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Friday, June 17 2016 09:07

Radovan Karadzic is a name that many of us have forgotten.   Recent events have reminded us of the horrific role he played in the European history of the late twentieth century. Belatedly, he has been held to account for his crimes.

 

Karadzic was born in 1945 into a Serbian family in what was then Yugoslavia.  He became a psychiatrist, a poet, and a financial manipulator, before becoming interested in public affairs.

 

Karadzic rose to political power in the late 1980s, as his country was breaking up into its component parts. Ethnic discord reigned, and Karadzic exploited it mercilessly in order to impose Serb power in Bosnia, against perceived or imagined threats by Croats and Muslims.

 

He was first indicted for his crimes in 1995. But it was not until last month that he was convicted and sentenced for acts that, in their day, shocked the conscience of the world. A United Nations tribunal sentences him to a prison term of forty years, At his age, that is surely a life sentence; but there are many who still consider it to be lenient.

 

 Chief among the charges he faced was genocide, a term that is never used without the gravest reasons. But there is no other word to describe what happened at Srebenica: the massacre of 8000 men and boys, an operation aimed at exterminating the entire Muslim population of the town.  He was convicted of other charges as well. He had ordered the expulsion of Muslim and Croatian populations from towns and villages. He was instrumental in the terrifying siege of Sarajevo.

 

Despite their horror, these events have faded from my memory.  I am grateful to Nicholas Burns and Davis Rohde for recalling them in a recent PBS News Hour broadcast.

 

At the time of the Bosnian war, Burns was a US State Department spokesman. Later, in the George W Bush administration, he was Undersecretary of State for political affairs. He now teaches future diplomats at Harvard and Stanford.

 

David Rohde, a distinguished journalist who would later be known for his daring escape from a Taliban prison, was an eyewitness to the massacre at Srebenica.

 

Watching these two experts analyze the events that had led to Karadzic’s conviction, I was moved and horrified. They set out to explain why this condemnation still mattered, and they were persuasive.

 

It matters, of course, because a measure of justice was finally accomplished. It matters, too, in showing that the US can sometimes act to resolve

Inhuman conflicts.  American air strikes and diplomatic efforts finally led to the Dayton peace accords, and an end to the atrocities.

 

For me, late life is, in part, a time for revisiting historical events like these. I  am interested in studying and understanding what has gone on in my lifetime. I never cease to be surprised at what I discover.

 

Injustice and suffering—whether at home or far away—should not leave us indifferent.  When people’s lives are threatened or destroyed, I want to stand with those who care about them. Granted, in old age our opportunities to act are limited.  The physical world is less accessible than it used to be. That’s why I so often rely on television. magazines, and newspapers.

 

Not all news sources are equal. We need to be grateful to commentators like Burns and Rohde, who have witnessed great events and understand their place in history.

I would like to take them aside and tell them how much their work means to me, and to us all. The current political season reminds us that catchy slogans are no substitute for experience and wisdom.