I came to Sarajevo in 1963, and then a group of very interesting people came
together at the Faculty, mostly the Yugoslav Literatures Department, and these
people later didn't stop their involvment in literature, so some of them became
quite well known. So it was seven or eight truly gifted people and we lived
together, we were friends. We were enthusiasts and we lived for literature -
literature was, for us, the most important thing on the planet, in the
Karadzic had enrolled at the Medical Faculty and he was someone who, to put it
plainly, for whom you could say, "Well, he too dabbles in writing, so let him
be with us." Although, no one ever took seriously his writing because of the
simple reason that - I don't think it was just our generation - but I think it
was our generation who had stated the following terms: if you want to be
involved in serious literature you have to read it, a lot of it. You have to
study it, you have to know what it stands for, you have to have read certain
And for Karadzic it was a hobby. He studied medicine, and while he studied
medicine he wasn't capable of reading anything else at the same time. He had
also had a high school diploma from the medical vocational school, not even a
gymnasium. Why do I talk about this? Because we had considered his case
hopeless, as far as literature is concerned. Therefore, a man who hadn't even
graduated from a gymnasium doesn't even have an elementary idea of what
literature is. But, there he was, writing something, so we let him come on
So, this could have been somewhere around '64 or '65, I'm not exactly sure. In
any case, it was over thirty years ago. So, he was someone who would become a
physician one day, and who we accepted in our company, letting him ride on our
tails in a way. I really did associate with Karadzic, and I have to admit that
I was his friend until 1971 or 1972 - again I'm not sure. I just know it was
the end of '71 and beginning of '72 when I broke off my contact with him
because I thought he was a police informer.
A colleague of mine from the Faculty says that there are three things you can
never prove - that someone is a whore, that someone is a police informer and I
can't remember what the third thing was. However, on the basis of certain
facts, the existence of certain proofs, I felt compelled to stop all
connections with him because I didn't want to wonder if, when he is in my home,
whether he was spying on me or not, whether he was an informer.
For about ten years I didn't have any contacts with him and when I renewed my
acquaintance with him, it wasn't real friendship. It could not have been real
friendship. Besides other things, this was a man who had changed. He wasn't the
same man he was in his youth - all of a sudden this was a man who was obsessed
with money. And that is one of the explanations for why he later became what he
had become. Because we can say whatever we want, but that man got money for
this. He got money for what he had done - loads and loads of money.
And besides other reasons, he became a war criminal because, and this was even
announced by the television and newspapers in Serbia, that he came out of this
war worth one hundred and eighty million Deutschmarks. So, he was worth 180,
000,000 Deutschmarks. Therefore, when I remember the Karadzic with whom I had
renewed my acquaintance, who was obsessed with money, with making money...
I once asked him, "All right, you'll be making money, and so what?" And then he
suddenly remembered he was some kind of a poet too. Because we were all poets
who had decided to be involved with literature, and who had made a conscious
choice to be poor! As we indeed were. Each and every one of us.
Because he probably thought I was asking him something along the lines of
whether he knew how someone could be a poet and still be obsessed with money.
So he said, "You know, it's good to have something to leave to your children."
"Yeah, really", I said. Even Chichikov, the hero of Gogol's great novel Dead
Souls, makes all those shady deals with money and he wanted to earn money,
because as Gogol says, he was very concerned for his children, for his progeny,
even though he wasn't married and didn't have any children. It reminded me of
Chichikov's concern for his children.
That is to say...It's really about a man who was really something else until
'71 or '72. At least that was my impression of him until I broke off with him,
and after that he was really different.
And what was your experience with him until 1970 - well, really 1971 nad
There's, there's one basic thing. Karadzic was a man who, from my perspective,
a literary perspective... Karadzic was a man who preferred to talk about his
literary talent and greatness to working. We knew very well that literature is
a bloody job, that it's hard labor. He was a typical lazy Montenegran.
Montenegrans are known for being lazy. I don't know to what extent this is
true, but there's no doubt that for me, Karadzic was the stereotype of a lazy
Montenegran. He was not willing to sit down, study, look at the books, read.
He preferred to speak of his big literary plans. There is a novel he started
to write 30 years ago...and he never finished it.
Karadzic, the way he appears now before my eyes as he had been before he
started to deal with politics, I seem to recognize in him the traits of a
typical Montenegrin megalomania. That is, of course, just one part, we can't
explain his qualities by the qualities of his people. He, well, prefers to say
that he is a Serb, and let him be a Serb, but I know that he is a Montenegran,
that he is from Montenegro, and I recognize the Montenegran in him.
You know, Montenegrans are a very small nation, there are only 400,000 of them,
there were always few of them. That's why Montenegrans always thought that one
of them must be worth 10 others to compensate for this lack in the
A poet once said, "We Montenegrans are a small nation, even with our dead." I
know a lot of Montenegrans that speak, in a megalomaniac way, about their
manly, Montenegran glory which is really just baloney. We'd listen to that
thinking; it was harmless. He is a liar who produces lies and those lies turns
against him more than against those around him, that is, a lier who has to lie
because...I talked to his colleagues, his co-workers from the clinic who also
know him perfectly well. He is the man who destroyed everything whatever he
took in his hands.
For example, when he took up business, he began building a chicken farm, I
think, I don't know, in Pale, and he finished in a prison for eleven months. I
remember very well when as a young man he started to make his career as
seducer, because he was tall, thin, with a Montenegran mug. And when those
women started to go through his room, different women, bad things happened.
He stumbled upon a woman who was quite ugly but wise, who waited until it was
too late to abort a baby and forced him to marry her. For us, I remember very
well, that was a catastrophe. Young guys that have high criteria, he was good
looking, and he married a woman, for whom at the time the best comparison was -
this is not mine - she looked at that time heavy as an artillery horse (trans.
note - a horse pulling heavy artillery, e.g. a cannon).
He had a breakdown. He started writing some kind of poems - they looked
horrible. Except maybe that last book of his which Nikola Koljevic and I were
editing. We even put our own lines in - so maybe you could find something
there. His great plan was to become a well-known psychiatrist but at the same
time he tried to write a dissertation. For 20 years he was changing the topic
of that dissertation. He wanted to write a thesis on Ivo Andric and then he
changed his mind and then he found someone else and
changed his mind.
So eventually... And I forgot about this - for ten years he tried to write his
M.A. thesis and then on the eve of the war he decided to write about different
kinds of depression. His colleague told me about it. He said that he'd found
two, three books in English about depression and he didn't know English at that
When we were watching him during the war, at the beginning of the war, on TV
from Pale, all of us could see what kind of English he could speak - Pidgin
English. He said, full of pride, that he'd read those two books in English, he
came to his colleagues and he said, Well, now I know everything about
depression. There is no one in Yugoslavia who knows more on the subject than
me! And they looked at him and laughed to themselves and they said, Well, there
are two or three hundred books on depression in the world, which you have to
read and then you can say you know something about depression." And he'd only
read one percent of that.
Now we come to the central issue. He is a born politician.
A very good aphorist from Belgrade said, "It's not that they are war criminals,
that's just the program of our party (our party line)". If the times weren't
what they were, but normal times, he still would have been like that. He's a
born politician because of his absolute self-confidence.
And because of his optimism. In my opinion, a politician is by definition a
born optimist. He really did have these characteristics which would have made
him a politician even in a different kind of time when butchering people and
changing the borders wasn't a part of it. The point is, I have talked to his
colleagues and I didn't know how to find the right description for him. But
they did. He is a psychopath. You know, being a psychopath is a very dangerous
You can be a psychopath and still perfectly function in society. A lot of
people are psychopaths...perhaps I am one too. In any case, that was their
diagnosis, all of them said the same thing, we're not talking about just one
person's. You see a psychopath, a psychopath suffers from the feeling of
psychological deficiency. A feeling of a psychological gap, a defficiency.
So now, we have fiction, there are stories he made up about his greatness, his
talents, his genius, his merits, his masculinity and his good looks and with
all those stories he wanted to fill that psychological hole, to cover with
words all that he lacked. Actually he had an inferiority complex that made him
believe that he is not sufficient as a human being.
That is a definition given by his friends, and which I think was very accurate
at the time. Considering that I'd known him too and that he did say what he
said in other places. And I knew that what was behind it was that he had to
convince himself that he was a somebody, because his results (the facts) were
spelling failure. So what he did was he erected a wall between himself and the
truth and he'll never dare to look at what is behind that wall. With that wall,
he knew he didn't see his own face and the truth about that face and he will
die by that wall believing that he's a great man.
What was interesting in him to you during this period and made you want to
be close to him?
Well, he had some qualities. Whoever underestimated his intelligence during the
war, made me angry. You know how it is when you have the image of a monster in
front of you, everyone says, "Well, look at him, he's ugly, horrible,
stupid..." That is not true. He had intelligence, he had a real mountain-man's,
peasant shrewdness. The fact is that he didn't have the willpower, the
wherewithal, the dilligence to polish this kind of shrewdness. I don't even
think he was wholly without a talent, but he never found his own literary
voice. He always stayed at the level of imitation. He was an imitator. He was
capable of imitating someone else's voice, whether it was the voice of Georg
Trakl, who is a great Austrian poet, or Momcilo Nastasijevic, a great Serbian
poet, or of Vasko Popa, a great Serbian poet ( He is really Macedonian - trans.
note) or of Rajko Novo who was his colleague.
Therefore, it's not true that he didn't have any talent, that he wasn't
intelligent. Now, it is also true that we were young at that time and we
couldn't discern real qualities from the fake ones. All possibilities were
before us but most of us knew we literally had to slave over our work. But he
thought that what God gave him at birth was enough and that he could achhieve
everything with just that. Mentally, psychologically, that is a negative
My perception of him always was that he was a person made of clay. There is a
word `rahatlokum' in Bosnia, and that is a desert like jello and he was like a
person made of jello, malleable, that can be eaten or taken with
coffee...little by little. He was a man made out of rahatlokum.
He is simply a man without a core (a center). He didn't have it as a human
being nor as a poet. He was the kind of man who needed all his life to have
someone who would tell him what to do - whether it was his wife in the house or
even in his poem he has to have someone better than him to tell him what to do. It was quite
natural that he functioned perfectly in Pale because he had a commander in
And Milosevic had a perfect student. I maintain that 95% of what happened in
Bosnia was the product of Milosevic's mind, those were his commands and his
ideas. Maybe five percent of it he did for his own pocket, for his personal
enjoyment and pleasure. So maybe, all in all, that was all that had come from
his head and his ideas - in the rest he was a perfect imitator and in politics
he perfectly followed Milosevic's orders just like in literature he perfectly
imitated other ideas and other styles.
Therefore, a man without a human core. And that is something we didn't really
see in the beginning. Because in youth all of us are full of vitality, energy,
eager to do everything, However, after the student demonstrations of 1968 we
noticed a certain aura around him and he became a suspicious person. And it
was natural that police wanted to find a spy among students and it was natural
that Radovan was that target because at that time he had a child and wife so it
was easiest to blackmail him. For me it was unbelievable that the police could
break the personality of one of us so he would tell on us.
So that is the basic feeling, that you can mold him into what you need, that he
didn't have the moral fiber, or even a mental strength, that he was kind of
plasma, that he was a plasmatic being. That is something that I noticed after
our early youth. After the early years, it's a different story. In our early
youth we are lit by a kind of flame, and as soon as the youth is gone,
people's characters develop. The first thing I realized was that he was a
tepid personality, a weakling, without any strength, a sea-shell without its
You renewed your contacts with Karadzic after you had broken the
There is an interesting story there. Rajko Nogo lived here and he was my best
friend until he went to Belgrade and he is now one of the worst Serbian racists
- it's not even nationalism anymore. So then, he said to me at that time, `Do
you really think Karadzic is still a spy?' Well, for me it was not so
important. In 1971 wrote one story for which I was reprimanded for by the
communists. So in those days, Karadzic didn't leave his house. So he was
listening to everyone coming in, listening to all the stories, cursing the
government, the people were young and energetic - I was really, truly outside
the politics and what happened was accidental. I don't remember exactly what
the topic of my story and I finally became indifferent to the reprimand, when
Nogo tells me, "Do you really think he's a spy?" I told him I didn't care
anymore and that I'd rather have a have my own Montenegran inform against me
than someone from Bosnia who didn't know me at all, and he really knew me.
I wanted to say something else related to Karadzic - as a person who was
completely different after our renewed contact. In the intervening time when we
had no contact Karadzic had incorporated himself perfectly into urban life.
When I say perfectly incorporated, I mean successfully incorporated. He was a
man who had made a home, he had got an apartment - I didn't have one. He and
his wife had a job.
Karadzic was working as a psychologist for the Sarajevo football team - one of
the two biggest teams in Bosnia, and one of the famous teams in the former
Yugoslavia. He also worked in (inaudible) - which was a huge company, a giant
company in Sarajevo and Bosnia before the war. I know very well, he would go
to Vares. He had some kind of an aunt there. So it was a man who had perfectly
incorporated into the urban world.
He held `soirees', how shall I put it, people of different nationalities would
get together - Serbs, Montenegrans, Muslims, Bosniaks, Jews... That was the
proof that he made good social contacts. The creme de la crema, the elite
gathered there, told stories, there were delicacies. I went once, but only once
- and I didn't like it- It was unbearably snobbish. I know him, he's a peasant
just like I am, I could imagine people like that gathering around me, but for
him it was poof that he was fitting in perfectly into that world.
For me, that's one of the great symbols of the prewar Karadzic. The Karadzic
with great social intelligence. It was because of a computer telephone book.
The first time I ever saw one was at his place. Later it became something
common. So, I heard this from a medical man who worked in the same hospital
with him. He only told me this: he said,
"Karadzic showed me his computer phone book once, and said, 'My Hamdo, there
are 1,500 names in this phone book.' "
That is typical of Karadzic.. that is a man with widespread connections. I
remember being shocked.
The phone rang once I happened to be at his place, he answered it and spoke to
the academician Alojz Benec - one of those people to whom I could only have
said "Good day, Professor" out of respect if I saw him on the street. He was
making plans for dinner with him, so they were going out to dinner, and saying,
"I'm sorry, Professor, but could we move it up to the day after tomorrow,
instead of tomorrow?"
My jaw dropped. I thought to myself, "I'd be ashamed to... What would I even
have to say to Benec?"
The second thing is, that was only one side of it. The other thing is, if
you're car breaks down, and you want an excellent mechanic who wouldn't rip you
off, overcharge you, Karadzic would dial a number and say, "Listen, I'm sending
a friend over to your shop, please don't rip him off, man."
So, from a car mechanic to Alojz Benec... He had perfect connections, he was so
That's why I just wanted to explode from frustration when he started to speak
about his jeopardized position in Sarajevo. And he continued talking about it
when he left for Pale, he who had been persecuted, those who had abused him
during communism, "exiled" him to America.
To New York for a year. And no one offered anything like that to me. And that's
a secret we were never able to solve. I thought they sent him as a medical
doctor. His doctor colleagues thought they had sent him as a writer.
During the war I once talked to his doctor friends about it. And I said, "That
was when you sent Karadzic to America, to New York for a year".
"Who sent him", they said.
"You did, surely".
"That's out of the question", they said.
"That could not have happened under any criteria at all, because we never sent
anyone, it was absolutely out of the question for us to send someone to do
their specialization elsewhere. He finished his specialization in 1980, and he
left for America in 1974. We thought you writers had sent him".
"We writers? He was a zero as a writer! What would he, besides, he doesn't
even speak English."
Among other things, he went to study English culture, or Anglo-Saxon culture
and literature, he couldn't even croak in English. It's remained a secret as to
who sent him, I know it surely wasn't the PEN, I know it wasn't the hospital.
Who sent him? Now I can only tell you the rumours - that KOS sent him (The
Counterintelligence Agency) of the former Yugoslavia, but those are things that
cannot be checked, about which we can only talk.
How did he get involved in politics? Was it his initiative, did someone push
him into it?
Here's what I know: at the beginning he was in that Green Party. So, defending
nature - when those parties sprang up. And suddenly, it was strange to
everyone, when he all of a sudden - and I think I was out of the country during
that summer, anyway when I came back from my vacation, I'm not really sure
where I was - Karadzic had become the head of SDS (Serbian Democratic
I know one thing, and I've always stood by this - half of the credit that
Karadzic became a war criminal goes to his wife, and half to everything else -
to Milosevic, and the situation, and the circumstances, and ideology, and
money, etc. I know that, and I'll stand by it until I die.
And here's why - there was a time when Karadzic was very moderate, he had to be
a moderate because he needed the votes of Muslims and Croats. So, before the
election, when he weaved wonderful stories on TV... So my acquaintances would
come up and say, "That Karadzic of yours..." For example, he'd give an
interview at night again, and they'd say, "Listen, that Karadzic of yours...
Finally someone smart and moderate to get into politics." And so on.
And he talked beautifully here. He knew perfectly well what to say to whom.
That's what makes him a politician. He has the perfect ability to know who
wants to hear what from him. For example, what a woman wants to hear and what a
man wants to hear. What Serbs, what Croats and what Muslims like. He had the
ability to say perfectly exactly what you wanted to hear. So before the
elections, wanting the Croatian and Muslim votes, he told these sugary stories
about Bosnia, centered on neighborhood idea.
The neighbor is something holy to a Serb, etc. etc. Eh, but at the same time I
knew what his wife was saying. She's a mean and evil woman. She said, I'm not
exactly sure, her family was killed by the Ustashe somewhere around Livno or
Duvno, I'm not sure now, anyway, it was in Herzegovina. I don't know how many
exactly, but she said it was 23 people. It is beyond doubt that her family had
suffered, but how many or what happened, I don't know.
And then she said... While Karadzic was telling magnificent stories on TV, she
was saying this, "Now it's time for us to fuck their mothers". Literally,
here's what she said, "What does it mean, fuck their mothers? Everyone's who
was an Ustasha. Eh, we know there were Muslims who were Ustashe, there were
Croats from Croatia..." So retribution, and "we'll fuck their mothers, of all
of them." She wasn't hiding that at all.
So when you compared what that woman was saying and what Karadzic was saying
.... (inaudible) ... I thought, knowing her influence over him, "This woman
will make a monster out of this man." That's what flashed through my head. But
then I thought that well, maybe women are not so powerful as to influence
However, that's probably true, that he became a sick man, dependent on his
wife. I was stunned when an Italian journalist also discovered that when he was
in Pale. I read an interview with Ljilja Karadzic, i.e. his wife, published in
an Italian magazine, maybe Corriere de la Sera. I had a friend who translated
it for me. It's a fantastic interview - among other things, the journalist who
didn't have any private information about his wife, wrote that Karadzic has a
parliament session, and every once in a while he stops the session so he could
go out and confer with his wife. That's what he recorded, without knowing what
was going on - it was simply a detail he saw and recorded.
That's Karadzic and that's his wife. So, when he was simply out of energy or
ideas he went out to ask for his wife's advice, to refill his batteries, store
up on energy, etc.
You've talked about Karadzic as a politician. However, at what moment did
you realize that he had crossed a boundary, that he entered into a situation
where from a politician he turned into someone capable of inexplicable
cruelties? When did you realize that?
In the last six months, I simply avoided them. Of course, without thinking
that there was going to be a slaughterhouse in Bosnia. I simply saw that they
became different people, that they came to power, and you could see how the
power changed them - the authority, the money...
So I thought that Karadzic, that he wasn't, OK, so he deals with politics and
all that, but I still had an impression of Karadzic that didn't match up with
what I could see, and this was at the beginning of the war. I'm not exactly
sure, never ask me about dates, I don't remember them well. I only know this -
we were still hoping that the war would stop. As if a misunderstanding had
happened - human consciousness could not possibly agree to evil, to a war. We
thought it was entirely monstrous, that there was a war in Sarajevo, and Bosnia
as a whole.
And then there was the constant question of will there be a war, won't there be
a war... Then, the foreigners were coming, then someone was dragging things
out, negotiations, etc.
And then the Bosnian, that is, the intelligence service, which secretly
recorded a series of Karadzic's conversations, which they played later, with
his military commanders, with Mladic, etc., I think all of that is known around
One of these Karadzic conversations was recorded, the most of which I forgot,
but one sentence remained in my mind forever. The thing is, one of his
commanders, obviously one of his commanders, told him that the people weren't
obeying orders. And this is what it kind of meant - that there were people
there still who refused to pick up their guns and kill their neighbors, with
whom they had lived until yesterday.
And now comes Karadzic's reply, that goes like this, "Shoot every motherfucker
who refuses to do his duty!" The voice which said this shocked me. And it was
forever engraved in my mind. Because for me, all I had known about Karadzic up
to then, dissolved in one second. I only realized that it wasn't the same man;
that weakling, that clay... He became someone who had control over the life and
death of his own nation. "I can just imagine", I thought, "what he does to
others when he orders executions of his own copatriots who refuse to get their
guns and do their duty".
And only until then, only until then, I could think this way and that way, but
I suddenly realized, with this sentence, that the war wouldn't stop. That it's
impossible to stop when you have, in the meantime, I couldn't understand the
word "monster". None of the news about what he'd done in and around Bosnia
hadn't reached us. And for a long time after that, too, I think, even two
months after - only later people started to talk. I only saw that I had a
different man before me. It wasn't him, it was someone else.