For a dozen years, they hunted Europe’s most notorious war criminal.
Investigators knew exactly where they thought they would find former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the
1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
After his July 21 arrest, most media reports echoed vague statements in The New York Times in which unidentified voices said Karadzic “eluded arrest so long by shaving his swoopy gray hair and disguising himself as a Serbian Orthodox priest. He reportedly hid out in caves in the mountains of eastern Bosnia and in monasteries.”
“Of course they were wrong,” said Metropolitan Christopher, leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. “It was not true, to say that the Serbian church was hiding him. It appears that he was living right there in clear view, practicing alternative forms of medicine in front of everybody.”
The Times updated its first report, adding that for “some of those years”
the fugitive lived under an assumed name in Belgrade. A second-day report conceded that Karadzic “was not in a distant monastery or a dark cave when caught at last, but living in Serbia’s capital.”
Instead of shaving his photogenic silver hair and pretending to be a priest, the former president of the Bosnian Serb mini-state had built a new identity based on his career as a psychologist — becoming Dr. Dragan David Dabic, expert on meditation, unorthodox therapy techniques and herbal treatments from the East. He was, observers said, a self-made guru with dashes of Freud, a Bohemian poet who resembled Santa Claus, complete with a bushy white beard and long hair, including a ponytail. He published journal articles, gave public lectures and lived with a young mistress.
Blend all that together and, according to ABC News, what you get is an “Orthodox mystic.”
“It’s like that old saying that you can’t fight city hall,” said Metropolitan Christopher, in frustration. Journalists and outsiders “want to link all of this to the Serbian Orthodox Church. And they want to say that all Serbs, everywhere, are guilty of the actions of these violent men and that, most of all, the Serbs are the only people who have ever done these terrible things to their neighbors. …
“They forget that men like Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were enemies of the church and used violence against the Orthodox, too. Our bishops were jailed and beaten for opposing the regime behind this violence.”
As the Serbian Orthodox bishops proclaimed, at one of the worst moments in the fighting, the “way of non-violence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral law and experience.”
There was also an interfaith appeal for peace in 1999, signed by Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, Catholic Archbishop Franc Perko, Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic and Rabbi Isak Asiel. It called for a total ceasefire and the return of all refuges — Serbs, Albanians and Croats — to their homes.
“Even as evil cannot be overcome by evil, so peace and harmony cannot be attained by war,” said that statement from Belgrade. “To be a peacemaker is the greatest duty and most noble obligation of every man. That is why we are not afraid to be the first to extend the hand of peace to one another.”
Hardly anyone was listening.
Truth is, Orthodox Christianity does play a major role in defining the history and identity of the Serbs. It is also true that Orthodox leaders have opposed the break up of their homeland and, in particular, the loss of Kosovo — a state containing more than 1,000 historic churches and monasteries. Serbs have pled with Western officials to intervene and stop the destruction of many priceless sanctuaries.
The lines between faith and ethnicity are often blurred in the Balkans. In this violent, splintered and ravaged region, Karadzic — who remains a hero to Serb radicals — may have found refuge for some period of time with the help of some priests or monks, acting on their own.
“We hear accusations against Orthodox people, but we never seem to hear who, what, when and where,” said Metropolitan Christopher. “If it’s true, we need to know facts. But it is wrong for the media to keep making vague accusations against our whole church in this way, which only makes things worse for those who have endured so much.”