SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Former Sarajevo soccer star Predrag Pasic clearly remembers how Radovan Karadzic, who was recently arrested and sent to The Hague on war crimes charges, tried to inspire the team as its Socialist-era psychologist.
“He turned out the lights and played Mozart and Beethoven; we found it all very funny,” Pasic, 50, told Reuters. “He would play (Rimsky-Korsakov’s) ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and had us imagine the bee flying the dark.”
“Some people slept, some made jokes.”
Former neighbors and colleagues of Karadzic in Sarajevo this week recalled him as having been genial in Yugoslav days.
Yet rather than healing, his arrest after 11 years on the run has reopened a deep divide in Bosnia between Muslims and Serbs which Karadzic helped forge as Yugoslavia collapsed.
The same man who made his career in Sarajevo later oversaw the city’s brutal Bosnian Serb siege from 1992 to 1995 which killed more than 14,000 in a city that once prided itself on its good relations between Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews.
Arrested in Belgrade, Serbia, disguised by a thick beard and a job as a New Age guru, Karadzic was transferred to The Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia last week to face war crimes and genocide charges.
Pasic is, like Karadzic, a Serb, but he stayed in Sarajevo during the war. Then, as today, those who knew Karadzic were mystified by his transformation into war leader.
“They were completely different people, the man who worked for the Sarajevo soccer team and the war criminal,” said Pasic, who today runs a soccer school in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. “During the first days of the war, I just kept thinking, how was it possible that it was the same man.”
“It was a great shock,” he continued. “At the time, he was a person with no interest in politics.”
Born in poverty in the mountains of Montenegro in 1945, Karadzic moved to Sarajevo as a teenager. He graduated from medical school and specialized in psychiatry. He was also an amateur poet whose works earned scant literary praise.
Karadzic then started working at a Sarajevo clinic in the late 1970s and had a second job with the Sarajevo soccer team.
“Undoubtedly, Karadzic was a good communicator, he knew how to approach to people, he did favors for them,” said Senadin Ljubovic, a Muslim psychiatrist who worked with Karadzic at the same clinic.
“Although after spending enough time with him it was obvious he was not much of a man but you could never think of him as a criminal.”
Near his former apartment in central Sarajevo, Muslim neighbors recalled that Karadzic frequently offered to pick up groceries when he headed to the store.
He was quick to joke and was often seen as a light-hearted if not especially serious figure.
“I liked him and enjoyed his company. We frequently met at the cafe and talked about soccer and our families,” said one soccer team official who knew him for years but did not want his name published. “But always he was talking too much about money — how to get money and for others to lend him money.”
“He would say ‘I don’t have the money but I have some ideas and I will go to America.'”
The money focus eventually led to troubles. Karadzic spent 11 months in prison in Sarajevo from 1984-85 on embezzlement charges. He also went back and forth to Belgrade, then Yugoslavia’s capital, to live in the 1980s.
In 1990, Karadzic founded the Bosnian branch of a nationalist Serbian party, and the war began two years later.
Pasic, once the Sarajevo team captain, said he clearly saw Karadzic’s ability to motivate players, skills he used later to whip up nationalist sentiments. “He was a master in motivating people,” Pasic said. “He had the power to talk to people.”
His former colleague Ljubovic said he believed Karadzic’s transformation resulted from a personality disorder.
“It is obvious that he was most convincing as a war criminal, that this identity was the most significant part of his personality but he had never expressed it before,” he said.
“I am sure he is haunted by a powerful trauma dating back to his childhood, which he cannot overcome, and is trying constantly to escape it by assuming different identities.”