St. Louis Bosnians react to conviction of Radovan Karadzic
The European war crimes trial that’s been called “the largest since Nuremburg” ended Thursday, bringing uneasy relief to the St. Louis Bosnian community. Former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and one count of genocide, but many of the region's Bosnians still felt underwhelmed by the decision.
"A guilty verdict on any count is better than no guilty verdict. And that’s against the backdrop of realizing that the mere existence of a crime tribunal is a failure,” said Dina Strikovic. “It’s a failure to act. It’s a failure to prevent."
Strikovic was detained as a 7-year-old during the war and subsequently worked at The Hague where Karadzic was tried. She’s been in St. Louis since the early 2000s.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Karadzic for his actions during the Bosnian civil war. Karadzic, a psychiatrist by trade, led the Serbian government known as Republika Srpska that was responsible for the majority of the violence and identified as the war's aggressor. More than 100,000 people were killed between 1992 and 1995.
More than 70,000 Bosnians live in the St. Louis area, the largest Bosnian population outside Bosnia-Herzegovnia. Many fled while Karadzic was in power.
The community had a mixed response to Karadzic’s convictions. Many were pleased he’d been found guilty of most charges but angry he'd escaped a genocide conviction for actions taken in seven municipalities including Sanski Most, Vlasenica, and Prijedor.
That ruling particularly frustrated HidajetSuljic, who presumes his brother was killed during the war. Suljic himself spent time in what he calls a “concentration camp," and said the ruling wasn’t harsh enough for Karadvic’s crimes.
“There should be satisfaction for my country, for my country and for me too. But as I told you before, they cannot change my life,” Suljic said, referring to his experiences while detained.
Karadzic resigned his leadership position as the president of Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of the Serbian military and went into hiding as the war ended. He was captured after a 13-year manhunt that included several notable exploits. The subsequent trial lasted five years. Karadzic initially abdicated any responsibility for the violence, murder and rape perpetrated by the military under his command, claiming that he attempted to stem the atrocities. During the course of his trial, the former leader shifted his tone, accepting "moral responsibility" but denying any legal responsibility.
Late last week, Karadzic’s lawyer admitted that conviction for some of the charges was likely. But Karadzic remained defiant, insisting the day before the ICTY released its judgment that he would not be convicted.
Dina Strikovic said the court's decision will make Karadzic’s crimes part of the historical record and create discussion about the genocide and atrocities the Bosnian population faced at the hands of the Serbian government. She said the conviction provides a chance to remind St. Louisans why there’s such a large number of Bosnians in the city and what they have experienced.
“This is an opportunity to open those dialogues and to remember, especially in today’s political climate, that we’re talking about the murder of over 100,000 people not 150 miles outside Vienna, in modern Europe, because of political rhetoric that advocated fear and anger and was proliferated just to create an atmosphere of terror,” she said.
Akif Cogo, the head of the organization St. Louis Bosnians, said the court’s failure to convict on all counts will not do much to stabilize the economically depressed and politically fragmented state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We will have ahead of us a turbulent future in Bosnia for at least the foreseeable future,” he said.
The Hague sentenced the 70-year-old Karadzic to 40 years in prison. His defense has previously stated they will appeal the ruling.
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