THE BLOG
08/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Good Versus Evil": Radovan Karadzic and the West

The enormous amount of coverage of the arrest, extradition and appearance in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of Radovan Karadzic in the western media has in general reflected much of the shared assumptions and outlook towards the tragic events in the former Yugoslavia. Travelling from New York to London, it has been remarkable how so many pundits and commentators have agreed on the prevailing themes.

Richard Holbroke reflected about the "Face of Evil" in an op-ed piece at The Washington Post while the editors at Foreign Policy told us of the apprehension that it was "better late than never". Holbroke declared that Karadzic is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of 300,000 people, because without him there would have been no war or genocide. Ed Vulliamy meanwhile in the The Guardian (UK) also commented on the "evil" that we faced and continually made reference to the Holocaust and Auschwitz. In fact, Martin Bright, editor of The New Statesman suggested that Srebrenica be taught at school in the same way as Auschwitz.

Indeed, the editorial team at Foreign Policy ended up drawing comparisons with the 1999 trial of Dinko Sakic, the last living commander of Jasenovac, the Croatian World War II concentration camp and of course, others chimed in saying that leaders in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Colombia, Iraq and elsewhere should all take note.

It does seem as though, it has unfortunately become increasingly common for western commentators to try and conceive of historical events in terms of "Good Versus Evil". Without the moral rudder and political certainties of the past, the events in the Balkans, unlike Iraq, appeared as though it was one area where the Western elites could rally around the idea that they were the good guys, facing down 'evil in our time'.

While some pointed out that Bosnian Muslim, Naser Oric and the highest-ranked accused Kosovo Albanian, Ramush Haradinaj got off the charges, in many ways this seemed to miss the point. That point being, how did it become possible for an emotive and childish script of "good versus evil" to gain such wide purchase? We did of course hear how the Russian Foreign Ministry said the ICTY had been biased with other protagonists against Serbs and their view that the events leading up to the extradition were unfair although the broad consensus was that "evil"was (finally)being pinned down.

It does seem striking that a kind of all encapsulating, overarching "definition" that ends up obscuring far more than it ever illuminates has become widely popular through the presentation of the Good Versus Evil story.

Mick Hume, frequent columnist at The Times, argues in UK's online publication Spiked that the presentation of Serbs as Nazis and pursuing Karadzic for genocide has both diminished the unique enormity of the Holocaust and at the same time increased the likelihood of destabilising interventions around the world that lead to further tragic events. He sites what he calls the shrill voices of liberal-left journalists, or 'laptop bombadiers' that became the champions of forceful western intervention.

It is worth noting that whenever "genocide" seems to be presented these days, often the discussion is one in which a high moral tone is taken with very specific regimes. However, while it is certain that the bloody, complex and tragic war in the former Yugoslavia was a terrible thing with desperate acts and measures embarked upon by all sides, one wonders if there can ever be some kind of war that is somehow conducted as though it were a game of chess or fencing match? After all, it does seem as though acts are generally defined by the powerful, or the victors in any situation -- which the notorious Serb militia leader Arkan was eager to point out when wanted by the ICTY, obstinately declaring that he would follow in line to The Hague after the US government stood on trial as "those who destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who killed civilians in those two towns, who attacked Panama and Grenada -- and after them, me."

While a few pundits have pointed out the inconsistencies with the presentation of events in the media and governments portrayal of a convenient uncritical version of events, such as Peter Brock who wrote Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting Journalism & Tragedy in Yugoslavia, and John Laughland, author of Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice for the main part it does seem as though many repeat the prism of Good Versus Evil as a catch-all explanation for our times.

In fact, as some have pointed out it is worth noting that feeling comfy with the ICTY is highly problematic as it suffers from enormous legal and moral shortcomings such as anonymous witnesses being commonplace, permitting secret indictments, hearsay evidence being admitted and the "double jeopardy" principle, where one may not be tried for the same crime twice, often being overturned.

Ultimately, the sad irony is that the ghastly civil war that played out in the Balkans had far more to do with western intervention and interference than the lack of it. As we witness today, there is no shortage of calls for intervention against "evil" and "genocide" yet many of our current nightmares seem to have been born directly with this strap line in the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps we would do well to address these issues with a far more inquisitive and critical eye -- and leave the superficial -- and dangerous -- stories of 'Good Versus Evil' to Hollywood.