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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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.