July 1, 1996; Transcript; SERBIAN PUPPET MASTER?
Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs and an accused war criminal wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, turned leadership over to his vice president, Biljana Plavsic. Western diplomats, who threatened sanctions if Karadzic did not step down, question Karadzic’s intentions and wonder if Karadzic is still calling the shots.
Previous NewsHour coverage of the events in Bosnia:
JUNE 3: The inability, or desire, of NATO troops to capture wanted war criminals could prevent elections this fall in Bosnia.
MAY 7: The trails of accused war criminals begins in The Hague
MAY 6: NATO’s troops are not sure how to capture war criminals wanted by the United Nations without getting involved in the conflict.
MARGARET WARNER: The Dayton Peace Accords called for Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic to be removed from power and arrested for war crimes, but neither has happened, and Karadzic has continued to run the Bosnian Serb government from its headquarters in Pale, just outside Sarajevo. Today there is considerable confusion over exactly how much power Karadzic may have given up in a weekend of maneuvering with western diplomats. We start with this report from Lindsay Hilson of Independent Television News.
LINDSAY HILSON, Independent Television News: Mr. Karadzic seems to be playing games with the international community again. Last week, he appeared in public, which he’d previously agreed he wouldn’t do. He put conditions on standing down and was reelected as leader of his Serbian Democratic Party which is likely to win elections in September. This weekend, international officials trumpeted a signed letter suggesting he might be replaced. Today’s Belgrade newspapers’ headlined “Karadzic Without Power” and “Karadzic Has Withdrawn.” But today Vice President Biljana Plavsic said Mr. Karadzic was still president.
MICHAEL STEINER, European Union: I think it is now up to the international community to follow up its solemn words with actions because this will be the only thing, the only language which is understood in these circles in Pale.
LINDSAY HILSON: But in Pale, the Bosnian Serb stronghold, it seems that things are moving, and Mr. Karadzic is gradually ceding power.
MICHAEL STENTON, Cambridge University: I take his resignation of his powers completely seriously. He’s been under so much pressure, he’s offered so many hints that this is the direction in which he’s going, that I believe it; however, he will remain the leader of his political party. That has just been reaffirmed, and he will retain at least for the next couple of months the title of president.
LINDSAY HILSON: That doesn’t satisfy the Americans.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: It is a first step. It should not be and it must not be a last step. We will see what it amounts to in practice. It is my view that more must be done. It has to be clear that Karadzic is out of power and unable to influence events in the country.
LINDSAY HILSON: Mr. Karadzic has plans to develop the Bosnian Serb Republic and his colleagues have similar hard-line nationalist views. They know that as long as the international community remains divided over how to defeat him, he still has a good chance of influencing the future.
MARGARET WARNER: We get two views now. George Kenney was the State Department desk officer for Yugoslavia until he resigned in protest over the Bush administration’s policies in 1992. He is now a consultant. David Rieff is a journalist who has written frequently about Bosnia and was there most recently in April. His latest book is called Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. Welcome, both of you. David Rieff, the Bosnian Serbs say Karadzic has given up at least some power. Is that sufficient, in your view?
discussion DAVID RIEFF, Author: (New York) Well, I think it’s ludicrous, in fact, for Radovan Karadzic to relinquish power in favor of Mrs. Plavsic, who is really–is like saying a ventriloquist has relinquished power to his dummy. It’s a preposterous assertion and one utterly without meaning. I think what you actually see is the Bosnian Serbs and Dr. Karadzic, in particular, reverting to form. They know, they understand, and they’re right–they understand rightly that there are deep divisions between European attitudes and U.S. attitudes toward what to do about the Bosnian Serbs and what, indeed, to do about the Dayton agreements, and he’s counting on the fact, as he did throughout the war, that by making some minimal concession that he will be able to hold on to power.
You’ll note in the statement that he temporarily relinquishes power to Mrs. Plavsic. He does not give it up. But you also note that you have the Americans on one side saying they find it completely unacceptable, how sincere the Clinton administration, which is I think known for its flip-flops on this is, I–I can’t really say, and you have people like Carl Bildt, the high representative of the European Union, on the ground in Bosnia saying that he accepts it absolutely. It seems to me we’ve been here before.
MARGARET WARNER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. George Kenney, what is your assessment of what we just saw and what has really happened, how much power, if any, has Karadzic given up?
GEORGE KENNEY, Former State Department Official: I think he’s given up a substantial amount of power. To be realistic, we’re not going to be able to remove his influence entirely for a long time unless we go after him, physically snatch him, and then cart him off to the Hague. I doubt very much we’ll do that because we don’t really know where to draw the line. Are we going to go after Karadzic and Mladic, or–
MARGARET WARNER: Mladic being the Bosnian Serb commander who’s also been indicted–
discussion MR. KENNEY: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: –on war crimes.
MR. KENNEY: It, it probably could be done, getting Karadzic, but Mladic is a different matter. He’s well guarded, with lots of troops. If we go after Bosnian Serb leaders who are indicted, are we going to go after Bosnian Croat leaders–Kordzic, for example, who would be Karadzic’s counterpart?
MARGARET WARNER: But let me just ask you just in terms of this issue of how much power he is exercising, do you agree with David Rieff that what we just saw this weekend is really a sham and that he’s not given up any substantial power?
MR. KENNEY: I think that he is ceding power, but I think the question to ask ourselves is: Even if we were able to get Karadzic to cede power completely, what would replace him? And there, as I see it at a distance, there really aren’t any moderate alternatives to Karadzic. Indeed, very recently, when Carl Bildt, the international high representative in Bosnia, tried to boost the standing of one of Karadzic’s so-called moderate rivals, Karadzic was able to get rid of him, and I see this effect not only on the Bosnian Serb side but on all sides in Bosnia. When the West tries to promote moderates, inadvertently we wind up making the radicals stronger. Probably if we want to get rid of Karadzic, the best thing to do is be patient, wait, apply steady pressure, and eventually we’ll get him.
MARGARET WARNER: David Rieff, what about that point that the alternatives aren’t any more palatable?
MR. RIEFF: Well, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic stand accused by the international war crimes tribunal of genocide and crimes against humanity. That, it seems to me, in law, and I think also in morality, distinguishes them from others. I quite agree with George Kennedy that the alternatives are not good, but I would still insist that there are real distinctions to be made, for example, between the Bosnian Serbs around Banja Luka, people who are largely loyal to President Milosevic in Belgrade, and to the people in Pale, who remain loyal to Karadzic.
discussion: The notion that somehow Karadzic is relinquishing significant rather than symbolic power seems to me contradicted by his own engineering of his reelection, his flouting of the international community’s insistence that he not appear publicly, et cetera, et cetera, all the things in your report. But the more important issue is this. We–there are a number of different options after Dayton. If you allow the man, who on the Bosnian side of this war committed these terrible crimes to remain in charge, then you have decided that Dayton is simply an instrument of humane partition. George Kenney and I might agree that they should come out and say that.
MARGARET WARNER: But then you could partition Bosnia.
MR. RIEFF: Yes, a partitioning in Bosnia. If the–if the Europeans and ourselves want to say that’s what Dayton was, then by all means, leave Karadzic in control, and, indeed, leave Gen. Mladic alone in, in his bunker. But at least the administration continues to insist, however disingenuously perhaps, that that’s not what they mean by Dayton. And if we’re to take him at face value, something after four years I’m rather reluctant to do, but if we are to take them at face value, then Dr. Karadzic must be brought to account, as well as the people that George Kenney mentions like Mr. Karadzic. I don’t see any problem with that as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, George Kenney, we just saw Karadzic at the soccer game, and how hard would it be to arrest him, and why hasn’t it happened?
MR. KENNEY: Well, we could close off his ability to leave Pale, put NATO patrols around Pale, and probably we could drive in and grab him one day and drive back to Sarajevo. That’s not too difficult. But if we do grab Karadzic, are we then going to go after Mladic, who’s very well guarded, or are we going to go after Kordzic. If you open the door to this, it becomes very messy very quickly, and I can understand why western governments are reluctant to do that, but I would raise another question in relation to what David Rieff was saying, and that is, is it really so important for Dayton, as far as the Bosnian people go, to arrest all of these war criminals? In April, a USIA survey among Bosnians of all three sides, what their most important concerns were now that the war is over, the majority on all three sides cite economic concerns. At the bottom of the list, they talk about arresting war criminals with 1, 2, 3 percent on each side saying that that’s the most important or the second most important concern they have. But I think that we assign a much higher priority to this than the Bosnians, themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: David Rieff, what is–explain to people who don’t follow this Bosnian conflict very closely. What is the danger about leaving Karadzic in power?
MR. RIEFF: Well, the commitment of the United States and of the other signatories of the Dayton Accords was to bring indicted war criminals to justice and to prevent their holding and exercising significant political power in a post war Bosnia. That was the solemn engagement of the international community, notably of the Clinton administration, which is the architect of the Dayton Accords.
It may very well be true, incidentally. I don’t disagree with George Kenney, that it may well be more important to the international community than to the average Bosnian. I have no way of knowing that that’s true. It may well be, but I think you probably could have made the same argument after the Second World War, that most people found the economic reconstruction of Europe and bringing the boys home and demobilization and all the rest of it more important than the Nuremberg trials. But I don’t think that, in itself, is a significant argument against the importance of the international tribunal and the bringing to account the breaking of the culture of immunity and impunity, not just in Bosnia but in Rwanda as well, where there war crimes tribunal is active. That’s the importance, and if it’s more important to us than to them, that seems to me an argument for bringing Dr. Karadzic to justice, not against it.
MARGARET WARNER: And very briefly, because I want to get back to George Kenney on this, but you said earlier, if the West is essentially saying Dayton was all about partitioning Bosnia, then, fine, leave it as it is, are you saying that if Karadzic retains any kind of significant power, that you believe he will use that to frustrate the Dayton plan, which was to make Bosnia a multi-ethnic, unified state?
MR. RIEFF: I believe we’re a long way from a multi-ethnic unified state, but I believe that the people in Pale on the Bosnian Serb side just like the people in West Mostar in the Bosnian Croat side, to whom George Kenney alluded to earlier, are absolutely committed to thwarting any possibility of a unitary Bosnia, that they kill it by their presence. It’s not a sure thing, but at least it’s a possibility without them. With them, it’s a sure thing it will not and will never take place.
MARGARET WARNER: George Kenney, what do you think the practical impact, if Karadzic remains not only at large but enjoying considerable power?
MR. KENNEY: I honestly don’t think it will be much different than if he were gone. David Rieff is raising the right kinds of questions. What do we expect to see as a result of Dayton? What do we expect next year? Is Bosnia going to be divided or unified? In a sense, by focusing so much on Karadzic, the U.S. is able to avoid asking or answering those questions, but those are really the key questions. I would differ with David in what he suggests should be the answers to those questions, but he’s right that those are the important questions.
MARGARET WARNER: David, do you want to have the last word here?
MR. RIEFF: Well, I–
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, in other words, the West has basically already decided that the partition is the ultimate–
MR. RIEFF: I think the West is saying one thing, that is, saying it remains committed to a multi-ethnic Bosnia, and in fact, doing everything in practical terms, and I fault the Clinton administration most of all to make partition a certainty.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.
MR. KENNEY: Thank you.