Ex-Bosnian Serb leader asks for time to study war-crimes charges before entering a plea.
|Customers watched Radovan Karadzic on a live broadcast on a recent day in a bar he often used to frequent while on the run [AFP]|
On the edge of the Serbian capital lies a suburb known as New Belgrade. It’s where the Balkan’s biggest shopping centre sits, where new apartment blocks are quickly stretching to the sky, and where a man called Dragan Dabic called home.
The bearded, genial doctor of alternative medicine was a regular at The Crazy House, a small bar stuck in a corner of one of the poorer parts of this sprawling estate.
Dabic would quietly talk about music and books, and sip on his red wine or his coffee. He was a well-liked figure by the varied groups who would stop by for a drink.
No one knew the man sitting there beside them was actually the world’s most wanted war criminal, Radovan Karodzic.
The staff at The Crazy House have set up chairs outside to watch the events unfold in The Hague. The people who have gathered watch intently as Dabic sits in court being accused of mass murder and atrocities.
For those here the man on the screen was a stranger, yet someone they all recognised. And above the television sits a portrait – still wet – of the face they knew better.
One young man in a bright yellow t-shirt arrived and applauded the figure on the screen. Older voices told him to sit down so they could hear.
Memories of war
Tomas Kovijanic is the bar owner. He would often serve Dabic.
His bar is currently being repainted and refitted.
He believes many tourists will soon be attracted to the bar, to see where Karadic spent time before his arrest.
|The bar’s owner expects more customers after Karadzic’s capture [Al Jazeera]|
Watching the man in the dock that he proudly calls a friend, Kovijanic tells me: “Like every true Serb patriot I am sad and unhappy because Radovan is not with us now. But he is in a place he does not deserve to be.
“But I am proud because in my coffee shop he spent the last couple of years enjoying freedom while the whole world was searching for him,” he adds.
One man seemed to be following events closer than the others.
He tells me softly that he was a Serb soldier. Shaking with anger and close to tears he tells me he witnessed many horrors during the war in the early nineties.
“I saw the massacre of Serbs, many bodies of dead children.”
Fighting back the tears, he continues: “It is unjust to continuously accuse one side and not do anything with the other because you are encouraging the other side’s atrocities.”
Hundreds of kilometres away in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the “Other Side” is watching the court case too. In Srebrenica, in July 1995, UN forces created a safe haven for the Muslims who had fled the Serbs, looking for protection.
Numerically overwhelmed by the Serb forces, and feeling abandoned by the UN command, the Dutch walked away. What happened next was a massacre.
Men and boys were separated from the rest, marched away and murdered. Eight and a half thousand people were killed in Europe’s worst atrocity since the second world war.
|Men were separated from the women and killed in Srebrenica [Al Jazeera]|
Karadzic is now charged with planning and ordering the entire operation.
The mothers of those who died at Srebrenica gathered and watched events with a mixture of satisfaction and anger.
This was the moment they had hoped and waited many years for. The man they blame for the tragedy is finally facing the accusations against him in court.
As events begin to get under way, one woman says: “Despite our losses, as mothers we are still glad to have seen him at The Hague. We knew for a fact Republika Srpska and Belgrade were harbouring the war criminals.”
Throughout the hearing, there are many remarks yelled out. As the former Bosnian Serb leader tries to joke that he has an invisible adviser, one woman waves her hand in disgust: “Is he trying to claim he’s mad to escape?”
Back in Serbia, people tried to watch this most dramatic of court appearances where they could – in bars, hotels, anywhere that had a television.
Across Serbia there are still mixed feelings over Karadzic’s capture. There are those who believe he should face the court – and others, like many of the people here at the bar, who regard him as a Serbian hero.
It won’t be the last time people gather at The Crazy House to watch what will be a long and complicated process of the case of the man they knew as Dragan Dabic.