[tmattingly-weekly] 07/30: The monster was not hiding in church
- This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 07/30/2008
For a dozen years, they hunted Europe's most notorious war criminal.
Investigators knew exactly where they thought they would find former
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the
1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
After his July 21 arrest, most media reports echoed vague statements in
The New York Times in which unidentified voices said Karadzic "eluded
arrest so long by shaving his swoopy gray hair and disguising himself as a
Serbian Orthodox priest. He reportedly hid out in caves in the mountains of
eastern Bosnia and in monasteries."
"Of course they were wrong," said Metropolitan Christopher, leader of the
Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. "It was not true, to
say that the Serbian church was hiding him. It appears that he was living
right there in clear view, practicing alternative forms of medicine in
front of everybody."
The Times updated its first report, adding that for "some of those years"
the fugitive lived under an assumed name in Belgrade. A second-day report
conceded that Karadzic "was not in a distant monastery or a dark cave when
caught at last, but living in Serbia's capital."
Instead of shaving his photogenic silver hair and pretending to be a
priest, the former president of the Bosnian Serb mini-state had built a
new identity based on his career as a psychologist -- becoming Dr. Dragan
David Dabic, expert on meditation, unorthodox therapy techniques and
herbal treatments from the East. He was, observers said, a self-made guru
with dashes of Freud, a Bohemian poet who resembled Santa Claus, complete
with a bushy white beard and long hair, including a ponytail. He published
journal articles, gave public lectures and lived with a young mistress.
Blend all that together and, according to ABC News, what you get is an
"It's like that old saying that you can't fight city hall," said
Metropolitan Christopher, in frustration. Journalists and outsiders "want
to link all of this to the Serbian Orthodox Church. And they want to say
that all Serbs, everywhere, are guilty of the actions of these violent men
and that, most of all, the Serbs are the only people who have ever done
these terrible things to their neighbors. ...
"They forget that men like Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were enemies of
the church and used violence against the Orthodox, too. Our bishops were
jailed and beaten for opposing the regime behind this violence."
As the Serbian Orthodox bishops proclaimed, at one of the worst moments in
the fighting, the "way of non-violence and cooperation is the only way
blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral law and
There was also an interfaith appeal for peace in 1999, signed by Orthodox
Patriarch Pavle, Catholic Archbishop Franc Perko, Mufti Hamdija
Jusufspahic and Rabbi Isak Asiel. It called for a total ceasefire and the
return of all refuges -- Serbs, Albanians and Croats -- to their homes.
"Even as evil cannot be overcome by evil, so peace and harmony cannot be
attained by war," said that statement from Belgrade. "To be a peacemaker
is the greatest duty and most noble obligation of every man. That is why
we are not afraid to be the first to extend the hand of peace to one
Hardly anyone was listening.
Truth is, Orthodox Christianity does play a major role in defining the
history and identity of the Serbs. It is also true that Orthodox leaders
have opposed the break up of their homeland and, in particular, the loss
of Kosovo -- a state containing more than 1,000 historic churches and
monasteries. Serbs have pled with Western officials to intervene and stop
the destruction of many priceless sanctuaries.
The lines between faith and ethnicity are often blurred in the Balkans. In
this violent, splintered and ravaged region, Karadzic -- who remains a hero
to Serb radicals -- may have found refuge for some period of time with the
help of some priests or monks, acting on their own.
"We hear accusations against Orthodox people, but we never seem to hear
who, what, when and where," said Metropolitan Christopher. "If it's true,
we need to know facts. But it is wrong for the media to keep making vague
accusations against our whole church in this way, which only makes things
worse for those who have endured so much."
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center
at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this
weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.
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