Karadzic's Dual Life: War Fugitive, New Age Mystic

Watch Radovan Karadzic's progression from wartime president to a fugitive in hiding as a new age guru. hide caption

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Indicted on charges related to war crimes, Radovan Karadzic had been living as a fugitive for more than a decade. View a timeline of events in his life that led him to go into hiding.

Karadzic, The Writer

While living as an alternative medicine expert, Radovan Karadzic allegedly wrote for a new age Web site. The site is in Croatian, but shows some of the devices that Karadzic used in his practice of alternative medicine.

Since the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader wanted for war crimes, the news in Belgrade is filled with details of his double life. He disappeared more than a decade ago, after his indictment, and he reappeared with a new identity — passing himself off as a New Age health guru. Karadzic practiced alternative medicine, wrote articles and even lectured under an alias.

Morning Edition's Deborah Amos interviews NPR correspondent Sylvia Poggioli, from Belgrade.

Share with us the details of Karadzic's life as a fugitive, as you know them.

For years there were rumors that Karadzic was in Bosnia or Montenegro, hiding in monasteries or even caves. There were also lots of reports that NATO peacekeepers based in Bosnia maybe looked the other way, and they knew exactly where he was. There's been a lot of rumors. But now it turns out that, at least for the last couple of years, he was here, in New Belgrade. It's an area of very anonymous looking high-rise buildings, where it's easy to blend into the scenery and lose your identity, and especially if you change your disguise. And, as you said, Karadzic looks completely different today. Long white hair, white beard. He looks more like a character out of [J. R. R.] Tolkien or Harry Potter than the very showy, pompous wartime leader that I remember.

When I look at those photographs, I wonder — it's really hard to tell that it's him.

Absolutely. Looking at one next to the other, it's totally different. It just shows how easy it is to completely transform yourself. He is also a lot thinner than he used to be. You know, he was originally trained as a psychiatrist, but now as a fugitive, he passed himself off as an expert in something called "human quantum energy." He used the name D.D. David, or Dragan Dabic. And it turns out he gave lectures all over Serbia on alternative medicine.

He also had his own Web site, I've read.

Exactly, and it has photos of metal, bullet-shaped amulets, Orthodox crosses; it offers alternative cures and meditation for diabetes, stress, depression, even impotence. He was a regular contributor to the Serbian alternative medicine magazine, Healthy Life. He signed himself as "spiritual researcher" and his editor was really shocked to see who his contributor really was. And today the newspaper Blic carried interviews with average people who say they knew him as Dragan Dabic, and there's one really incredible anecdote: Karadzic, aka Dabic, was a regular customer at a cafe, a hard-line nationalist hangout. He would go there and pick up a traditional Serbian stringed instrument and strum along as he recited mournful, Serbian epic poems of his own composition. And the cafe owner said that he always sat facing photographs on the wall of the other wanted war crime criminal Ratko Mladic, and of Radovan Karadzic.

So it's clear that he moved around in circles that were friendly to the nationalist cause, so it's hard to say how honest all these people are who claim surprise at learning who Dabic really is. But in this daring public exposure, I do recognize one aspect of the personality of Radovan Karadzic of 15 years ago. He was an inveterate gambler, he loved poker, and we reporters often had to track him down in gambling casinos in Geneva when the Vance-Owen peace negotiations were under way.

[In 1993, United Nations Special Envoy Cyrus Vance and European Community representative Lord Owen co-chaired a conference to negotiate a peace plan for the former Yugoslavia.]

You bring up Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is also wanted on war crime charges. Are the Serbian authorities any closer to finding him? That's who they were after when they stumbled upon Radovan Karadzic.

They've been giving very, very few details. We don't really know the exact details of how Karadzic was arrested. They just said "as he was moving between one location and another." And they said they are purposefully not giving details, because they want to study, they want to analyze the way Karadzic moved, that's what they say, in preparation for Mladic's arrest. In other words, they will not reveal anything until Mladic has been arrested.

It's basically now the political atmosphere, the new government, it looks like it could happen soon, because this was certainly done by a new government that is pro-Western, wants to end Serbia's international isolation, and that depends on handing over the war criminals. So sooner or later, it is likely that Mladic will be arrested.

Karadzic: War Criminal or Nationalist Hero?

Indicted on charges related to war crimes, Radovan Karadzic had been living as a fugitive for more than a decade. View a timeline of events in his life that led him to go into hiding.

Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic i i

Karadzic (right) confers with Ratko Mladic in August 1993. Karadzic was arrested Monday; Mladic remains a fugitive. Michael Evstafiev/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Evstafiev/AFP/Getty Images
Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic

Karadzic (right) confers with Ratko Mladic in August 1993. Karadzic was arrested Monday; Mladic remains a fugitive.

Michael Evstafiev/AFP/Getty Images

Quick Bio

Radovan Karadzic was born in June 1945 in Montenegro. He moved to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1960 to pursue his studies in psychiatry. He later spent a year studying medicine at Columbia University in New York. He also became a published poet, and came under the influence of Serbian nationalist writers.

In the 1980s, Karadzic moved to Belgrade to work in a hospital. He became one of the founders of the Serbian Democratic Party in 1989. The group sought to get ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia to support the idea of a "Greater Serbia" that would extend over all the lands inhabited by Serbs.

In 1991, he was instrumental in forming a separate Bosnian Serb Assembly, which later declared the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and made him its president. Karadzic became a fugitive in 1995 when he went into hiding after being indicted by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on war crimes including genocide and crimes against humanity.

Karadzic Indictment

View the initial indictment by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

After living more than a dozen years as a fugitive, Radovan Karadzic has been turned over to the international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. About 15,000 Serbian ultra-nationalists demonstrated in Belgrade on the eve of the former Bosnian-Serb leader's extradition to the Netherlands. Many nationalists still regard Karadzic as a hero and a defender of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia.

It's expected that the legal process will reveal more about Karadzic's alleged role in atrocities committed during the Bosnian War, as well as his years underground.

The man arrested by Serbian security forces on July 21 looked startlingly different from the portly, shocked-haired politician who led nationalist Serbs in Bosnia during the early 1990s. Police say Karadzic, wearing a full white beard and long white hair, used a false name to work openly in Belgrade as a healer and expert in alternative medicine.

The Charges

Karadzic was wanted for crimes allegedly committed during the Bosnian War from 1992 through 1995, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. As president of the Serb Republic established in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Karadzic was accused of ordering the so-called "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims.

The army of the Bosnian Serb Republic, under the command of Gen. Ratko Mladic, was accused of using terror, murder and rape to drive Muslims and ethnic Croats from their homes.

In 1996, Karadzic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on two counts of genocide and five counts of crimes against humanity, as well as other crimes. More than 100,000 people, civilian and military, are believed to have been killed during the war. The Institute for War and Peace estimates that about 65 percent of the civilians killed were Bosnian Muslims.

The Srebrenica Massacre

The most notorious mass murder committed during the war was the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which Bosnia Serb forces and Serbian paramilitaries systematically slaughtered about 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The massacre has been ruled an act of genocide by both the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

Despite a warrant for his arrest and a price on his head, Karadzic managed to evade capture for nearly a dozen years.

At various times, he was reported to be living in Russia, Serbia or parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina that were controlled by Serbs.

Karadzic's Beginnings

Karadzic, now 63, was born and reared in Montenegro. His father was a member of the Yugoslav monarchist paramilitary group known as the Chetniks and was in prison during much of his son's childhood.

Radovan Karadzic got a medical degree and moved to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to pursue his studies in psychiatry. He later spent a year studying medicine at Columbia University in New York. He also became a published poet, and came under the influence of Serbian nationalist writers.

In 1989, he became one of the founders of the Serbian Democratic Party, which sought to get ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia to support the idea of a "Greater Serbia" that would extend over all the lands inhabited by Serbs.

In 1991, he was instrumental in forming a separate Bosnian Serb Assembly, which later declared the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and made him its president.

The war crimes tribunal in The Hague has tried dozens of suspects, including Karadzic's one-time ally, the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 before his trial could be completed. The court is still seeking the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb general, Ratko Mladic.

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