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Book Review

The Quest for Radovan Kardzic by Nick Hawton
Hutchinson, 225 pages, paper £14.99 ISBN 978-0-091-92568-0
By Ian Mitchell

hen buying The Quest for Radovan Karadzic you will get two books for the price of one. The first, which is about 25 pages long, concerns Radovan Karadzic. The second part, which runs to nearly 200 pages, concerns the author and his “quest” for Karadzic. It is inter-cut with the main story in an apparently random way. Fortunately for the reader, the publishers have put the former in italics so it is easy to differentiate between the two parts of this anthology.

Radovan Karadzic is a fascinating, contradictory figure. He is now living in The Hague, in a cell attached to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where he is defending himself against charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. These charges relate to his time as president of Serbian Bosnia in the early 1990s when, it is alleged, he was involved in the persecution and massacre of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and, specifically, that he was involved in the implementation of — and I quote the indictment — “a military strategy that used sniping and shelling to kill, maim, wound and terrorize the civilian inhabitants of Sarajevo, which resulted in killing and wounding thousands of civilians of both sexes and all ages, including children and the elderly.”

But Karadzic was not always like this. He started his career as an American-educated, anti-Tito psychiatrist and poet. While Karadzic was a Serbian Montenegrin, Tito was a Croat. He tried to unify Yugoslavia by suppressing national differences, which mainly meant muzzling Serbian nationalism. Karadzic’s rise to power came when that policy failed and, in 1991, the country broke apart.

Bosnia became the flash-point because it was so mixed, containing large populations of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims. In almost any part of the world that would have presented difficulties. In Bosnia, these difficulties resulted in war, genocide and terror on a mass scale due, essentially, to the Slavic chauvinism of the Serbian government and the more muted but still unpleasant chauvinism of the extremely rightwing Croat government.

Karadzic represented the Slavic chauvinism part of the problem in Bosnia, rather as Slobodan Milosevic did in Serbia proper. Milosevic died while on trial at The Hague, while Franjo Tudjman, the arguably fascist leader of breakaway Croatia died as a free man in 1999. Karadzic’s case is that the Serbs are being “targeted” by the Court, at the instigation of the Americans, when they are far from the only guilty parties.

In this he may have a point, except that it is the Prosecution, not the Court, which is responsible for deciding who should stand trial. The Court itself conducts its hearings with scrupulous fairness and respect for the rights of the accused. Readers interested in following the proceedings may consult the excellent website, which includes full transcripts of every hearing, and can be accessed on

It is obvious from reading the transcripts that even Karadzic himself understands that he is being treated properly by the Court, supervized until last month by the Scottish judge Lord Bonomy. His complaints are directed at the Prosecution, which he accuses of trying to bury him in more documentation than it would be physically possible for one person to assimilate.

For example, in the most recent hearing, Karadzic said: “I’m wondering whether it is really necessary, in addition to the 500 witnesses, 40,000 documents, 24,500 exhibits, whether it is really necessary for my learned colleagues over there – and I am acting as lead Defence counsel here – is it necessary to have four more people who have passed away whom we cannot cross-examine, is it necessary to bring in their statements and testimony here into court, with another 300-odd exhibits?”

On the other hand is the fact that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people died as a result of the actions of forces which Karadzic nominally commanded. Delivering justice in cases of mass-murder is never easy. In all mass operations questions of an individual’s moral and physical responsibility arise.

Lord Bonomy, who comes from Motherwell in Lanarkshire, was far too polite to remind the accused of the old Scottish saying which is surely relevant to people who dispute their precise level of responsibility for atrocities in circumstances like that of Sarajevo: if you fly with the crows, you’ll get shot with the crows.

The “quest” part of the title of this book relates to the efforts of the author to describe the search for Karadzic, which lasted from 1996, when he went into hiding following his indictment by the Tribunal, until 2008, when he was arrested near Belgrade while posing as a New Age healer and proponent of something called “Human Quantum Energy”.

The author is Nick Hawton. He was the BBC correspondent in the former Yugoslavia from 2002 to 2008, so one might be forgiven for expecting the sort of precision, relevance and succinctness which characterizes most BBC coverage of international affairs. Sadly, this is not the case in the “quest” parts of this book. Mr Hawton is interested mainly in the three favorite subjects of every undergraduate Creative Writing student: me, myself and my shadow. His personal narrative is trivial stuff and can largely be skipped, though there are odd bits, like the description of Mladko Radic’s “Dr No”-style hideout, and a few encounters with Lord Ashdown, the United Nations High Representative in the former Yugoslavia, which are interesting in a gossipy sort of way.

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