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.