Karadzic shadow darkens future Destiny of the people and Serbian Republic are linked to his own

June 03, 1996|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The man who led the Serbs into Bosnia's heart of darkness now resides in his own shadowland, holed up in a glum mountain resort while the world waits to arrest him for genocide.

But Radovan Karadzic is still the dominant ruler in Bosnia's Serbian Republic, and the longer he remains in power, the more deeply he entrenches his policies of ethnic intolerance, opponents say.

More than six months after the November signing of the Bosnian peace accord in Dayton, Ohio, Muslims in Bosnian Serb territory are still being forced from their homes and jobs. Applicants for coveted positions are asked to verify their Serbian ancestry. Political opponents are beaten and harassed.

Even political moderates indicate that if they took power, they would be reluctant to fire such notorious figures as Gen. Ratko Mladic, the military commander linked to the war's most brutal violence.

It is enough to make observers wonder whether, even if Karadzic were to vanish tomorrow, any successor would be willing or able to stray from his path of Serbian purity.

Karadzic's resilient power, exerted largely through his grip on police forces and state news media now that the army has gone dormant, seems to be strengthening even as he slips into a state resembling exile within his own country. He seldom ventures beyond his headquarters near Sarajevo, in the mountain town of Pale.

"We call it the Wolf's Lair," Rajko Kasagic said of Karadzic's refuge. "He is isolated, and it is a great problem for us. He is unable to contact the world."

Kasagic was the Bosnian Serb prime minister until May 15, when Karadzic fired him for becoming too moderate, too accommodating to the Western enforcers of the Dayton accord. They, after all, are the same people who want Karadzic to stand trial for war crimes.

Leaders from around the world lined up to back Kasagic. So did Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president in neighboring Yugoslavia. No matter. The Bosnian Serb parliament backed Karadzic.

"He has connected the destiny of the people and the destiny of the state to his personal destiny," Kasagic said at his home, where a policeman assigned by the government is posted outside. "He feels that if he goes down, everything and everyone else must go down with him."

Between now and Sept. 14, the tentative date for Bosnian elections, two possible courses of action face Karadzic.

The first is that he will be arrested and sent to The Hague to stand trial. That is the stated preference of U.S. officials. But it also is the greatest fear of Karadzic's political opponents, who argue that it would only strengthen his influence on elections.

"He is already getting a reputation as a victim, a national hero," said Miodrag Zivanovic, head of the opposition Social Liberal Party. "If he is arrested, he would become a legend."

Little chance of arrest

They needn't worry, according to U.S. military officials, who say no new orders have been issued with regard to either Karadzic or checkpoint security. For the moment, NATO forces operate checkpoints only between Serbian territory and Croat-Muslim Federation territory, junctions Karadzic neither needs nor desires cross.

"If he shows up at one of my checkpoints, he should be arrested for stupidity, not war crimes," said a senior U.S. officer.

That would seem to make the second option more likely: that Karadzic will remain free to direct a political campaign for his ruling Serb Democratic Party (SDS), even though barred by the Dayton agreement from personally running for office.

New campaign posters for the party feature his face above the message: "Serbhood, Unity, Freedom and Serbia. The Will of the People." And there are plenty of willing successors to his role of hard-line nationalist zealot, such as parliamentary leader Momcilo Krajisnik.

In January, it seemed that Karadzic might simply fade away. Opponents in Banja Luka seemed to be gaining, and public disillusionment with his leadership was growing. Geography also was working against him. Bosnia's Serbian Republic is roughly divided into two sections, hinged by a single, potholed highway in the northeast town of Brcko. Karadzic's base of power in the east holds only about 300,000 of the republic's 1.2 million people.

But he survived. The changes wrought by the war -- the deaths, the loss of homes and wealth, the huge migrations of refugees -- destroyed the social structure.

"The only surviving structure was Karadzic's ideology," said Zivanovic, "and that's what is keeping him in power."

So, for the moment, Karadzic's government is applying some of the same ideological policies it employed during the war, according to international aid organizations and local residents.

At least 100 Muslims recently have been forced out of the area of Teslic, a town about 35 miles southeast of Banja Luka, United Nations officials said last week, and U.N. refugee buses were being banned from crossing in and out of Serbian Republic territory.

Hatred and retribution

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