Zimmerman was the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia
I first met Radovan Karadzic in the fall of 1990 during the campaign for
the first free elections in Bosnia. He was visibly uneasy at accepting a
restaurant lunch in Sarajevo from the American Ambassador; he was wary
in appearance and guarded in comment. His manner of speech was
low-key and courteous; but the content wasn't.
As he explained, in paranoid terms, his conviction that the election was
being rigged against his Serbian nationalist party, I formed two
strong impression of him that stayed with me over our frequent
First, this was a man obsessed by the imagery of violence. Words
like "war," genocide," "annihilation," and "hell" speckled his language.
The world of his imagination and politics was a world of conflict in
which Serbs were the eternal victims.
Second, Karadzic created a field of force around himself that
radiated tension. Many Serbs have a sense of humor. Not Karadzic.
This prophet of doom and disaster was deadly serious at all times.
Karadzic's philosophy, which he repeated to me like a broken record,
was simple. Bosnian Serbs deserved to control most of Bosnian territory.
Confronted with the fact that they made up less than a third of the
Bosnian population, he argued that they had been a majority in the past.
"Serbian graves must be counted as well."
He had no hesitation in inventing history to support his case, and
he dealt in the crudest of racial stereotypes. Croats were "Nazis,"
Muslims were "Turks." Serbs on the other hand were generous,
peaceful and incapable of hatred - a description that clashed with
his obsessive celebration of conflict and war.
After about a year of seeing Karadzic, I came to believe that
he was mad. His convictions about Serbian superiority and Muslim and
Croatian perfidy surpassed the bounds of any human logic. His
extolling of violence, made somehow more ominous by his
soft-spoken style, transcended any objective that violence could achieve.
A psychiatrist himself, he seemed to me a man who needed
psychiatric care, a person without moral compass or restraint.
Even before war broke out in Bosnia, he seemed a man capable of
the genocide of which he accused his enemies. For me, he was the
Heinrich Himmler of the Balkans.