Radovan Karadzic gives a rare interview

“How could the Serbs be aggressors on their own cities, villages and homes?” he asks. “We are the ol

When Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, appeared in the dock for hearings in his war crimes tribunal in March last year, he seized the opportunity to claim that he had been grossly misrepresented.

In a four-hour soliloquy, he painted himself as an anti-communist dissident who had been much maligned: not the warlord who oversaw a bloodbath and a programme of ethnic cleansing, including the 1995 Srebenica massacre. "There is no Serb responsibility," he declared of a war that left at least 100,000 dead – two-thirds of whom were Bosnian Muslims.

Now, Karadzic has given a rare interview to Politics First magazine, offering his view of the Bosnian conflict, and there are few surprises. It is the same narrative of victimhood, self-justification and downright denial.

On the objectives of the Bosnian Serb leadership during the war:

Our objectives can be expressed in a few words: to prevent genocide against the Serbs and to survive until a political solution could be found.

Of the allegation that the Serbs were the aggressors in the war:

How could the Serbs be aggressors on their own cities, villages and homes? We are the oldest population in Bosnia. We only wanted to control our own areas.

On the negative portrayal of the Serbs in the western media:

The contribution of the media to our suffering, to prolonging the war and to the Satanisation of our side was immense. It should be studied as an example of how the media should never act. The media did more damage to us than Nato bombs.

Of the allegation that the Serb leadership was ultra-nationalist and racist:

It cannot be said that we were racist when Muslims and Croats are part of our own race. We did not have any problem living with the Muslims; we just did not want to live under their domination. I and all of my people held freedom as our first priority.

Asked how he would defend his actions leading up to and during the war in Bosnia:

The truth is that we never favoured war and did our best to avoid it. When it came, we looked for a political solution that would allow us just to have the minimum of our freedom and our identity. I was a communist dissident for 40 years, and the Republika Srpska was the most democratic of all the entities in Bosnia. My political party appointed experts to government, regardless of their affiliation, and an independent judiciary. We embodied all of the values of democracy and Christianity. It is a shame that those with the same values fought against us rather than embraced us.

As with Slobodan Milosevic's speech to the war crimes tribunal, there is no mention of the 11 specific charges against him, which range from the mass murder at Srebenica, to the 43-month siege of Sarajevo carried out under his command, to the hostage-taking of more than 200 UN soldiers to the camps where thousands of Bosnian Muslims died.

The full interview is available to read at Politics First. Karadzic's trial at The Hague started on 26 October 2009 and is expected to finish at the end of 2013.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.