Does Europe judge Radovan Karadzic or itself?

Let us again repeat, “never again”, with the hope and prayers that this time it will truly be never again.

International War Crimes Tribunal investigators clearing away soil and debris
International War Crimes Tribunal investigators clearing away soil and debris from dozens of Srebrenica victims buried in a mass grave near the village of Pilica in Boisnia-Herzegovina. [AP]

Radovan Karadzic had already skipped 13 years of his sentence at the time of his arrest in 2008. Today he is 71 and has skipped eight more years of his sentence with his trial. His sentence is scheduled for today. Whatever the verdict will be, the seed of his crime is still very alive.

First, his capture was protracted. We watched his trial for eight years. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was very careful to avoid any possible complaint about potentially hurting his “rights”.

But in reality, we all know that his case is like a pedestal on which the killed beast is put on display in the village to prove that the danger is gone. But is it?

Questioning the ‘Nuremberg Thesis’

Europe does not want to realise that the trial of Karadzic is to a degree a trial of itself. His verdict is also the verdict for Europe. For more than two decades, Europe had difficulty in even uttering the word genocide in Srebrenica or Prijedor, as it did not want to repeat a reference to the Holocaust.

If it had not been for such an indolent or even partial stance of Europe towards the “Evildoer” (from 1992 to 1995) – and the expectation that Bosnia and Herzegovina would be crushed in less than a few weeks – the Evildoer would not have been possible at all.

The genocide did not happen somewhere in the Northern Pole, but in the very courtyard of Europe. With its establishment and hesitation, Europe certainly made the Evildoer possible.

Today’s trial and tomorrow’s verdict must be as much as for him as it must be for Europe. That is Karadzic’s creation and legacy, the Serbian entity that was established in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Not a single person in Bosnia expects any justice from Europe. The only hope Bosnia has is the prevention of any further injustice.

Human and worldly dimensions cannot weigh his crime, nor can the scales of justice balance its weight. The Evildoer is simply the exponent of those who facilitated him to be what he is.

Fifteen years after the end of World War II, AJP Taylor, a renowned British historian of the last century, wrote The Origins of the Second World War, in which he challenged the “Nuremberg Thesis”. Accordingly all the evils of this world conflict were credited to Hitler and his gang, and he was accused of revisionism, misinterpretation and more.

His book generated many controversies, and long debates followed. Taylor was not some unknown radical fanatic but a renowned and prominent scholar who crushed the all-accepted myth of directing the guilt for such a huge World War II criminal enterprise towards one person or its close group.

By the trial of Karadzic and his wartime general Ratko Mladic in the ICTY, Europe - knowingly or not - judges its 'establishment' and its incorrect policy of appeasing.


Basically, Taylor questioned the Nuremberg Thesis, which shielded the world leaders of the time from guilt. “An explanation existed which satisfied everybody and seemed to exhaust all disputes.”

This explanation was Hitler. He planned World War II and his will alone caused it. This perspective obviously satisfied the “resisters” from Winston Churchill to Lewis Bernstein Namier.

They had used this explanation all along and were already using it before the war even broke out. They could say: “We told you so. There was no alternative to resisting Hitler from the first hour.”

The explanation also satisfied the “appeasers”. They could claim that appeasement was wise and would have been a successful policy if it had not been for the unpredictable fact that Germany was in the grip of a madman.

Most of all, this explanation satisfied the Germans, except for a few unrepentant Nazis. After World War I, the Germans tried to shift the guilt from themselves to the Allies, or to make it appear that no one was guilty.

It was a simpler operation to shift the guilt from the Germans to Hitler. He was safely dead. He may have done a great deal of harm to Germany while he was alive. But he made up for it by his final sacrifice in the Bunker.

No amount of posthumous guilt could injure him. The blame for everything, namely World War II, the concentration camps and the gas chambers, could be loaded on to his uncomplaining shoulders.

A similar case for Karadzic

In Taylor’s words, “with Hitler guilty, every other German could claim innocence. And the Germans, previously the most strenuous opponents of war guilt, now became its firmest advocates.”

Taylor’s approach can also be applied in the case of Karadzic. It seems from what we see now that most of the “establishment” of Europe looks at his “achievement” – Republika Srpska – favourably since it allowed for Karadzic’s successor on the political scene in Bosnia to prize his ideas and work that was most similar to that carried out by the Nazis in Germany.

Clearly and precisely, the trial and verdict in Hague is a positive legal process which must be carried out for historical record.

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But can Europe even imagine the case in which war criminals – those responsible for the worst mass killings – dictate the flow of justice? Or even worse, after they finish their sentences, return home in full glory and with a state tribute?

This was the case of several war criminals, namely Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik. After they served two thirds of their term and returned in Republika Srpska, the Serbian establishment with its President, Milorad Dodik, greeted these early-released war criminals.

They were welcomed in Bosnia with honours of national heroes. Isn’t it sending a frightening message for the future – not just to Bosnia but to all of Europe? Are we witnessing a new “appeasement” policy towards those who openly praise war criminals and their crimes?


By the trial of Karadzic and his wartime general Ratko Mladic in the ICTY, Europe – knowingly or not – judges its “establishment” and its incorrect policy of appeasing.

This policy enabled Karadzic and his gang – as it had once enabled Hitler – to lead his people into disaster. Now is the time to stop them from going further. Now is the time to wake up and save the Serb people from falling into an even worse historical position that the Germans were in before the denazification process.

The Serb people have not gone through any of it yet, and Europe’s highest priority together – with Bosnia and their neighbours – should be to help them finally to begin this difficult journey.

Let us again repeat, “never again” with the hope and prayers that this time it will truly be never again!

Mirnes Kovac is a journalist and political analyst from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

An earlier version of this article has appeared on Sarajevo Times on March 24, 2016.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.