The Poetry of an Indicted War Criminal

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NPR's Scott Simon muses on the new poetry collection of deposed Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic. In 1995, the U.N. war crimes tribunal indicted Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb, for his role in a 1995 massacre in Srebrenica and the 1992 siege of Sarajevo. He remains in hiding.


Radovan Karadzic may be the world's most wanted man. This has nothing to do with People magazine's sexiest man alive. Dr. Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader is wanted by the UN War Crimes Tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity. The United States offers $5 million for his capture. Radovan Karadzic directed the siege of Sarajevo, which surrounded and starved the city, then killed thousands of people with artillery shells and sniper fire, all to ethnically cleanse central Bosnia of Muslims, Jews, Croats and even Serbs who didn't want to live in an ethnically pure Serbia. UN officials used to say that if they couldn't protect Sarajevo, at least they could promise to bring those who savaged the city to justice, but first, you have to find them.

For 10 years now, Radovan Karadzic has not been found. There are occasional Elvis-like sightings of him reported in the hills of Serbia. By the time Italian or British special service teams parachute onto the scene, he's been spirited away. I first read Dr. Karadzic's poetry while covering the siege of Sarajevo. Dr. Karadzic used to boast that his profession--he's a psychiatrist--and his avocation, as a poet, made him more sensitive than other political leaders. But I thought his poetry, almost as much as his political and military actions, revealed a man who was mostly sensitive to his own overanalyzed feelings. This week, a Serbian publisher, who says he has no idea where Radovan Karadzic is hiding, came out with a new volume of his poetry. It's called "Under the Left Breast of the Century." What did he do with the right breast?

While Western intelligence agencies may scrutinize Radovan Karadzic's poems for clues to his whereabouts, I think this new sheaf of poetry may only confirm that in the heart of every great tyrant, there is great self-pity. `I surmise the sun is wounding me with its sharp malignant rays,' writes Dr. Karadzic. `Judges torture me for insignificant acts. I am disgusted by the souls who radiate nothing like a small nasty puppy puny death. I can't stand the sight of you, you vial of scum, you vial of snails. Well, hurry up in your slime because if I can turn my words into thunder, I can turn you into a pool of stagnant water. Now that I'm in this crazy fervor of mine, I could do just about anything. So you're stupid, rotten. Your vain souls wouldn't stare at me with their stupid peaceful eyes.'

Mr. ROD McKUEN (Poet): I need mostly love. Everything else must find its place. I need the warm touch, the unfamiliar smile, the umbrella when it rains, the head against a shoulder when the thunder comes, the unfamiliar touch, the knowing that somebody loves me.

SIMON: Rod McKuen, a real poet, at 18 minutes past the hour.

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