Dr. Radovan Karadzic - the triumph of death against life

Dr. Radovan Karadzic – the triumph of death against life

Radovan Karadzic has shown that the impulse of death can be stronger than that of life. It is reported that, following the pattern of Slobodan Milosevic, he has shown no sense of guilt at the Hague Tribunal. We will have to see if his years away from political action provided him with insights into the dual impulses of eros and death. For the moment, his life is a clear example of the triumph of the will to death over the will to life.

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By René Wadlow

Radovan Karadzic is a psychiatrist; his wife Ljiljan Zelem-Karadzic is a psychiatrist; their daughter Sonja is a psychiatrist. Had Yugoslavia continued united, Karadzic probably would have headed a private clinic for wealthy neurotics to whom he would have read his poems in the evening. Or he might have, as has done for the last 12 years under the name of Dragan Dabic, gone into alternative medicine, stressing the role of thinking and meditation and writing advice articles for the journal Healthy Life.

However, Karadzic has now been sentenced to 40 years in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Tribunal was set up in 1993 while the wars in former Yugoslavia were going on but reports of war crimes had attracted world attention. The Serbian General Rathko Mladic will be tried next year.

Karadjic’s political career was much shorter than his 12 years of alternative medicine. He was not particularly active in politics during the Yugoslav federation. He became active in politics on the eve of the break up of Yugoslavia when the future of Bosnia was in doubt. The Serbs of Bosnia needed a vocal representative. Karadjic was known as a poet who spoke well in public (even if his poetry was difficult and not widely read.)

Bosnia was the only Yugoslav republic without a dominant nationality, having large Serb, Croat and Muslim populations, often mixed together. However ‘Muslim’ was not really a ‘nationality’ in the sense that Serb, Croat, and Macedonians were considered a ‘nationality’. ‘Muslim’ is a religious definition, regardless of what they believed as individuals. ‘Muslims’ were thought to be Croats and Serbs who had converted to Islam during the Ottoman period. Many Serbs and Croats thought that the ‘Muslims’ would revert to their Serb or Croat ‘nationality’ once they had a chance, especially as Islamic practice was low among the Bosnian Muslims. Thus the leadership in both Serbia and Croatia were willing to divide Bosnia between them and to integrate their respective sections into Serbia and Croatia. In 1991, there was an agreement between Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudman of Croatia on the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina between them.

However, the Bosnian Muslims — the Bosniaks as they called themselves — were not willing to be so divided and struggled under the leadership of Alija Izethegovic for an independent state. There were some who hoped that Bosnia would be an undivided, multi-ethnic, multi-religious republic.[1] But the forces of division were stronger than those of cooperation. In March 1992, Bosnia-Hercegovina declared its independence, and at the same time, Republika Srpska was declared under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic. A month later, in April 1992, the siege of Sarajevo began lasting until February 1994. Although the siege was continuing in an effort to prove that a multi-ethnic society could not exist, in September 1992, the Geneva Peace Conference on Bosnia began at the UN headquarters under the co-leadership of Lord Owen on behalf of the EC and Cyrus Vance, former US Secretary of State, for the UN. Vance later withdrew and was replaced by Thorvold Stoltenberg. I had been in Belgrade in 1991 at the start of the Yugoslav conflict to see if NGOs could play any role in conflict reduction. With the start of the negotiations in Geneva in 1992, I followed the discussions as closely as possible, especially as federalist ideas were being discussed as a structure for Bosnia.

Radovan Karadzic created the capital for Republika Srpska in Pale, a small ski resort above Sarajevo. The court held him responsible for the killings in Sarajevo but it is not clear how much control he had over the Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic. There were in addition to the regular military, a number of militias, more criminal bands than nationalist movements. The charge of genocide — the destruction of a people — was one of the 11 charges against Karadzic. Genocide does not mean killing everyone; it means the destruction of the identity of a people. There was a widely held belief among both Serbs and Croats that the ‘Muslims’ were not a ‘people’ and that by the heat of war, they would find their ‘true identity’ as Croats and Serbs who had been forced by the Ottomans to become Muslims. Karadzic put a Christian coloring on his views — how sincerely one never knows, but religion could serve as a bond among Serbs. As Karadzic said in many speeches “Our faith is present in all our thinking and decisions, and the voices of the Church is obeyed as the voice of supreme authority.”

By 1995, the Hague Tribunal had issued an arrest warrant for Karadzic and Mladic. Thus it was Slobodan Milosevic who negotiated both for himself and for the Bosnian Serbs when the 1995 Dayton Accords on the future of Bosnia were negotiated. The accords were signed in Paris in December 1995. Both Karadzic and Mladic resigned from their posts of Republika Srpska and went into hiding.

Karadzic seems to have had the identity papers of Dragan Dabic, a Serb killed in the fighting around Sarajevo and went to live in Belgrade to take up work in alternative medicine and healing techniques.

In the 12 years spent in his new identity, he may have had time to return to a ‘father’ of psychiatric thought, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) in particular his Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) and his Why War? (1933) a short exchange of letters with Albert Einstein for the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations. By the time Why War? was published, the establishment of the Nazi regime in Germany had made the question one of tragic timeliness. In both works, Freud analyses civilization in terms of two basic types of man’s instinctual life, on the one hand, man’s instinct to love and cooperate, and on the other, man has an impulse to attack and destroy. The first impulse is called by Freud (as by Plato in his Symposium) Eros, of which sexual love is only one manifestation. The purpose of the erotic impulse is to tie together, to establish ever greater unities, whereas the purpose of the second, the death instinct, is to attack, dissolve, destroy and finally, to reduce living things to an inorganic death. Freud maintains that civilization owes its existence to the possibility of extending love for one’s family into wider friendship and loyalty to the group, society and the world.

Yet the very act of this wider expansion of the circle of those loved creates tensions and frustrations that strengthen the aggressive drive of the person. Thus, the progress of civilization and the establishment of peace is a constant struggle between the cooperative and destructive impulses.

Norman O. Brown made this duality the basis for an effort to reshape psychoanalysis into a wider general theory of human rapture, culture and history in his Life against Death.[2]

Karadzic has shown that the impulse of death can be stronger than that of life. It is reported that, following the pattern of Slobodan Milosevic, he has shown no sense of guilt at the Hague Tribunal. We will have to see if his years away from political action provided him with insights into the dual impulses of eros and death. For the moment, his life is a clear example of the triumph of the will to death over the will to life.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens.

The views expressed in this article don’t necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.


  1. See Rusmir Mahmutcehajic. The Denial of Bosnia (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000, 156 pp.)
  2. Norman O. Brown. Life against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History  (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1959, 366 pp.)

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9 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    horrible and biased article, from the kitchen of Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour and other trigger-happy-interventionists that once dominated the international relations.

    Article starts from basic flaw “But the forces of division were stronger than those of cooperation” referring to the Serbs, while in fact Serbs struggled throughout these tragic events to keep Yugoslavia unified, a truly multi-ethnic country, which even present day EU is still struggling to achieve.

    It is disgraceful and immoral for any individual, and unprofessional for a journalist, to neglect Serb victims when analyzing this verdict, while even Washington Post wrote about this uneven impression the Tribunal has left.


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