic delivers 'dissident' view of Bosnian war
He is accused of masterminding the worst crimes in since the Nazis, the first acts of genocide since the Holocaust.
But was having none of it today. He bent over backwards repeatedly to save a country he is widely seen as having destroyed, he said. A reluctant politician who was never a leader, but purely a "servant" of his people, Karadzic presented himself as the Vaclav Havel of the Balkans.
"Karadzic had been a dissident since 1968," he said, as if talking about someone else.
Almost 15 years after the end of a war in Bosnia that left 100,000 people dead, two thirds of them Muslims, the 64-year-old faith-healer, poet, musician, and warlord presented his view of the 1992-95 conflict for the first time.
During in courtroom one of the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Karadzic dismissed the charges against him.
"They're trying to convict us for something we never did," he said. "There should have been no indictment against me in the first place."
Dozens of books have been written about the bloodbath in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Millions of pages of testimony have accumulated through years of war crimes trials. A solid body of case law has been established, creating juridical facts, such as that what happened in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in July 1995 was an act of genocide by Bosnian Serbs seeking to eliminate Bosnian Muslims.
Today was the first time the war was presented through Karadzic's eyes. In a dark suit and white shirt, playing professorially with his spectacles and constantly rummaging through the shock of silver hair, Karadzic was confident and combative.
Unlike many of his Serbian co-defendants, he was also courteous, referring to the panel of three judges as "your excellency". There was no sneering, no theatrics, no attempt to disrupt the proceedings.
But for many of those watching the trial and listening to the Karadzic narrative, the former Bosnian Serb leader was on another planet.
While dismissing the charges against him, he failed to address any of the 11 counts against him, ranging from the mass murder at Srebrenica to the 43-month siege of Sarajevo that forces under his command carried out; from the hostage-taking of more than 200 United Nations soldiers to the mini-gulag of camps his subordinates erected in the summer of 1992 in which thousands of Bosnian Muslims died.
The latter brought a brazen denial. The Muslim and Croat inmates of Trnopolje camp in the summer of 1992 were "free people" running their own "collection centre" after having run away from the war, he said.
The four-hour soliloquy – Karadzic is defending himself with the help of legal assistants – was a long history lecture concentrating on the perennial victimhood of the Serbs. The villains were ubiquitous and formidable – Bosnian Muslim jihadists, Croatian fascists, the Turkish reassembling an Ottoman empire, the Germans victoriously completing in 1991 what they started in 1941 with the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, Nato, the Americans and the Vatican.
What Karadzic and his cohorts were stopping was the "green transversal" – the establishment of an Islamist caliphate from "the Great Wall of China to the Adriatic".
Karadzic was on the run for 13 years until being apprehended on a Belgrade bus in the summer of 2008 while using a fake identity and appearing unrecognisable as a Serbian new-age quack.
He boycotted the opening of the trial last year and has repeatedly delayed the proceedings, rejecting defence lawyers and maintaining he needs more time to prepare and wade through the mountains of evidence.
But today he was methodical and well-prepared, peppering his arguments with powerpoint projections of TV clips, documentary footage and archive material.
After today's history lesson, he may turn to the gist of the charges against him tomorrow when he gets a further four hours to complete his opening statement.
Then on Wednesday it is the turn of the victims, with Bosnian camp survivors filing into court to tell their stories. It remains to be seen whether Karadzic will turn up to question them.
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