Karadzic’s attempt to ‘come clean’

Former Bosnian-Serb president, standing trial in The Hague, presents himself as a man of medicine and peace.

“I’m an innocent victim of Western aggression.”

That’s the gist of the strategy of the former Bosnian-Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, who began ensuring his own defence this week.

He is defending himself at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the 1992-1995 war in Yugoslavia.

He no longer wears the fat beard he used while hiding in plain sight as a practioner of holistic medicine when arrested in Belgrade in 2008, after almost 13 years as a wanted man.

And he wants to be seen as coming clean in other ways now.

In making his case, Karadzic presented himself as a man of medicine, a man of letters, and a man of peace.

As a man, he said, who should be rewarded for his actions, not put on trial.

“I did everything in human power to avoid the war. I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians,” he said. “I proclaimed numerous unilateral ceasefires and military containment. And I stopped our army many times when they were close to victory.”

Karadzic criticised what he called “lies and propaganda” about the conflict.

Evidently, for the accused, propaganda includes the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, an unrelenting sniper and artillery barrage which killed 10,000 people.

He told the court the symbol-city of suffering in Bosnia, and the West’s inaction, was in fact a legitimate military target.

He has equally portrayed as a politically-motivated tall tale the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 men and teenage Muslim boys, described by the UN secretary-general at the time as the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

He says far fewer people were killed, and that he did not give an order to execute anyone.

His performance at the court on Tuesday was painful for relatives of the men who were murdered by Bosnian-Serb soldiers.

Munira Subasic, of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, told us she lost 22 members of her family in Srebrenica and is still searching for the bones of her youngest son, taken by Serb soldiers from UN troops.

“It’s very difficult to listen to him depict reality this way. He is a monster trying to convince himself.”

Part of Karadzic’s argument appears to be “some of my best friends were Muslims”.

The gray-maned former fugitive mentioned that his former hairdresser was Muslim while making his initial presentation, adding that neither of them thought war was around the corner.

You can’t help but wonder what the man sees in the mirror, in a hairdresser’s salon or prison cell here.

Can he see himself as Western governments see him – a war criminal?

Does he prefer the vision of many in Serbia and in the Bosnian-Serb Republic still – a hero?

The court will get to hear two years’ of arguments by Karazdic, political or otherwise: the time it will take for him to make his case and question his witnesses.

A long wait, perhaps, for victims of the crimes he’s accused of masterminding, but one worth the wait.

“We are living witnesses to what happened,” says Subasic, the Srebrenica mother.

“I still believe in this court, and want it to decide.”