In Bosnia and Herzegovina, barely twenty years ago, terrible crimes took place whose perpetrators have yet to be brought to account. Left to fester, such cankers can only result in future conflict.
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”
Macbeth’s poetry momentarily softens the hideousness of his crime. Macbeth, whose duty was to protect, has murdered King Duncan and recognizes that the stain of his guilt will remain forever. Radovan Karadzic, awaiting a verdict for war crimes from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), claims to be a poet, but is impervious to the human suffering for which he was responsible.
The Bosnian War took place between 6 April 1992 and 14 December 1995. The main belligerents were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within the country – Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia, respectively led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia. During the war, Bosnian Serb forces, backed by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, carried out atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people.
Radovan Karadzic, the first president of the “Republika Srpska”, has spent five years facing the International Criminal Tribunal. His trial ended on 7 October 2014 and a verdict is expected in 2015. And yet the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina – divided by political factions – have still to come to terms with his legacy. Some never will. As Susan Gubar remarks in Poetry After Auschwitz (2003), “On one side of the widening abyss stand survivors who often censored their own responses to an experience so traumatic as to be inexpressible; on the other, their children who question the imagination’s capacity to understand what has not been personally endured.”
In “Karadzic’s Trial Ends, But His Legacy Lives”, Refik Hodzic, the nephew of a survivor of the war who later died a broken man, recounts part of the infinitely sad story of one family. It symbolizes thousands of other stories we shall probably never hear and it hints at the deep trauma pervading the country. About Karadzic, Hodzic has this to say
“The results of the campaign of extermination Karadzic implemented to achieve his strategic goal of ‘separation of Serbs from other peoples, by force if necessary’, are irreversible. The number of remaining Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats in the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia is now a fraction of the pre-war population, and it will continue to dwindle as time rolls on. Although the right of return was guaranteed to refugees by the Dayton Peace Agreement, the vast majority of people who were expelled now live abroad – from the north of Norway to southern Australia. Some may have reclaimed and rebuilt their houses, but today they are mostly the refuge of elders who have come back to Bosnia to die.
Karadzic’s legacy not only survives in abandoned villages and the homes of the expelled, it permeates the public and political discourse of Republika Srpska. The current RS government of Milorad Dodik openly advocates for secession from Bosnia and systematically denies non-Serbs their constitutional rights to education and language. In September, Dodik referred to Karadzic and general Ratko Mladic, who is also standing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity at the ICTY, as ‘founders of Republika Srpska’ and promised to have squares and streets in the RS named after them.
While Dodik may be the most vocal voice in the effort to rehabilitate Karadzic, he is by no means alone. Media, religious leaders, and academic institutions in Republika Srpska and Serbia are working hard to sanctify Karadzic’s image and his role in the war, while completely ignoring the crimes he committed. …Karadzic is once again a hero to many, his values embraced as the foundation of the political program for Republika Srpska’s secession, almost all of his war dreams coming true. It concludes with Bosnia and Herzegovina as a society where citizens’ rights again are seen through an ethnic lens and where victims of Karadzic’s crimes are dying without the satisfaction of justice – marginalized and unacknowledged.”
At the end of his trial, Radovan Kardzic spat in the faces of the hundred of witnesses who had testified against him by proclaiming that he was a “true friend to Muslims” and a “man of peace who did everything possible to avoid war”. Like Macbeth, Karadzic believes that a “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” The Bosnian people – as well as the International Criminal Tribunal – must not allow him to get away with murder.