Living the life of Dragan Dabic

Belgrade struggles to confront the past it has been working hard to ignore.

    The ultranationalists have tried to use Karadzic's arrest as a rallying point [AFP]










    A week after his spectacular arrest, the public in much of Serbia, and in particular Belgrade, the capital, has been swept away by the strange story of Radovan Karadzic and his alter ego, Dragan David Dabic.

    Every news broadcast and newspaper is still leading with his arrest; it took local media some time to recover from their shock and begin to examine the issues in earnest.
    The right-wing, ultranationalist press refuse to acknowledge that one of their icons has been brought down and aggressively tried to use his arrest as a rallying call for a swift overthrow of the government. 

    Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, was accused of treason and threatened with the same death by assassination as the late premier Zoran Djindjic, who arrested Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

    While the extradition procedures roll ahead, the nationalist movement has been very publicly banging and yelling in Belgrade's central square. This has been mostly confined to a few hundred young radicals closely watched by massed police in heavy riot gear. 

    Reaction to this bluster has been tepid.


    The democratic press, which forms a minority in the local media, took a cautiously professional approach to avoid sensationalism.

    Headlines a week after the arrest seemed more baffled than furious. The daily Novosti quoted Mila, Karadzic's erstwhile companion, as saying: "I was not the lover of Dragan Dabic."

    Kurir (a popular scandal sheet) labelled the wandering Karadzic "The Vienna Sexologist," while Blic, another Serbian daily asked "Who gave away Karadzic?"

    The press predicts that more of Karadzic's people will be arrested with particular reference made to his nephew, who has admitted to helping his uncle while on the run. 

    Meanwhile, any rejoicing among pro-European Serbs has been muted.


    People in Belgrade feel bewildered and betrayed. For 13 years, Serbian officials have claimed Karadzic was never in Serbia. They claimed he was hiding in the mountains or was taking refuge in remote monasteries praying to God for his country. 

    These myths were obviously planted by the people hiding him in downtown Belgrade. It was there that the mysterious persona of Dabic emerged and roamed free while the hapless Serbian population was held hostage by the international community for the misdeeds of Karadzic.

    There is a public surfacing of an underground culture glorifying Karadzic [AFP]
    Dabic has now become the focus of most conversations among Serbs – in restaurants, on talk shows and on popular blogs.

    Serbs want to know whether Mila was in on his dirty little secret and whether he ever made a confidante of his banker, his dentist ... his hairdresser.

    Dabic was fashioned as a Bohemian New Age guru, a Serbian-Californian émigré and globalised man of the world.

    He had deftly erased from his persona Karadzic's alleged crimes and the 8,000 victims of Srebrenica whose deaths he denied and obscured.

    Occasionally, the new age medicine man indulged himself in some folk music: played on the gusle, an archaic Serbian instrument, with updated verses praising ethnic cleansing of Muslims and eulogising Serb racial superiority.

    Dabic spent his time in one of the coolest cafes in Belgrade, where many went for free internet access and the free books.


    The guru also used to eat in a cheap, but good, restaurant where I went often with my friends. We all spent long nights drinking and contemplating the severity of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia.

    Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, he sat mere tables away, selling alternative medicine and looking for ways to improve his website.

    That restaurant is close to the special court for war crimes which heard the case against the Scorpions, a paramilitary Serb group accused of genocide in Bosnia.

    For the wretched Scorpions, on trial for murders caught on video, the missing Karadzic was their mystical demigod.

    Was Dragan Dabic also in court listening to the charges brought against his protégés?

    Double life

    Since the fall of Milosevic, Belgrade has led a double existence. On the one hand, there is a struggle to evade the past, not by confronting it, but by obscuring it, disguising it, and encouraging forgetfulness in everyone.  

    Belgrade's other face, however, is an ostentatious glorification of the criminal acts of yesterday.
    These were exemplified in the garish concerts of the warlord Arkan's widow, Ceca, in Belgrade, and the religious rituals of the Orthodox Church whose functionaries personally blessed the soldiers of genocide.

    These manifestations are the public surfacing of a murderous underground culture of books, songs, plays, buttons, photos, mementos and souvenirs of Radovan Karadzic.

    Two alleged war criminals lived in my own street. Biljana Plavsic, the former leader of Republika Srpska, took power after Radovan Karadzic left in 1996. She pleaded guilty in The Hague and is now serving her sentence in Sweden. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who was in charge during the pogrom of Albanians in Kosovo, is now sick with cancer.
    As a citizen of Belgrade, living in the street with war criminals and gypsies, I want to know all about the second life of the disappeared war criminals – the Dabic personas they have assumed.

    Once again they have a new life, not us.

    The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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