interview: marko vesovic


INTERVIEWER: How from the Karadzic you had described emerged this new Karadzic? The monster.


People on the street would stop me - Sarajevans, so Croats and Bosnians, so people not belonging to my nation, and ask, "How is it Professor", since I was pretty well known from TV, "how is it possible that from that man we had known as mannered, cultured, who'd shake your hand with both of his hands, how did he become this?"

Of course, I couldn't go into explaining a thing like that on the street, that's a delicate matter, for sitting down and discussing for half an hour.

But what I used was, to put it that way, a quotation. I had the fortune to know a man named Vitomir Lukic. In my opinion, he is one of the best Croatian writers after WW2 who used to live in Sarajevo and was incredibly intelligent. People often visited at his place. And then I would let him, it really wasn't a conversation, it was a monologue - I've always liked to listen to people. He could produce incredible essays at a spur of the moment, just record himself and it could go straight to the presses.

And once he spoke about the fact that in the human world everything is created by the situation. That our stories about character, about the fact that people have some kind of a character, morals, certain precise mental qualities - that all of that is suspicious, it's all very provisory. That it's a situation that makes a man who he is- so our life is played out inside the situations, it's almost an existentialist analysis. Our life can be divided into a series of situations, and every situation, we might say, is stronger than us. Even if we think, if we believe we have a certainty in our lives, a present, a preciseness - all of that is suspect, because in human life the situation is what pretty much acts as fate. Put a man in this or that situation, and you'll get what the situation demands.

Therefore, if instead of Karadzic, any other person, any random person came to the position of power in the Serbian Democratic Party, they would behave in exactly the same way as Karadzic did. That's why I think a psychological analysis of Karadzic is a futile cause. Why? Because he understood it as a job. The question of morality is not asked in his case.

INTERVIEWER: Would you behave the same way as Karadzic?


No, because I wouldn't get myself into that situation. I could have. They were all my friends... They were all my friends! Nikola Koljevic was one of my best friends, and that's what I said at the beginning of the war. Three best friends that I've ever had - they are Abdulah Sidran, Nikola Koljevic, and Rajko Nogo.

Rajko Nogo became a Nazi, you know what Nikola Koljevic became, and it hadn't even occured to me to get myself into that situation. I talked about it, I went with them three or four times when the Serbian Democratic Party was being founded, we went around the country. And the fourth time I was shocked by what I saw at Vasa Pelagic Hall on Grbavica. I came home to my wife and said, "My political career is over". Why? I saw five hundred people there who would slaughter our child if something happened the next day.

Finally, at the beginning of the war there was a comical event. I was nominated for the chairmanship of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I responded that my students would laugh when they heard that, because I'm not capable of putting a classroom in order, much less a country. I can't imagine myself in a situation where I am commanding, giving orders to anyone.

Obviously, Karadzic could easily imagine himself in that situation. So the crux is, when he finally got himself into that situation, the situation took over him. And now you could behave like this or like that, but he is in a situation of being a pupil of Milosevic and he has to perfectly carry out Milosevic's orders.

He had enough intelligence and sharpness to perfectly carrry out all the directions he learned at Dedinje, he got from the "main Boss" at Dedinje. Therefore, I want to say again, the matter of his psychological proclivities, even though it is also interesting, should be in the background.

Because what did he do? And he said this often. What he did, he never placed within a moral perspective. He never raised the question of good and evil. He'd say this, "That, the matter of morality, belongs to literature. This is history. History doesn't value the same morality that is valued in regular, normal human society. History has different goals, a different logic."

He was asked by the history of the Serbian nation and the Serbian nation to do a job. Therefore, you don't ask him whether the job is moral or immoral, he feels indebted to history to carry out the will of the history and the will of his people.

Therefore, I'm certain that Karadzic feels perfectly innocent, and if he ends up in the Hague and serves his sentence, he'll stay convinced until the end that he was wrongly sentenced and that he is completely innocent.


As a friend, as someone you knew, Karadzic did something terrible. He betrayed you. What was the most terrible thing that he did?


I've put it this way. Bosniaks can banish me from Sarajevo, with regard to what's been going on here. No matter where I may go, I will not stop writing about Karadzic and what he's done for one moment. So, regardless to what I did during the war, and it could really happen that I'll be banished, I don't know where, I'll still continue to write.

Karadzic brought my world down. To tell you one thing - I won't forget one single cry of my child, because of the shelling. Not one scream of my child when grenades started to fall - I'll never forgive him for that, and much less for the fact that he literally took this world as a piece of paper, crumpled it, and threw it away into the thrash.

This world, the way it was before the war in Bosnia, was for me a really normal, livable world. Maybe because I didn't know others - I didn't really leave the country.

Therefore, within that state, I chose Sarajevo for myself, as a city which responded to a certain morality I had, certain inclinations of mine. Of course, I am not bragging about Sarajevo, I am just praising it as the least negative of all the cities in the former Yugoslavia, i.e. the place where it's the least of all evils for me. I'd feel really bad in Montenegro, and I'd feel really bad in Belgrade. So I chose it, without praising it now, without "raising it up to heavens" (trans. note - looking at it through rose-colored glasses), as the city.

And that was a world which corresponded to my moral and spiritual notions. Then Karadzic comes along and wrecks it all. Of course, not just Karadzic, he was only the executor, Milosevic was doing the whole thing, but no matter, that doesn't lessen Karadzic's responsibility. Everyone is responsible for his own moral fate. Even if he was executing a hundred percent of Milosevic's orders - meaning that nothing was his idea, even if all of that were orders, Karadzic isn't any less of a criminal in my opinion.

We are therefore talking about the fact that he destroyed the only (human) world which I had known. And what I'll live in for the rest of my life will be - nowhere. Therefore, as the saying goes, that's how my beans have fallen. That's a consequence of this war. I now belong to the people who have lost this war. I am nowhere at the moment. I don't belong anywhere.

I've been lecturing on poetry my entire life. I have so many wonderful ideas that I need to turn into essays, for example about Tin Ujevic (trans. note - possibly the greatest Croatian Modernist poet). Yes. And now Croats ask, "What does he have to say about Tin Ujevic? Who is he to write about Tin Ujevic, he's just some unimportant Montenegrin. Or for example, I have excellent ideas about Ducic (trans. note - Serbian poet Jovan Ducic, known for love poetry). The Serbs will read that text and say, "Oh yes, now he's white-washing himself, because he spoke out against the Chetniks." I had suddenly realized that I was left without my spiritual homeland.

It was natural, entirely natural for me to write like that, and now suddenly it isn't natural. I'm a woolly mammoth, I'm a dinosaur, I'm an extinct race if I can't understand that Serbs write about Serbs now, Croats about Croats, and Bosniaks about Bosniaks. So that's just one example that bears witness as to how Karadzic divested me of my world.


You wrote here about spiritual freedom, which had, in your own words, a certain time, at the very beginning of your friendship with Karadzic, connected you to him. Is that what you're thinking of, that freedom which he has taken away from you?


Well, the point is that everything's turned out to be a lie now. So in Bosnia, and now I'm speaking strictly about Bosnia . Whenever you talk about whatever had happened in pre-war Bosnia, it becomes a lie now. In other words, you get the feeling that the story about the past becomes a false story. That's the basic thing. No matter how you look at it.

There are still people left... I have a circle of people, friends who think the same way, experience it the same way. It's a narrow circle of friends from which I can't step out. Because different storms are brewing outside that circle. Everyone will laugh at you. So it's completely natural that a circle of my friends exists for whom it is a matter of fact that I write the last text which I have written about a verse by Simic. Antun Branko Simic. He is a Bosnian-Herzegovinian poet, a Croat (trans. note - wrote between the two world wars).


You mentioned that Karadzic insisted on entering different worlds. So one of those worlds was the world of soccer. He insisted on being the psychologist of the Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) team in Belgrade. He told false stories about his son being a fantastic soccer player. What was so fascinating in soccer to him?


I don't know, but I would say that these are all stories which illustrate a certain trait of his I partly knew about. I didn't know it was so pronounced. His colleagues from work told me about it. They are psychiatrists whose job it is to understand people. They talked about an incredible characteristic Karadzic had, that he is able to turn physical reality into a lie.

So there is a physical reality we all see with our own eyes, and he's able to launch a story which obliterates what we see with our own eyes. Like the famous story about his wife being a Creole beauty. That's a story they told me.

So, young Karadzic came to the clinic, and at ten o'clock every morning they gathered in the doctor's lounge to discuss the work of the day. And after a while Karadzic started to tell a story about his wife who has a Creole kind of beauty, and so on. People didn't even doubt he had a beautiful wife. Why? Because he looked ... He was tall, handsome, etc. Witty, intelligent, so why not. But it was a little bit strange he put so much emphasis on this beauty.

And one morning, he went on, a certain male nurse, when there was no Karadzic in sight, ran into the room, into the doctor's lounge and said, "There's Karadzic's wife, by the entrance". The two of them got stuck in the door, trying to outrun each other to the door. This story exists in three versions. Anyway, the best version was told to me by Boro, my friend Boro. He said, "We got downstairs, when, what did we see? Ljilja, God damn it!"

So then, everyone tried to explain - he must have known we would see this woman. How could he have been telling fairy-tales, and these fairy-tales dissolve at the moment you see the original? The pinnacle of this kind of thing is the story about his son Sasha. The story that he is a magnificent soccer player. There is Koreja (trans. note - poor Sarajevo neighborhood by the railroad tracks) where all the criminals live, where great soccer is played, they can really kick the ball...

And he says, "In Koreja, he [beats] them all", he says, "none of them can lick his boots. He smashes them all when he plays!"

We thought, "Why not? Maybe he really does, such a young guy, why wouldn't he?" And it came to pass that they rented a hall in the Place of Physical Culture, you could rent a hall to kick a ball around for, say, two hours. They were already people who were advanced in years, already with beer bellies, forty or fifty years old. And they got together to play ball, and then the son Sasha comes along, who plays perfectly in Koreja.

And what happened? The first thing was, when he took his clothes off, he was fatter than any of us. He was a seventeen - eighteen year old guy who was fatter than all of us. Clumsier and fatter than all of us fifty year olds. The second thing, he couldn't even move around the playground. They placed him in the back position. Because it was funny to all of us - he didn't even know how to kick the ball.

And then we got together to talk about it. So really what, where does that need come from? No one ever asked him about Sasha. No one asked him if he knew how to play soccer or not. No one asked him about anything. Where does the need to praise his son as a perfect soccer player come from? And then to bring him along... He dared to bring him along and show off that he didn't know what he was doing.

And I said to them - that's the only... "The thing is ", I told them, "Karadzic has this impression of his wife, and of all he has and that's his, is first-class." Therefore, he's a great poet, a great psychiatrist, a great seducer and lover, a great father. His children are first class children; smart, handsome, capable, etc. He has a wife who is a Creole beauty. The fact that it has nothing to do with reality doesn't matter to him at all. That people catch him lying every step of the way doesn't matter.

He has built a wall, as I've said, between the truth about himself and his own, and himself - his consciousness. And that's the way I was explaining it to them. Otherwise, he wouldn't have brought his son to play soccer. Or it's possible that he'd forgotten about it - that's another version. He had said it, in some moment it struck him he wanted to lie, to brag, and he blurted it out. In the moment when he brought his son, everyone was remembering, and laughing at him. The young guy, it was as if he had just come from a village the day before. He had no clue, couldn't do the moves, nothing.

Therefore, that is Karadzic, that's who Karadzic is. If the physical reality does not correspond to his claims, then the reality should watch out.


And now a very prosaic question about his interest in soccer. After all, he was connected to it twice.


And that has to do with fame. Naturally. It has to do with fame. You know, if you are, when a Sarajevo soccer team gets good results, those are his results - he is the psychologist of the soccer team. And that's funny. Now that we're talking about prosaic things - it's really a joke. His colleagues told this story as a commentary.

How he went, and had the courage to go as a complete unknown. Only think how many first-rate psychiatrists there are in Belgrade, people with doctoral degrees, with published books, books that even I had read - people who dealt with culture and the analysis of culture, literature. So, all of them are first-rate specialists. And he was so convinced in his value that he'd be the one, he'd be the one for Crvena Zvezda (Red Star). There really were no psychiatrists in Belgrade - and he would be the one, as he said, to make Crvena Zvezda a champion - they'd all be champs. If he became their psychologist, Crvena Zvezda would become a world champion. They'd all be real life champs.

And when he said that to Dragan Djajic, one of the most famous, maybe even the most famous player of Crvena Zvezda, really the most famous - who later became the director when he got tired of it... He [Djajic] said this, "If you let this crazy doctor, if you let him in one more time in here, inside Crvena Zvezda offices, I'm going to quit and never show up again!"

So all of a sudden they removed the fool.

But what this really means is that he had the courage to stand in front of Djajic, to go to his team, and claim that he will perform a miracle. It's a proof that Karadzic really believes in it. Especially if it looks stupid to us, he believes in this exaggerated, ungrounded optimism. He really believed that he would make a world champion out of Crvena Zvezda.


He didn't get into Crvena Zvezda. Did he, however, have any successes while he was the psychologist of the Sarajevo soccer team?


Well I don't know that. You need to find people who who can say....And then there are a lot of stories about that, they are all from secondary sources. You'd have to find a person who led that team... Because you know, when it comes to telling stories... All the stories that I've told you are from the horse's mouth.

The ones that Ceric, Professor Ceric told me. Ceric was dear to Karadzic. Even today he [Ceric] calls him [Karadzic] "Raso". In spite of what he did to his clinic. In spite of the fact that he burrowed it with grenades. And by the order of the man who knew exactly where the offices were placed. Luckily, at the moment, no one was in the offices. So, in spite of all that he had a certain weakness for him. A weakness.

So when Karadzic moved to Belgrade, he got him a job through his people. When Karadzic came back because he didn't like it there, and you know why... Ceric knows the real reason why he came back - he didn't want to work there, work hard.


Why did he leave in the first place?


I don't know and I don't care. Anyway, he left to work in an out-patient clinic in Vracar, with another man. And then what? He really had to work there because he only there was only one other person working there. They worked in shifts. It wasn't like here, where you have many psychiatrists, so one does one thing instead of you, someone else another. And he didn't like that - working. And he came back. Ceric knew exactly why he'd come back.

And what followed was Karadzic's explanation as to why he'd come back, "Cera, man, it's just one Cincar and Gipsy on top of another up there!" (trans. note - Cincar is a derogatory name for Romanians in Serbia) He was talking about Serbs, then. And when Ceric tried to defend them, because he'd been up there in Belgrade, and said, "How can you talk like that, I know these people, I used to talk up there, they gave me a wonderful welcome".

"Well, you, you're a guest. It's easy for you. It's a different matter, they behave towards you like they would towards a foreigner, a guest, they have to show themselves in the best possible light. But what they were doing to me... It was all... There's no people like the people in Bosnia, I tell you. These are the good people."

And now, these good people, about whom he spoke so nicely, we know what he did to them later.


What was Karadzic's relation with the church?


One of the most grotesque, most comic things--throughout this war, when I see him in these celebrations kissing the hand of the Patriarch, participating in the ceremonies, etc. Especially horrible to me was that you can slaughter so many civilians, and then come and - "smack" - kiss his hand.

And it was funny that I am an atheist. And I'll die as an atheist - I know that. Karadzic was even worse than me! If what I know is... The other thing was that he knew that you had to participate in that ritual and ceremony, etc. etc. You quickly had to become a Serb, a believer quickly, an orthodox quickly. God was much farther from Karadzic than from me...and I am an atheist.

Karadzic and the church, and religion and God, for me, in my mind, the way I know him, is something I cannot connect. He hever talked about it, it was beyond his horizons. Do you understand?

Suddenly, there he was, he passed for a real Serb, a real Serb Orthodox overnight, and suddenly he's breaking bread, reading the litany - it's all a comedy to me. First of all, he never knew that. He had no clue about it. Now, I don't know, maybe his wife was teaching him all of a sudden, she's from a different type of a family. She was from a bourgeois family of a Serb - Voja Zelen - whom I liked a lot. He died a long time ago. Maybe his wife knew these things and taught him overnight.

But he, as far as we know about him - he's a typical unbeliever, a man without God. And then suddenly overnight it happened. On one hand he became a believer, and on the other he became a criminal. So the greater believer [he became], the greater criminal. That's really, and I really think that a person who believed in God could never do that, and believes in the hereafter, in punishment, in hell. I really don't think so. If he truly believed that either a punishment or a reward was waiting for him in the other world, I think he'd have to think about what he was doing. Everything he's done during the war speaks of the fact that he's three times more of an infidel than I am.

Besides, there is one other thing - there's no nation in Europe as naturally irreligious as the Montenegrins are. For example, we used to have a theocracy - so the patriarch, i.e. a churchman was the head of the state. The patriarch went to battle, and was the leader of Montenegrins in battles. I'm sorry, but where else in Europe did that exist? So the ecclesiastical man, when there is a battle with the Turks, heads the army and is the first in line to die or the first to fight.

Really, you had to go through much trouble in Montenegro to find one truly religious man, who lived in and for those ideas, etc. It's natural in Montenegro, and it's not a question of atheism, but it's natural to be a man for whom the Christianity is a kind of a custom. Because of custom people go to church - "Let's go to church, it's the custom".

Because of custom you take Communion when you have to take Communion, I don't know anymore when that's done... Anyway, it's a kind of a tradition. And these are gatherings, "We got together, saw each other at church" etc.

And that doesn't... I don't think the Serbs are any different. I mean, I don't think that at all. Twelve percent of Serbs were christened in 1991 - no one was stopping them from being christened and believing in God. Just as the Catholics weren't either. Look at Catholics. So, you could go to church without any problems and believe in God and pray. Twelve percent of Serbs, then, did the basic ritual of christening. The basic ritual of entering the Christian faith. So why should we talk about that nation, then?


Since the time two of your friends became Nazis, has any change occurred in you? Was your faith in human nature destroyed?


It was destroyed and how! First, keep in mind there was a war. Not only because of those two people, but war in general. During the war, so many prohibitions were broken. Human nature is founded on certain prohibitions. They are listed in the Bible - thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, etc. So even such ingrained prohibitions were broken. As soon as the prohibitions were broken, suddenly the field is open - everything is permitted. In the sense that if there is no God in the world, everything is permitted. I'd remember that phrase hundreds of times.

You put God, i.e. the Ten Commandments, aside, and suddenly everything is permissible. During this war you could see all kinds of thingsThere is still the matter of individual psychology. There is morality, I know people who became three times better during the war than they were before it. Who were much more afraid to do something ugly during the war and make a mistake. Perhaps because they saw death around them all the time and then they took it too far - they became saints.

And on the other side of the coin, there are people who became much worse than they were in peace. That's clear. I, however, my worst disappointment is "the folk" as an idea. To put it just like that - the folk. Before the war I had a different picture of the people. There are all kinds of elements in the people.

I had thought that "the folk" was an ambivalent term. I realized one thing during this war - the folk is just cattle. I.e. that television, radio, newspapers, that the media are so powerful that they destroyed the folk, they destroyed the folk as a source of cleverness, intelligence, moral health, and that all that was left is cattle. That using television, radio, newspaper etc. it's easy to make the folk into cattle, a useless mass.

That is one of my greatest disappointments and greatest shocks I ever had, that the people can be deceived so much that they became cattle through the manipulation of the media. I think that's a much bigger disappointment than the disappointment in human nature. In the end everyone is personally responsible for his own moral destiny and behaves in a way he wants. But the fact that huge masses of people can be turned into cattle and people who were normal before become criminals - I'm much more shocked by that than with individuals who were until yesterday one way and then turned into something else.


On a much more intimate level--How deeply were you affected by the fact that the people who were so close to you before, became criminals and turned into something that is so removed from you?


Those are things I thought about for a long time - during the whole war. I had enough time while I was in the basement waiting for the shelling to stop. For example, Nikola Koljevic remains a puzzle to me to this day. Because when I think about Karadzic he is not a mystery. There is no reason for me to think the transformation of the Karadzic of before to the Karadzic of today as mysterious. It seems very logical to me, no matter that other people cannot understand.

Nikola Koljevic is a much bigger mystery to me. I knew Nikola ten times better. For the last ten years I was the first person to read the essays he wrote and I was the first to discuss them with him. I spent so much time talking to him about poetry and literature and it took me a lot of time to conceptualize and explain to myself how it was possible from that Nikola to become this. And then I came to an answer, that, so to speak...

He looked kind of physically handicapped. A Serbian woman said that to me, really a Serbian. When I talked to her during the war, she said, "How is it really possible? That the former Nikola became this?" I told her the whole story- what I knew, all the possible explanations. She said, "No, that doesn't explain anything to me". She said, "He's a short man, short, tiny, small".

"I had a grandmother", she said, "who said, 'child, I don't know what else to tell you or advise you, except one thing - run away from a short man!'"

That's one of the explanations. He's a small man, handicapped, looks funny physically, and suddenly he became a man everybody is looking up to. And he's supposed to give speeches, prophecies are expected to come from his mouth. Here's the power, here's the money! That's a possible explanation. One of the possible explanations.

But that doesn't satisfy me either. The other explanation is that all his life he was in the shadow of his older brother, Svetozar Koljevic. They were of the same vocation, both Svetozar and Nikola were professors. But Svetozar was five times better as a professor than Nikola. Both were literary critics but Svetozar incomparably better as a critic. And people always mistook them for each other.

One scene: Milivoj Solar, a known Croat critic and theoretician came to the Faculty in Sarajevo. The story goes like this. Nikola introduced himself and said, "I am Koljevic". And Solar said, "Oh, you're Koljevic, you are writing marvelous stuff. At the University of Zagreb we released your book at the Department of Literature as part of the curriculum. The Triumph of Intelligence is on the reading list of the students at the Philosophical Faculty".

Nikola said, `Unfortunately, my brother wrote that book.'

That is a scene I will never forget, an example of why he ran away to politics. And finally then no one took him for his brother. Now he became a player.

There is a much simpler explanation for Nogo. Since Nogo went to Belgrade in 1984 or 1985, he became another person. Any time when I saw him afterward I saw the transformation in him. He entered into a completely different world and I saw that the Serb in him grew and grew - a long time before this war started. When I talk about Nogo, it's the Nogo I was friends with in Sarajevo.

But I have to admit, Nikola Koljevic killed himself or somebody killed him, we don't know that, it doesn't matter. He still remains a mystery. Everything is possible, but still I have no real explanation. Probably there was material in him that helped make him what he became, material that I wasn't noticing. Why? I always judged people by their the best qualities. So, if someone is a good writer I could forgive thousands of other things, on the moral level. So, he'd simply write well. So I judged people by their best qualities, neglecting the others. In peacetime it's good to judge according to the good in people.

In a war, unfortunately, the worst in people comes to the surface. So it's possible that Nikola in peace had the material to become what he had become, without me noticing it. I passed by it as if passing by something that's unimportant. For me he was a professor, he wrote about poetry, I was also writing about poetry, we had that in common, he was very perceptive and sensitive in that, and all the other things were unimportant. It's only in the war when the slaughtering began, what was unimportant before became of great importance.


These are all explanations, Marko, but what did you feel?


What I felt? Well, I said what I felt was that my whole world came down, of course. I used to say often, and I'll repeat it now, that I will have enough strength to write a book called Memoirs from the Other Side of the Grave. It's not my title, it's the French author Chateaubriand, a French Romantic writer and this is his title. These days I feel pretty posthumous. And I want to ... All of what I'm saying, doesn't hurt me anymore, as if it happened to someone else. I can talk about everything - Karadzic, Koljevic, Nogo, whoever you want. These stories are now distant from me, I tell them as if they didn't happen to me, as if they have nothing to do with me.

So what I want to say, is that when my child was crying because of the shelling that Nikola, my best friend was sending to her, the only thing I could do was curse him, to find the worst curses and cusses and Montenegrans are masters in both cursing and cussing. And I wrote them down, because that was a psychological piece of information.

At one moment when I went berserk, when I had a minor nervous breakdown because of Nikola's shelling there in the cellar I started to curse him and said, "Nikola, if only God made you to eat the roasted flesh of your son, Srdjan! Etc. That's the way Montenegrans curse. So I think that is enough to show you what I felt for my former friends.

Or, there is an even worse one, `Let god burn everything that belongs to you except (trans. note - the one thing that should burn).your baptismal candle! The baptismal candle on your Serbian Orthodox holy day!' Simply, all the most horrible curses I remembered from my mother. That was the only way for me to defend myself from insanity. I think only those curses and cusses can give you an inkling of what I felt, while grenades were falling on me, my closest ones, my fellow Sarajevans.


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