Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkans: Karadzic And Mladic Are 'Everywhere But In The Hague'

Radovan Karadzic Ten years have passed since former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his former military commander General Ratko Mladic were indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal for genocide and other war crimes. The two fugitives remain at large, despite the obligation of NATO-led peacekeepers and the various governments in the region to arrest the indictees and send them to The Hague. Many people wonder why the most powerful military alliance in history and a host of governments seeking Euro-Atlantic integration remain unable to catch the two.

It is the Balkan equivalent of Loch Ness Monster stories. Reports pop up in the regional press from time to time, especially when news is slow in the summer, about a reported sighting of Karadzic, Mladic, former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, or some other fugitive indictee. In a related genre, articles appear in the media speculating on which local politician or commander will be the next one to be indicted by the tribunal. Whichever the case, the reports tend to be short on hard facts but long on speculation by "informed intelligence sources" or the like.

What is certain is that Karadzic and Mladic were indicted on 26 July 1995 -- while the 1992-95 conflict was still raging -- but remain on the run. The anniversary of the indictments attracted media attention, especially in the region. The Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" published a long article about the reported sightings with the headline: "They're Everywhere But Not In The Hague Tribunal." RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service stressed that the two men have managed to hide successfully for a decade without anyone being able to catch them. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service noted that there is a $5 million international reward out for the two fugitives, but even such a princely sum does not appear to have prompted anyone in an impoverished region to turn one or the other man in.

Radovan Karadzic was born on 19 June 1945 in the Niksic region of Montenegro, which is more generally known for its beer. His father was a craftsman, and the family had its role in continuing the Montenegrin tradition of epic folk poetry. Radovan has also demonstrated a literary bent, but his chosen profession is psychiatry. His studies included a stint in the United States, and his fluent English reportedly made him a favorite of foreigners in communist-era Sarajevo who sought the services of his profession. He allegedly was known for favoring drug therapy over counseling, and one of his patients recalled years later that she walked into his office on her visits but later "flew" home.
Until the two fugitives are in The Hague, they will be a source of embarrassment to NATO and of anger for Muslims and Croats.

Karadzic made his mark on public life by helping found the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in 1989 and became its first president. The SDS is one of the three nationalist parties that have dominated Bosnia-Herzegovina's political life since the collapse of communism in a reversion to a pre-communist tradition of strong ethnically based parties. In the parliament in 1992, Karadzic warned Muslim and Croatian deputies that any move aimed at declaring independence from a rump Yugoslavia dominated by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic would be a step "on the highway to hell on which Slovenia and Croatia have already embarked." He added that the Muslim people would not survive such a conflict.

His record as a war criminal from April 1992 is based on the Bosnian Serb "ethnic-cleansing" campaigns, especially in eastern Bosnia and in the Banja Luka region, as well as on the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, crimes in which Mladic allegedly shares responsibility (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July 2005). Following the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, Karadzic gradually withdrew from public life and eventually disappeared from view altogether. He is believed to move about in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Montenegro, where clan traditions remain strong. Some reports have suggested that he has cut his trademark bushy hair and retired to a Serbian Orthodox monastery, but this and other accounts are pure speculation. What seems certain is that he has a solid and reliable network of supporters who have helped him avoid capture for a decade.

Mladic also seems to have friends and supporters, but they are most likely military men. He was born on 12 March 1943 in the village of Bozanovic near Kalinovik, which is south of Sarajevo and west of Foca. Kalinovik was traditionally a center of cattle breeding but developed as a garrison town during the Austro-Hungarian occupation from 1878 to 1918. Mladic's father was killed by the Ustashe during the war, so Ratko never knew him. The boy proved intelligent in school and eventually went to a military academy, where he finished first in his class in 1965. He rapidly rose through the ranks and had postings in Skopje, Kumanovo, Ohrid, and Stip.

The breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 found him first in command of the Prishtina Corps in Kosova, and then in Knin, Croatia, which had just declared independence. Mladic commanded Bosnian Serb forces from May 1992 until the end of the war in 1995. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic removed him from his post in October 1996, after which he retired.

Subsequent Mladic "sightings" center on his former command center at Han Pijesak and at various places in Serbia, including Belgrade and its Topcider military complex. He appears to have been on the Bosnian Serb military payroll until 2002. As is the case with Karadzic, virtually all of the reports about him are speculation and might contain an element of disinformation, especially as regards the size and strength of the alleged bodyguard contingents protecting each of them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February and 25 July 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004).

The question remains as to how Karadzic's regional network and Mladic's military friends could be so effective in thwarting the intelligence-gathering and striking capabilities of NATO. Indeed, there have been some well-publicized NATO operations over the years, which presumably were aimed at catching one or the other of the fugitives, but all have come up empty-handed. The failure to apprehend the two men appears all the more embarrassing whenever an official of the tribunal or of a Western or regional country tells the press that he or she is "sure" that Karadzic or Mladic will be in The Hague by a certain date, which then comes and goes without any arrest having taken place.

Many people inside and outside the region have put forward various explanations for the apparent failure of the strongest military alliance in history to catch two men, some of which center on the alleged reluctance of some NATO forces to take casualties by trying to arrest presumably well-guarded fugitives, while others suggest that French, British, or perhaps other NATO officers are protecting one or both of the men as a matter of unstated policy. Some theories even hold that the Western powers and perhaps some Muslim and Croatian politicians would prefer not to have Karadzic or Mladic appear before the tribunal, where they might make some delicate wartime secrets public. As to the Serbian and Bosnian Serb authorities, it is generally assumed that they have either no desire to arrest the two men or no willingness to take the political risks that would arise if they did so.

In any event, until the two fugitives are in The Hague, they will be a source of embarrassment to NATO and of anger for Muslims and Croats. But one person from Sarajevo took a different approach and told RFE/RL that it is perhaps best that the two are not caught "so that they will have to go on living on the run like animals."


Net Tightens Around Key Serb War Crimes Suspect

Videotape Appears To Show Serb Murder Of Srebrenica Victims

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.