Is it possible to disappear into anonymity for close to 12 years and yet remain more or less at home? Can a man make himself invisible in the Balkans, even though half the world is looking for him? And of all the people he would have needed to help him live a life with a different identity, wasn't there at least one who wouldn't have been tempted by a $5 million (€3.2 million) reward?
Goran Kojic clearly remembers his first appointment with Dr. Dragan David Dabic. He appears to have been one of the few people who harbored certain doubts upon encountering the doctor, an expert in herbal medicine and Far Eastern therapies.
Kojic, who publishes the Belgrade magazine Zdrav Zivot, or Healthy Living, says that the man with the ponytail and long white beard came across as someone who was part-Freud, part-Bohemian. "He walked into my editorial offices wearing a black hat and offered me articles about energy therapies and radiation protection and, later on, about meditation." But there were three things about the doctor that struck Kojic as odd.
First there was the problem with his medical diploma. When asked to present it Dabic said that it was with his ex-wife in the faraway United States, that she had kept it as revenge for his having left her, and that she refused to return it.
And then there was the dialect, which, as Kojic recalls, was not a Belgrade dialect. But Dabic had an explanation for that, too. He told Kojic that he was from the Croatian Krajina region, which had been populated mainly by Serbian minorities until 1995. "But I really became suspicious when my visitor refused to give me any information about the hospitals where he had worked," Kojic adds.
Despite his doubts, however, Kojic apparently chose not to probe any further.
Never Really in Hiding
In retrospect, the transformation seemed almost perfect. This Dr. Dabic -- whose real name was Radovan Karadzic and who was, in fact, a trained psychiatrist -- took his chances when he changed his identity. After working in his field, Karadzic entered politics and, in 1992, became the leader of the Serbs in the Bosnian war -- responsible for ethnic cleansing, horrific concentration camps and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.
Karadzic, a.k.a. Dabic, never really went into hiding. For 12 years, he lived among his fellow Serbs, treating patients as a neuropsychiatrist, writing articles for professional journals, publishing books under his real name and giving talks to select audiences throughout Serbia.
But now that the presumed war criminal is behind bars and the hunt for the former president of the Bosnian Serbs has ended, the rest of the world remains puzzled over how he could have managed to conceal himself for more than a decade.
If this guru of alternative medicine was unable to produce a diploma in the offices of Zdrav Zivot, wouldn't a call to the Serbian medical association have sufficed? Serbian Health Minister Tomica Milosavljevic admitted last week that a Dr. Dabic was never registered with that organization.
A search on the Internet could also have set off alarms. According to the fake resume Dabic published on a relatively obscure Web site, he was born "in the small Serbian village of Kovaci, near Kraljevo," later moving to Belgrade and eventually attending medical school at Lomonosov University in Moscow. Kovaci is in southern Serbia, not in the Croatian Krajina region.
But no one seemed to have noticed anything unusual about Dabic, not even in the Belgrade medical practices with which he was affiliated, of which there were at least three. One of them was the Nova Vita private clinic in Rakovica, a Belgrade suburb, where clinic director Milomir Kandic confirmed that Dabic, who practiced there almost once a week last year, made a competent impression. At another private clinic in Belgrade's Slavija Center, Dabic's patients included celebrities in the Serbian sports and entertainment world. The "doctor" even managed to cure a well-known politician's back pain.
No one at these clinics noticed anything. Those who encountered him say that the former Serb leader even changed his once-powerful and deep voice, which they say sounded frail, like the voice of an old man.
Needing an Audience the Way Some Need Oxygen
Visitors to events sponsored by the magazine Zdrav Zivot have similar recollections. Dabic spoke to an audience of hundreds of people in Smederovo, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Belgrade, and an appearance in Kikinda on Jan. 28, 2008 that was even televised. On May 23, 2008, the self-proclaimed "Human Quantum Energy" expert enlightened his listeners in Belgrade in the art of the "use of the body's inherent energy reserves."
Karadzic remained true to himself, in a sense never actually concealing himself from public view. According to Leposav Kron, a psychologist and director of the Belgrade Institute of Criminology, Karadzic could not have acted differently. The extremely outgoing Serb, says Kron, needed an audience the way most people need oxygen. He remained a narcissist, addicted to being perceived, recognized and applauded, just as he was in his days as president of the Bosnian Serbs in their capital, Pale. According to Kron's colleague Tamara Stajner-Popovic, "this powerful urge to make public appearances, even though it could pose a threat to his very existence, is surreal."
It was this narcissism that led him to spend many an evening drinking Slivovitz and playing Serbian folk tunes on the gusla, a traditional string instrument, in his favorite bar in New Belgrade, the Luda Kuca, or the madhouse. Who at the bar could have remembered that it was Karadzic who had once made the gusla a symbol of his pseudo-state, and that he had usually given the instrument to politicians who visited him at his home near Sarajevo?
Amulets, Crucifixes and Advice for all Life's Problems
Mina Minic, on the other hand, says that the man he met who called himself Dabic was a completely different person. Minic is 78, also a Human Quantum Energy practitioner and a member of the Russian Academy of Traditional Medicine. He sits in a tiny office filled with magnets and various fanciful devices. When Karadzic a.k.a. Dabic came to him as a patient "in late 2005," says Minic, he reminded him of an unrefined vagrant. Minic also says that he noticed immediately that the man was at serious risk for suicide, which Dabic confirmed.
Dabic quickly transformed himself into an eager student. "He completed the training in five days and proved to be a genius when he completed the examination," says Minic, who made him his assistant and sent him around the country as his representative. Karadzic/Dabic even lived with Minic for some months. "Sometimes I suspected that he was an American or a Croatian spy, and I advised him not to show his face in public places as often."
Later, Karadzic rented Apartment No. 19 at Yury Gagarin Street 267 in Belgrade for €350 ($542). The name on the doorplate was Maksimovic. Whenever Karadzic, a man being sought by authorities worldwide, felt that he was in danger of being discovered, he moved to one of several appartments and houses he had at his disposal. He is believed to have moved four times in the final month leading up to his capture.
He supported himself by selling patented magnets to treat pain, and with the proceeds from an online shop on his official website, says his attorney Svetozar Vujacic. On the Web site, Dr. Dabic sold amulets and crucifixes, as well as advice for all possible situations in life, from sexual problems to depression. His motto was that there is always a solution.
But the sale of Human Quantum Energy paraphernalia could hardly have sufficed to support Karadzic's new life. Companies that had remained loyal to him, the Orthodox Church, members of the intelligence community and of the party of former Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica must have helped him. It is also possible that he took steps to help himself early on. According to Milorad Dodik, the current prime minister of Republika Srpska, Karadzic carried sacks of bank notes worth 36 million German marks out of the national bank in the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka in 1997.
International Community Showed Little Interest in Search
Most Serbs are convinced that those who were looking for Karadzic could have arrested him long ago. Serbian intelligence agents are believed to have known his whereabouts for at least several weeks leading up to his arrest. Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic, who recently became a member of the Belgrade coalition government and was named interior minister, is convinced that Karadzic was under observation for months.
However, it is obvious that Serbian President Boris Tadic wanted to wait until the new intelligence chief, Sasa Vukadinovic, a man loyal to the new leader, had been sworn in before arresting Karadzic. The former Bosnian Serb leader was taken into custody four days after Vukadinovic assumed his new post. On a Thursday evening almost two weeks ago, some intelligence agents apparently informed the fugitive that he was no longer under the protection of the state security agency. After that, Karadzic promptly bought a bus ticket to the Croatian city of Split, hoping to escape capture by Serbian authorities. But by then it was too late.
There are various accounts of where and when the 63-year-old war crimes suspect was arrested. Vujacic, his attorney, claims that his client was taken into custody on July 18, at about 9:30 p.m., as he was sitting on Bus No. 73 from Belgrade to Batajinica -- and not, as the official account reads, three days later. He was apparently carrying €600 ($930) to pay for a short stay in Vrdnik, a spa resort in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Witnesses now claim to have watched six men board the bus and forcefully remove Karadzic, saying: "Be quiet, old man. We have been observing you for 15 days now."
Karadzic apparently told his attorney that he could only have lasted another six months, and that he had planned to turn himself in to Serbian authorities in January 2009. By that time, or so he believed, his case would no longer fall under the jurisdiction of The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, but under that of Serbian courts.
But how did Dr. Karadzic become Dr. Dabic? The Serbian Interior Ministry has confirmed that Serbian intelligence helped him acquire his new identity. His identification papers were issued on April 20, 1999, at Ruma in Vojvodina, the home of the real Dragan Dabic, a married construction worker who was born in 1942 and has two children.
A Warning to Washington
The Bosnian Serb leader apparently lived in Belgrade for only the last two years. Before that, he must have traveled back and forth, unhindered, between his true native Montenegro and Bosnia and Serbia. The newspaper Nedelnji Telegraf is firmly convinced that the CIA and the Serbian intelligence agency hid Karadzic and were also behind his arrest. In other words, foreign intelligence agencies were apparently not overly interested in capturing Karadzic for a long time.
Before withdrawing from political life in 1996, Karadzic warned that Washington should be concerned if he were brought before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, a possibly allusion to the massacre of Srebrenica. In July 1995, the city was the site of the Serb killing of 8,000 Muslim men. Bosnian media have long speculated whether the attack on Srebrenica may have been preceded by secret agreements, meaning that the Western protective power deliberately chose not to intervene.
Former Bosnian Foreign Minister Mohammed Sacirbey claims that in the spring of 1995 US peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke repeatedly pressured the Bosnian leadership in Sarajevo to voluntarily abandon the UN Protected Zones of Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde -- areas that should have gone to the Serbian Republika Srpska when the republic was divided according to the Dayton Peace Agreement. Holbrooke, for his part, categorically denies having made any assurances to Karadzic in return for his later withdrawal from politics.
One thing is clear, however: The international community in Bosnia showed little enthusiasm in the search for Karadzic. US Admiral Leighton Smith, the former head of the IFOR peacekeeping force, wasn't the only commander to admit that he did not actively pursue men being sought by The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, including Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic, who remains at large today -- to avoid further destabilizing the situation in Bosnia.
This is apparently no longer a serious threat. Even in Serbia, protests last week over Karadzic's arrest remained modest. The presumed war criminal's extradition to the tribunal in The Hague will be worthwhile for Belgrade in the long term, says Ivan Vejvoda, executive director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy. Although the European Union rejected the easing or trade sanctions on Serbia last week -- thanks to the objections of the Dutch and the Belgians -- if Serbia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels goes into effect, Belgrade stands to receive significant financial assistance.
Like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic plans to defend himself before the tribunal that he once described, in an interview with SPIEGEL, as a "disgrace for the international community." Now that he has shaved off his beard, says his attorney Vujacic, alternative medicine practitioner Dabic has ceased to exist.
Perhaps Karadzic's military chief Mladic will also soon turn up at the UN detention unit in Scheveningen outside The Hague before the trial begins. After last week's success, Serbian President Boris Tadic could very well be tempted to remove the last obstacle on Serbia's road to EU membership.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.