Dramatic ironies of Karadzic arrest

Dramatic ironies of Karadzic arrest

"Slobodan Milosevic must be laughing in his grave," said Zarko Korac, a parliamentary deputy of the Liberal Democratic Party... The irony of the dramatic events of the past days appeals to the dark humour of many Serbs...

"Slobodan Milosevic must be laughing in his grave," said Zarko Korac, a parliamentary deputy of the Liberal Democratic Party.

"Karadzic, Milosevic`s old henchman in Bosnia, arrested by a socialist interior minister, during the term in office of a president who was elected by playing with nationalist politics."

The irony of the dramatic events of the past days appeals to the dark humour of many Serbs.

Karadzic the psychiatrist, posing as a master of alternative medicine.

Karadzic the gambler, who used to brood over the roulette wheel in the gloomy ground floor casino of the Hotel Metropol in Belgrade to escape the grim monotony of his war in Bosnia, gambling that no-one would think of looking for him in the Pinoccio Pizzeria in the Serbian capital.

An arrest which only a handful of people close to President Boris Tadic, and the new head of Serbian Intelligence Sasa Vukadinovic knew was coming.

Shadowy forces

"Tadic will go down in history as the Serbian leader who arrested the Serbian hero - Karadzic," Mr Korac continues, ironically. But he is confident that Mr Tadic will survive.

"This is a huge step forward for Serbia - the most important since the arrest of Milosevic in 2001."

It reflects, he says, the ebbing power of the military in public life, the network of over 600 retired generals and admirals who pulled the strings behind the scenes for so long, and the networks in the police and intelligence services who clung to the ideology and privileges of the Milosevic era.

"In that sense, Tadic is luckier than Djindjic," he adds - a reference to Zoran Djindjic, the reformist prime minister assassinated in 2003 by the same shadowy forces, in revenge for the arrest and transfer of Mr Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal.

Radical nationalists in Serbia today are strong in parliament, controlling nearly half the seats, but far weaker on the streets than they used to be.

Alexander Vucic, their deputy leader, led a march of a few hundred through central Belgrade on Tuesday afternoon.

There were brief scuffles with riot police, but nothing comparable to incidents in February, when foreign embassies were burned and rows of boutiques looted.

On the approach roads to the special court where Mr Karadzic is being held, black uniformed, riot shield-wielding gendarmerie of the MUP keep vigil in the Serbian summer rain.

Tattered posters form a thick crust on the walls, advertising trips to the coast, cheap buses to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, a jazz festival in Montenegro - Mr Karadzic`s birthplace.

It is a time of year when most Serbs prefer to think of seaside frolics, than politics, another factor which made the timing of the Karadzic arrest easier.

Revealing small print

So what next for Serbia?

The arrest of Ratko Mladic, Mr Karadzic`s military commander in Bosnia, and one of only two men still sought by The Hague tribunal, is a real possibility, Zarko Korac believes.

"There is a real momentum now - and who would not buy two cars, if they can, for the price of one?"

A close reading of the Karadzic indictment reveals interesting details.

Mr Karadzic was indicted for war crimes during a period which begins in July 1991 - 10 months before the war in Bosnia actually started.

The small print makes clear why.

"Radovan Karadzic planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation or execution of the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat ethnical, racial or religious groups," according to point 17 of the indictment.

His prosecutors at The Hague tribunal can be expected to highlight his speeches in the Bosnian Parliament in October 1991, when he threatened the Bosnian Muslims, who at that time made up the majority of the population of Bosnia, with their own extermination.

Even his poems hinted at his plans.

Sarajevo will burn out, he wrote, like a candle in a church.

In Orthodox churches, the tall yellow tapers spit and splutter in beds of sand in the porch where the faithful light them, some for the living, and some for the dead.

Bus to Brussels

Serbian newspapers give blanket coverage to the old and new persona of Radovan Karadzic.

Only the eyes, and a chunky gold ring on the fourth finger of his right hand, appear the same.

There are also images of his wife Liljana at their pink house in Pale, Bosnia.

Pictures of his brother Luka, who visited him in detention, and said Radovan still believes "in God, and justice".

Photos of his mysterious female companion, Mila, perhaps his girlfriend in his new life.

And his name card as a practitioner of alternative medicine - Human Quantum Energy - with two mobile phone numbers.

A controversy over whether he was arrested on the 73 bus in the Batajnica suburb, or on the 83 bus in New Belgrade, appears to have been resolved in favour of the 83 - the new line from Belgrade to Brussels.

By Nick Thorpe

BBC News, Belgrade

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