Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has refused to accept responsibility for any of the horrors allegedly committed on his orders during the Bosnian War.

But his opinion is not the one that matters. The UN International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will rule on Thursday on the guilt of one of the most notorious leaders of the 1990s.

Karadzic’s family in Montenegro was reportedly too poor to send him to study in the then Yugoslavian capital Belgrade when he was 15, so he ended up closer to home in Sarajevo. 

He worked as a psychiatrist. A specialist on group therapy, he was doing well in Sarajevo and, briefly, in Belgrade.

Then an embezzlement conviction, accompanied with 11 months in prison, blotched his resume in 1984.

His poetry drew minor attention before the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. Later it attracted much more and looking back at some of his works, the material seems to predict bloodshed.

Using blunt rhetoric with an open threat of violence, Karadzic catapulted himself to prominence in Bosnia as a Serb leader in 1990, as federal Yugoslavia began to crumble with nationalism surging in all of its republics.

Unlike Slovenia, Croatia or Macedonia, Bosnia had no clear majority – the Muslim Bosniaks made up 43 per cent, Orthodox Serbs 31 and Catholic Croats 17 per cent of the 4.4 million inhabitants. Warnings that the mix was too explosive to play with proved right.

When Slovenia and Croatia split from Yugoslavia – triggering wars – the majority in Bosnia wanted to split as well. Bosniaks and Croats, 64 per cent of the voters, backed independence with 98 per cent of the vote in a referendum which Serbs boycotted in early 1992.

Karadzic was adamant that Bosnia should not be allowed to pull out of Serbia-dominated Yugoslavia. He told the Bosnian parliament that “one people (Bosniaks) will disappear if war breaks out.”

By April war did break out. It lasted 44 months, claiming close to 100,000 lives, 38,000 of which were civilian. All that time Serb soldiers relentlessly shelled Bosnian capital Sarajevo, killing 10-12,000 people in its streets, with snipers also a constant menace.

With general Ratko Mladic – also on a genocide trial at the ICTY – under Karadzic's command and Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic supporting them from Belgrade, the Bosnian Serb forces terrorized the Bosniaks, seeking to create a Serb-only territory.

Seeing the war drawing to its end in 1995, Karadzic and Mladic moved to clear out a Muslim enclave under UN protection at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. The attack ended with the massacre of around 8,000 Bosniak boys and men and the expulsion of the remaining population.

The ICTY, established two years prior, launched war crime charges against Karadzic in 1995. He remained in the Serb part of Bosnia, forced out of all official roles by the international community, but still powerful.

Then he disappeared, reportedly on a tip-off that his arrest and extradition to the ICTY were imminent.

Hunted in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, despite calls from his mother and wife to surrender, Karadzic was not found until his arrest on a Belgrade public bus in July 2008.

It emerged later that he had fake documents for the assumed identity of Dragan Dabic, an alternative medicine healer. He had even published poetry while on the run.

As Dr. Dabic, he wore a massive beard hiding a characteristic chin dimple and a ponytail to control his unruly hair, both of which would have made him recognizable.

Now, 21 years after the Srebrenica genocide, eight years since his arrest and at 70 years-old, Karadzic faces judgment.

His alleged mentor, Milosevic, died a decade ago in ICTY detention before the court reached a verdict.

Related stories

ICTY prosecution requests life for Ratko Mladic

Karadzic faces judgement over Srebrenica genocide

Mladic's defence claims he is innocent

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