Elie Wiesel died last week at age of 87. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He survived the Holocaust and was one of the leading voices to draw attention on crimes that were committed in the former Yugoslavia. This article was published in 2008, immediately after the arrest of Radovan Karadzic.
“It is unimaginable. For 13 long years we thought that he is hiding in the mountains, surrounded by bodyguards. We were looking for him in underground bunkers, recorded the most distant parts of the region. It was all in vain – Radovan Karadzic, the notorious fugitive of the former Yugoslavia, was a public figure. People were running into him on the street, in restaurants or the cinema; some people even watched him on TV talking about alternative medicine, and no one discovered his true identity.
“It was at the end of 1992. I came to investigate the situation in BiH and Serbia. We were receiving disturbing reports. Newspapers, radio stations and TV channels reported the terrible images: cities bombarded, the bodies in mass graves, massacred children, and raped women.
Faced with indifference of different governments, in response to an invitation of Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic, together with team member of the show “Nightline,” Ted Koppel, I headed to Belgrade, Sarajevo and Banja Luka. We met with all the leaders of the region except the leader of the Croats.
President Franjo Tudjman denied the holocaust and I refused to offer him a hand.
But I talked with Slobodan Milosevic. And with Karadzic, in whose castle – a fortress – the meeting took place. His look was icy, haunted, and supernatural. He was powerful master. Why so many executions, why so many murders? Whether because of some violent mysticism, the cult of death? No. For him, it was something else: a fascination that he has absolute power, both over his enemies and his allies.
I asked him why he ordered to burn the famous National Library in Sarajevo. Since he wanted to be known as a psychiatrist and poet, was he afraid of the books and humanist truth?
Red in the face from anger, while hitting the table, he argued that Muslims set fire to the building themselves, from the inside.
I objected. I saw the library in ruins: destroyed walls, marks from artillery fire. The building was attacked from the outside.
There was no point to argue – stubborn Karadzic denied it all.
The idea to establish an international tribunal was mine. One day, I was with Secretary of State Eagleburger, and we talked about the tragic situation in BiH. What were the options? Political, humanitarian, military?
Then I proposed to establish an international tribunal. My argument was that only the prosecution of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity could scare them. They would have to be extradited. Eagleburger realized that this is a good idea and proposed it to his allies in Europe.
One may ask: How to adequately punish a man who is guilty for murder of 8,000 human souls? Good question. It seems that the crime is greater than the punishment. But these trials help to our collective memory.