In St. Louis, Bosnians React To Karadzic Trial

fromKWMU

Correction Nov. 5, 2009

In our story, we characterized Jasmin Ceric as having used the term "ethnic cleansing" in reference to crimes committed in Bosnia. Ceric did not use that term. He described mass killings in Bosnia as "genocide."

The war crimes trial of former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic began last week at The Hague, but many Bosnians in the U.S. say the proceedings will not provide them with the justice they seek. Bosnia is still split in two, and many people are still seeking answers about loved ones who went missing during three years of ethnic cleansing in the mid-1990s.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tomorrow, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is expected to finally appear at his war crimes trial in The Hague, a week after it started. Karadzic faces 11 charges, including genocide and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War. He has been boycotting the trial, saying that he hasn't had enough time to prepare, and tomorrow he's expected to simply argue that case once more.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Legal wrangling aside, we're going to hear now from Bosnian refugees living in the U.S. As Matt Sepic of St. Louis Public Radio reports, they don't expect the trial to provide them either closure or justice.

MATT SEPIC: In 1992, Edina Karahodzic narrowly escaped Bosnia as Serb forces took over her city. An ethnic Muslim, she was forced to wear an armband identifying her as a non-Serb, and her husband Said just missed being sent to a concentration camp. But for this couple, keeping up with the news of the Karadzic trial 17 years later is a low priority. As a family physician, Edina is simply too busy. On what was supposed to be her day off, she's at the office with Said catching up on paperwork.

Dr. EDINA KARAHODZIC: He's a busy guy. He has to, you know?

SEPIC: What are you working on today?

Mr. SAID KARAHODZIC: Billing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. KARAHODZIC: As always.

SEPIC: Karahodzic is interested in news about her native land. She still has relatives there. But these days she's more focused on the health care policy debate in Washington than on trials at The Hague, but she worries that Radovan Karadzic won't receive a punishment that fits the crime.

Dr. KARAHODZIC: We are happy that he was caught. We really are, don't get me wrong. But, you know, what's the purpose? I mean, these people are never going to be punished as they should, and we know that.

SEPIC: Among Serbian Americans, there's also little interest in the trial, and in Serbia itself, only far-right nationalists continue to stand up for Karadzic. War survivor Jasmin Ceric says the issue is much bigger than one man. Ceric says countless low-level collaborators, people who followed orders to rape and murder civilians, have never faced justice, either at The Hague or in Bosnia.

Mr. JASMIN CERIC: The last time I was there was to bury the remains of my father, who was shot and killed and thrown in a water well.

SEPIC: Ceric still does not know who killed his father, and he says getting answers is impossible because ethnic cleansing worked. He says with Bosnian Muslims outnumbered in many cities, Karadzic sympathizers remain in charge. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Jasmin Ceric did not use the term "ethnic cleansing." He described mass killings in Bosnia as "genocide."]

Like everyone I spoke with, St. Louis newspaper publisher Amir Hotich says punishing Karadzic will do little so long as his ideas live on. The 1995 Dayton Agreement may have stopped the bloodshed, but it split the country along ethnic lines and left a large part to Bosnian Serbs.

Mr. AMIR HOTICH (Publisher): We cannot live together if we have Republika Srpska as a political product of Karadzic functioning as normal.

SEPIC: St. Louis resident Amir Karadzic, who shares a last name with the former Bosnian Serb leader but is not related, says putting a few aging war criminals behind bars will mean nothing unless they confess to the genocide.

Mr. AMIR KARADZIC: We are looking for that, that somebody say finally, hey, I'm sorry. It's happened, I'm sorry. I've been wrong.

SEPIC: But Amir and many other Bosnian Americans living here say such an apology is unlikely. True justice, they say, will come only when they are able to safely return home, learn what happened to their loved ones and resume life in the country they were forced to flee.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in St. Louis.

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