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As Radovan Karadzic's war crimes trial approaches in The Hague, Serbian pride blossoms in Banja Luka.
BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — As international prosecutors in The Hague prepare to launch their case against Radovan Karadzic, accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war, at home his dream of a Bosnian Serb state lives on.
Here in the Bosnian Serb capital, it’s the red, blue and white flag of the Republika Srpska that flutters from buildings, not the blue and yellow standard of Bosnia. In this largely autonomous, Serb-run region within Bosnia, few feel much loyalty to the state that emerged from the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war.
Instead, there’s still a strongly held belief that Serbs were the victims, not the aggressors in the Bosnian war, a brutal conflict that left an estimated 100,000 dead. The distant tribunal trying Karadzic is widely seen as dispensing little more than victor’s justice.
“He’s probably guilty of something, but he’s not the only one,” said Bojan Solaja, general manager of the International Press Center, a consulting and public relations organization in Banja Luka. There’s an unfair perception, he said, that “only Serbs are causing problems.”
Karadzic, the president of the Bosnian Serbs from 1992 to 1996, was arrested in Serbia last July after 13 years on the run. On Oct. 26, his trial on 11 counts including genocide is scheduled to begin at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, although Karadzic has threatened to boycott the trial saying he has not had enough time to prepare his defense.
According to prosecutors, Karadzic helped plan and organize the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs from parts of Bosnia, as well as the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys when the United Nations safe haven in Srebrenica fell. He is also accused of terrorizing the citizens of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during the four-year-long sniper siege of the city.
But here in the leafy city of Banja Luka, few accept the charge that Serbs are guilty of conducting a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
Like many here, Momcilo, a 76-year-old veteran of the Yugoslav Army who passes many of his days in a Banja Luka park with other retirees, blamed Croats, Muslims and the international community for the Bosnian war. He said Serbs were only trying to defend Yugoslavia and keep it together.
“All the Serbian people, they were just protecting the idea of Yugoslavia. It was normal that Yugoslavia should be preserved,” he said.