Karadzic: What kind of mystic?

monIn recent days, I have continued to comb the coverage of the Radovan Karadzic arrest, looking for clues that might indicate where reporters were getting the tips that this monster had spent parts of the past few decades hiding in Eastern Orthodox monasteries and churches.

No real clues, so far. Most journalists continue to mention those theories, always in passive voice or in some other vague way. But the main theme now is that Karadzic was using his skills as a psychologist to transition into a new identity — that of a expert in alternative medicine, delivered with a kind of mystical, guru style that fit his new appearance. Yes, some journalists are using that “New Age” label.

But the strangest religious reference I have found is in an ABC News online story by Dragana Jovanovic, which ran with the colorful headline: “Double Life of the Butcher of Bosnia — War Criminal Radovan Karadzic Was on Facebook, Had Own Web Site, Even a Girlfriend.”

But check out the lede:

For 13 years, investigators combed the mountainous regions of eastern Bosnia, looking for Radovan Karadzic. A popular theory for much of that time was that the fugitive Bosnian-Serb leader was hidden away in a monastery, protected by Orthodox monks.

But it turned out to be the colorless boulevards of New Belgrade that provided a hiding place for Europe’s most wanted man. He found an effective alter ego, in the guise of an Orthodox mystic.

Say what? As you would imagine, I read on through the piece — looking for some kind of factual material to justify adding the word “Orthodox” to the very unorthodox profile that was emerging about Karadzic’s life as a freelance mystic. This is all you get:

People who live on Juri Gagarin Street, a street of gray Communist-era apartment buildings across the Sava River, felt certain that their new neighbor was some kind of mystical guru.

“He moved to our neighborhood early last year. I thought he was a spiritual man,” said Danica Jankovic, a sixth floor neighbor of the man who assumed the alias Dr. Dragan or David Dabic. “His dense white beard and distinctive long hair, his long periods of complete silence, and the fact that he was into meditation left me with no doubt. I still cannot believe his true identity.”

Unrecognizable, with long white hair, a long beard and 40 pounds lighter, Karadzic, under the new name, appears to have led a very different life than one would have expected from one of the world’s most wanted fugitives.

That’s it. The word “Orthodox” just came out of nowhere. I have not seen that angle in any other mainstream coverage.

If you are looking for a nasty slam at Orthodoxy in the Karadzic coverage, far and away the worst I have seen is in a Globe and Mail piece by columnist Doug Saunders. Once again, it seems that the goal is to blame the hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church — which actively joined with other religious groups to oppose the Milosevic regime’s use of violence — for the actions of the ethnic cleansing monsters, or at least some of them.

What does the word “fundamentalist” mean in this context?

The man who drew on Serbian Orthodox religious piety to build his movement in the early 1990s, using fundamentalist religious imagery to make speeches calling for the extermination of Bosnia’s Muslim population, appears to have spent the past few years living in sin with a much younger mistress, whose existence was unknown to his wife.

I know it is easy to blur the line between Serbian nationalism and the land’s Orthodox heritage, but that is simply going way too far.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://david-jaime-jason.blogspot.com Jason

    I was going to submit this, but I’ll just put it here.


    It is a brief vague piece making reference to his lecturing occasionally on “Orthodox Christian Meditation.”

    The point of the article is that “No individual self is inherently evil, murderous or genocidal. Yet under certain conditions virtually any self is capable of becoming all of these.” It contrasts his genocidal proclivities with his spirituality (as indicated by the fact that he meditated) in a way that leads me to think that maybe the writer does not get Religion.

  • Michael

    I was waiting to Tim Townsend to wade into this story, but he appears busy covering Archdiocese property lawsuits against a breakaway parish. St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population in the U.S. and a local reporter covered the reaction in the Bosnian–and at the very end, Serbian–communities in St. Louis.


  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Tmatt, if it’s any consolation, now that the term “New Age” is being thrown around, were starting to get editorial meditations linking the New Age movement with dictatorial mass murderers!

    “The New Age Dr Karadzic was not a disguise; it was a peep at what could have been, an alternative history. If Pol Pot had come to Britain, he might have opened a respectable stall at the Stoke Newington farmers’ market. If Dr Karadzic had moved to Camden market he could have become a quiet and harmless guru. As it was, he butchered half a country. The lesson is: keep an eye on those health stores.”

    It’s essentially an extended Reductio ad Hitlerum argument. I expect the conservative Christian press (not to mention the black helicopters set) to eat this meme right up in the coming months.

  • Brian Walden

    When I first read “Orthodox mystic” I thought that maybe Karadzic was posing as a monk who was a mystic. This seemed a reasonable distinction to make because many people don’t realize that the traditional Christian Churches have mystical element to them. But as you read the article it seems that Karadzic wasn’t acting like an Orthodox mystic but instead more like a stereotypical new-agey mystic/guru (I have no idea whether the stereotype is accurate or not). I think the reporter just didn’t realize there was such a thing as mysticism within Orthodoxy.

    One strange sentence from that same article, apparently Obama has been sent not just to save the U.S. but the entire world: Graffiti written on walls of Belgrade read: “Barack Obama — always be with us.”

    I find it hilarious that Saunders accused Karadzic of “living in sin with a much younger mistress.” I can’t imagine any other situation where a modern day newspaper would call someone one a sinner, let alone call them a sinner for sexual sins. But apparently if you’re a war criminal, you’re still held accountable for sins which our society has (unfortunately) stopped recognizing as sins.

  • Gerry


  • Aleksandar

    “Bosnian monster”?! I am surprised, both – at your language and your naivety. Don’t believe everything you read or see on TV (especially American).

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    When is the MSM going to get around to presenting anything about the ethic cleansing of Serbs and the wholesale destruction of Serb Orthodox religion and culture by Moslems going on right under the noses of U.N. and U.S. troops in that part of the world.

  • Dave2

    Aleksandar wrote:

    “Bosnian monster”?! I am surprised, both – at your language and your naivety. Don’t believe everything you read or see on TV (especially American).

    This comment got my attention. After all, I knew nothing about Karadžić, so I didn’t know why the term “Bosnian monster” would be considered incorrect or indicative of naïvité. But now, with state-of-the-art Wikipedia-based research, I have arrived at the following conclusions:

    * Karadžić was born in Petnjica, Montenegro—a city populated mainly by Bosniaks. Karadžić’s family, however, was prominent within the Serbian Drobnjaci clan of northern Montenegro.

    * Around the age of 15, Karadžić moved to Sarajevo to study psychiatry and, after further studies abroad, he began working in a Sarajevo hospital.

    * Around the age of 37, he began working in a Belgrade hospital. Shortly thereafter he was arrested for scheming to get himself a house built in a Serb-heavy ski resort town near Sarajevo.

    * It was the Serbian writer Dobrica Ćosić who encouraged Karadžić to enter Bosnian politics. The party he founded was the right-wing Serbian Democratic Party, a coalition of Bosnian and Croatian Serbs. He became the leader of Serbs in Bosnian politics and a key force behind the would-be Serb-only state known as the Srpska Republika. His war crimes targeted non-Serbs, driving them from territory controlled by the Srpska Republika. He was a key figure in the siege of Sarajevo (which claimed the lives of ten thousand civilians, mainly Bosniaks with some non-nationalist Serbs) and the Srebrenica massacre (wherein eight thousand Bosniaks were killed in order to control a village vital for the territorial integrity of the Srpska Republika).

    After learning all this, I confess that calling Karadžić a “Bosnian monster” seems almost staggeringly absurd. Though Bosnia and Herzegovina did indeed serve as the primary arena for his professional and political life, the man came from a Serbian clan in Montenegro, represented Serbian nationalism in politics, and slaughtered non-Serbs in his quest for a Serb-only state. And in view of the fact that ‘Bosnian’ is often used to refer to Karadžić’s political enemies and wartime victims, it is almost the polar opposite of the truth to call Karadžić ‘Bosnian’.

    Now, I’m not sure why tmatt’s use of the term would evince any naïvité, but I am concerned that the (perhaps in itself just and salutary) attempt to distance the Orthodox church from the atrocities of Karadžić has led to a dishonest downplaying of Karadžić’s undeniable Serbian identity.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Correction made.

    All I can say in excuse is that I wrote that post an hour or so before heading into out-patient surgery. I was a bit under the weather. Feeling much better and things went great.

  • Aleksandar

    You didn’t get it. The problem was not the “Bosnian” part, but the “monster” part.
    If you are really interested in finding out more, check this out:http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/?p=673#more-673

    Thank you Fr. Deacon John.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh trust me, I am more than aware of the moral complexities and the Serbian claims about the region. From the viewpoint of Orthodox Christianity, the region contains more than its share of monsters. A long history of monsters.

  • Dave2

    Aleksandar wrote:

    You didn’t get it. The problem was not the “Bosnian” part, but the “monster” part.

    If you are really interested in finding out more, check this out:http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/?p=673#more-673

    Alexsandar, even if every word of that article were true, the claim that Karadžić is a monster would still stand. After all, one can easily grant that Bosnian Serbs were dragged into a war by the scheming of Bosniaks and an American foreign policy irrationally committed to the pseudo-nation ‘Bosnia’, and still deplore Karadžić ‘s ruthless slaughter of innocent civilians as monstrous.

  • Aleksandar

    What if “ruthless slaughter of innocent civilians” never happened? What if the whole story was fabricated? Or you think American (Western) politics and media are not capable of such thing?

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    Having once been a Fundamentalist (a real one. I even had a copy of Torrey’s “The Fundamentals”.) and now being Orthodox, all I can say is uuuuuggghhh! What bad reporting. I’m all for labels. Just get the labels right.

  • Dave

    Aleksandar (#13), the people who pulled off one of those civilian massacres were injudicious enough to make a videotape of their handiwork, and it went around the world.