This scrupulously researched work by a skilled interviewer of “imprisoned perpetrators” focuses on the making of the genocidal Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić.
Between 2014 and 2016, Stern (Global Studies/Boston Univ.; Denial: A Memoir of Terror, 2010, etc.) held a dozen conversations with the war criminal, now imprisoned for life in the Scheveningen Prison in The Hague. Though interviews with such high-profile war criminals had not been sanctioned by the International Criminal Tribunal—the first international war crimes court established since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of World War II—the ICT ultimately agreed, acknowledging Stern’s meticulous methods and hoping her research might yield valuable information about Karadžić’s motives. Karadžić came to power as the former Yugoslavia’s ethnically divided federations began to declare their independence in the early 1990s, and the once-dominant Serbs of Bosnia, in the minority to the majority Bosnian Muslims, feared (or were incited to fear) that they were losing their status and privileges. The culmination of fear and hate erupted in the genocide at Srebrenica in July 1995, when the Bosnian Serb army captured the town and executed thousands of surrendered men and boys. Appearing as a cultured, intelligent “gentleman,” Karadžić created a whole other entity as an “energy healer” and poet while on the lam for 12 years, and he believed that he was a hero for his beleaguered people. Stern’s account of their interviews is a riveting battle of the wills, as the author chronicles her battle against Karadžić’s manipulation and attempts to see some remorse. Yet he was unrepentant in protecting “his” people from exaggerated threats and demographic changes, and he used fearmongering tactics that Stern recognizes as being currently practiced by the U.S. government. Ultimately, the author provides a subtle, powerful illustration of terror that resonates today, especially regarding the resurgent white supremacist movement. The deep, extensive footnotes and detailed timeline attest to Stern’s meticulous research.
An utterly compelling chronicle from a master scholar and clear writer.