interview: marko vesovic

Marko Vesovic is a writer, a poet, and a former friend of Karadzic.


When did you meet Karadzic for the first time and what was he like?


Before I say anything about Karadzic, in one sentence, and I would like for you to take it out, and that is - If you speak about Karadzic today, it doesn't seem to be a very interesting matter. Because his case is very clear. He is a war criminal who should be taken to where his rightful place is - the International Court in the Hague. And every story in that context is not interesting. During the war, it was much more interesting to talk about Karadzic when we were being shelled. So, because I talked about him for a hundred times during the war, I can talk about him for the hundred and first time now. And now to return to your question.

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 Universe.

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 books.

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 board.

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 1972?


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 population.

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 time.

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 illness.

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 attitude.

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 Dedinje.

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 shell.


You renewed your contacts with Karadzic after you had broken the friendship.


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 incorporated...

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 Party).

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 politics.

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 the world.

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.



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