Former Bosnian Serb leader evaded war crimes prosecutors for years — in part — by openly practicing alternative medicine. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with Jack Hitt, who’s written a story on Karadzic for this weekend’s New York Times Magazine.
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KATY CLARK: I’m Katy Clark, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. The war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic hasn’t started yet, but Karadzic is already challenging some of the evidence against him. Prosecutors have charged Karadzic with masterminding the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. Karadzic wants access to DNA evidence from mass graves, because, he claims, the death toll has been exaggerated. The former Bosnian Serb leader was in hiding for years before his arrest last year in Belgrade. Karadzic had been living a relatively public life there, practicing alternative medicine under the name Dragan Dabic. Jack Hitt’s story about Karadzic’s new-age adventure will appear in this Sunday’s New York Times magazine. Jack Hitt, it’s a strange story indeed. I mean, tell us exactly how did the most hunted war criminal on the planet manage to spend 3 years becoming, as you explain in your piece, something of a minor celebrity in Belgrade, without anyone realizing who he was?
JACK HITT: Well, you know, I think a lot of people expected him to hide out in the sort of heroic way that you expect war criminals to.
CLARK: In the mountains?
HITT: Go into the jungle and you know, eat squirrel and live with his men. But Radovan Karadzic was a psychiatrist before he was a politician. He was a member of the traditional medicine community, and I think he understood the sort of – the psychological politics of how to hide at an age when everything is watched and seen. So rather than hide out as a traditional doctor, he sort of moved one discipline over, to alternative medicine where, let’s just say that because of some of the dodgy practices, a lot of odd behavior is excused.
CLARK: What kind of odd behavior are you talking about? Give us an example of some of his stuff that you experienced or encountered.
HITT: Well, one of the people that he fell in with was Savo Bojovic, who is a fairly well known sexologist, who has invented a number of different machines. He had a solution for men who womanized a lot and worried about getting women pregnant, so he had invented a small metal cup he would cradle their testicles in and then pass a small amount of electricity through that, and his machine would put all the sperm to sleep for awhile, and it would allow a man to go out and heroically exercise his – his manhood. Radovan Karadzic and the persona of Dragan Dabic had settled on just the fact that his hands could radiate this bioenergy warmth, and he could detect illness and correct it with his hands. I had many people describe for me how he had healed certain people. The one thing about that world, though, is that they’re all aware of the fact that many people don’t believe that their methods work. And so when you hang out with these people, they spend a lot of time talking to you about their method, trying to convince you of its efficacy. They don’t really listen to what you have to say. So if you are hiding out, it’s a great world if you want to just sort of sit quietly in a place and not have a lot of people bother you with questions.
CLARK: But are these people who live in the real world? I mean, I’m wondering if they knew what Radovan Karadzic looked like, and if they actually took a good look at Dragan Dabic, they would have seen some similarities and might have suspected something more?
HITT: You know, I went over there thinking that they must have known, or that some of them did, because that was sort of the word on the street. I’m not convinced that they did. I’m now convinced that they did not know. If you look at the photographs of him as the alternative healer, he has grown this enormous mass of gray hair and he’s bundled it up on the top of his head in this big knot right at his forehead. It’s very noticeable and odd, so you have to look at it. You
don’t look at his eyes, for example. He lost some weight, so it sort of pulled down his face a little bit and changed his eye shape. He grew an enormous bushranger beard. He looked different in every possible respect. There was nothing about him that looked like Radovan Karadzic.
CLARK: In fact, as you write, there was a woman who lived across the street from him in Belgrade and said “Good morning” to him every morning, I think, and she worked for Interpol. When she logged on to her computer, there was a picture of “Wanted: Radovan Karadzic” right up there, and she never even noticed.
HITT: Her screensaver was a picture of Osama Bin Laden and Radovan Karadzic, and little did she know she was saying “Good morning” to him.
CLARK: While reading your story, I found myself wondering about the idea of redemption and if Karadzic might have actually repented for his alleged war crimes?
HITT: There’s been no repentance and there’s no – so far, he does not acknowledge he’s committed these crimes. I will say that when I talked to all of the people who were duped by him, they don’t feel they’ve been duped at all. I would say to them, “So, you know, this man, his name is not really Dragan Dabic. He was not really a healer. He was Radovan Karadzic.” And they would say, “I don’t know Radovan Karadzic. I know Dragan Dabic, and he’s a good man.” And many of them said, “I believe that Dragan Dabic is the real person and that Radovan Karadzic is the fake, invented persona.”
CLARK: Jack Hitt is a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine. His story about Radovan Karadzic appears this Sunday. Thanks for speaking with us.
HITT: Thank you.
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