One wonders what the negotiators in charge were thinking when they first encountered Karadžić across the bargaining table in the early 90s. In the Washington Post, Neely Tucker titled an essay "The Two-Bit Villain the World Somehow Feared". In this essay, Tucker quotes Joel Brand, a one-time correspondent who intereviewed Karadžić personally when things had just barely started going in Bosnia. Brand recalls: "He seemed to be playacting. I was a kid, with very little experience in adulthood, much less the world beyond Santa Monica. And even as green as I was, it was implausible to me that anyone could take him seriously. It was incredibly small-time." One is reminded of the line from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's oscar-winning movie "The Lives of Others", when playwright Georg Dreyman confronts the Stasi Colonel Grubitz after the collapse of the GDR and says to him: "And to think that they let people like you run a country!"
But precisely this is the irony: our foreign policy leaders in the West are often culturally underequipped to deal with the posturing, the puffery, the bragging and all the grotesque buffoonery at which pathological narcissists, like Karadžić, excel and which they use to ridiculously inflate their position. In Iraq, too, the US was not prepared to realize that Saddam Hussein was all bluff and no substance, that, in Maureen Dowd's words, he "had the 'Beware of Dog' sign up without the dog." In both cases we ended up with protracted conflicts and masses of dead because our leaders were not able to take proper measure of their opponents.
But the episode illustrates one more thing. In our society today there still are pockets of life where no accreditation is necessary to set up a pseudo-professional practice, where people will willingly part with their hard-earned cash and let you touch their bodies and tell them all sorts of quasi-spiritual humbug without ever asking to see any credentials or qualifications. The Karadžić affair exposes the entire "alternative medicine" industry as the scam that it is. You, me, anyone, after internalizing the nonsensical lingo, can hang out a shingle and claim to be a "healer" and people will pay you money for it. In the Guardian today, Nick Medic narrates his family's shock at discovering that his family's healer had been none other than the notorious war criminal Radovan Karadžić. Medic hits the nail on the head when he says:
Since finding out who he is, I have thought that there's something quite sinister about these alternative practices. First of all, to practise this kind of thing, you don't need any kind of certificate. And it's a cash business, so you don't need to open a bank account. You don't need to show anyone your tax returns. No one knows how much you're earning - it's an ideal set-up for someone who is a fugitive. It makes you wonder if someone advised him to do this.
At some point, adults reach the moment when they become so disillusioned with their lives that they lose a third-grader's ability to distinguish between reality and fairy tale. It is at that moment that they become willing to listen to anyone who tells them the things they want to hear. It is at that moment that they become prey for demagogues, whether of the fascist or the pseudo-spiritual variety. Karadžić's transformation into "Dr. David" is then not that surprising at all. He merely switched to a different variety of mass-deception. Karadžić went from spreading death and darkness across Bosnia to - to use a Serbian expression - selling the darkness from his basement. In alternative medicine and pseudo-Eastern spirituality Karadžić had found a new arena in which a large following of people was willing to trust him on faith to provide placebo panaceas for their imaginary ailments and spiritual poverty.
The funny thing is that I somehow felt like I had seen this all before. The whole persona of Dragan "Dr. David" Dabić seemed terribly familiar. Like many European kids, I had grown up inhaling the Tintin comics by Georges Remi, alias Hergé. In the last Tintin epsiode "Tintin et l'Alph-Art", left in unfinished sketches at his death in 1983, Hergé pits Tintin once more against his arch-nemesis, the Greek-American tycoon, movie producer, druglord, kidnapper and slave-trader, Roberto Rastapopoulos. Having mysteriously disappeared yet again at the end of the previous book, Rastapopoulos resurfaces in "Alph-Art" as self-proclaimed spiritual leader and healer, Endaddine Akass, whose real business is art forgery on a grand scale.
Karadžić seems to have stolen his entire new-age-guru shtick from Rastapopoulos, lock stock and barrel. From the flowing hairstyle and bushy beard (color aside), to the big glasses and the bullshit about "magnetism" and "radiation of energies", "Dr. David" was Endaddine Akass. It just goes to emphasize Karadžić's second-rate villainhood that he hadn't yet thought of starting up a highly profitable art forgery-cartel. Like Rastapopoulos, what proved Karadžić's downfall in the end was his own narcissism. This guy was not going to be content hiding in a mountain cave like bin Laden. He needed an audience, he needed a public life. He craved attention more than he feared apprehension.
Evil was never more banal.