The Birth of a Nation: Radovan Karadžić and the Ethnopoliticization of Bosnia in 1990

Stjepan_Kljuić,_Radovan_Karadžić,_and_Alija_Izetbegović_in_Sarajevo_1992By the time he strode to the podium in Skenderija Hall, Sarajevo, on 12 July 1990 to speak, the journey of Dr Radovan Karadžić from obscure psychiatrist to politician, wartime leader, and later accused war criminal had begun. Karadžić had been working for months behind the scenes with likeminded Serb nationalists in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia to create a new political party, a party explicitly for people of Serb nationality in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In neighboring Croatia the Serbian Democratic Party (Српска демократска Странка / Srpska Demokratska Stranka, СДС or SDS) his friend, and fellow psychiatrist, Jovan Rašković, helped found on February 17, 1990, was a model. Two different inaugural boards worked to found a similar party in BiH, and many prominent Serb Sarajeveans were approached to lead the party. All turned it down, and Karadžić, with Rašković’s blessing and public endorsement before his speech, had become leader almost by default. Also endorsing the party that day in Skenderija Hall was the leader of a party of similar ethnopolitical ambition in BiH for those who identified as Muslims, Dr Alija Izetbegović whose Party of Democratic Action (Stranka Demokratske Akcije) was founded only two months earlier. Together with the HDZ (lead initially by Stepan Kljuić, pictured left with the two others above) the SDS and SDA would triumph in the November 1990 elections in BiH, ethnopoliticizing the polity in a ‘democratic’ way that had never occurred before. Within two years, Bosnia would be in the midst of a brutal civil war.

Here is an English language translation of Karadžić’s maiden speech to the SDS BiH founding congress: IntroductorySpeechFoundinSDSAssemblyKaradzic. (Its further evidence for the dangers of ‘genocide-thinking’ and ‘genocide-obsession’ but that is another story).

“‘Serbs, You Are Allowed to be Serbs!’ Radovan Karadžić and the 1990 Election Campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” has just been published online by Ethnopolitics (a Taylor and Francis journal). The article is a study of how the ethnopoliticization of BiH by SDS unfold in the 1990 election campaign. The piece has its origins in the research and translation work undertaken by Adis Maksić into how Oslobodjenje covered the 1990 campaign as part of his NSF supported assistantship at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2011. This research was greatly helped by chats with the famous Oslobodjenje editor at the time, Kemal Kurspahić, who now works locally in Alexandria, Virginia. Kemal is a real gentleman, and we thank him for all his help. As we dived further into the research, I learnt that Dr Robert Donia was writing a biography of Karadžić. He very generously shared the relevant draft chapters with us, and subsequently agreed to serve on Adis’s Ph D committee. His generosity, encouragement and support all helped advance this research.

The paper was first presented at a conference on the former Yugoslavia organized by Dr Carl Dahlman at the Miami University in Ohio and a few days later at the Association for the Study of Nationalities in 2012 by Adis. We want to thank Karl Cordell for professional editorial work in helping us improve the paper, and its anonymous reviewers who provided constructive quality academic feedback on the paper. It is a better paper because of this unsung and often unacknowledged labor. We will pass it on.



About Dr Gerard Toal

Irish born academic living in Washington DC researching geopolitical competition and territorial conflicts in post-Communist Europe. Author of CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS (1996), BOSNIA REMADE (w C Dahlman) and NEAR ABROAD: PUTIN, THE WEST AND THE CONTEST OVER UKRAINE AND THE CAUCASUS (Oxford University Press, 2017).
This entry was posted in Affect, Bosnia, Bosnian war, Current affairs, Democracy, ethnic cleansing, genocide, political system, Radovan Karadzic, Rhetoric, war crimes, World political map and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Birth of a Nation: Radovan Karadžić and the Ethnopoliticization of Bosnia in 1990

  1. jj says:

    And why no biography on Alija Izetbegovic and his background and speeches? He had actually been jailed with other men – who would all later form his party – for wanting an independent Muslim-dominated Bosnia – in the early 1980’s. They were seeking help back then from Islamic countries and even Islamic terror groups. The west held him up as a “moderate”. He even wrote a book called “Islamic Declarations” which said that Muslims couldn’t coexist in a state with other religions. He was an ex-con and he was even a pro-Nazi youth back in WWII. In Croatia you had the ex-con Tudjman, who also wrote a racist book and made outright racist comments and who was inviting old WWII Ustasha concentration camp commanders/killers back to Croatia – BEFORE the war actually started.
    It seems the west, which was covertly sponsoring and meeting with anti-Serb separatists, such as these men – is very quiet about them and their background. The west won’t shed light on them and their actions.
    Nor is there much interest or writing on what the CIA, BND and MI6 were doing in regards to Yugoslavia in the years prior to the war.
    Serbs are a small people/players compared to U.S., Germany, Britain, etc. and their move are almost always reactions to what was taking place on the ground which was ignored in the western media. The same western media which did exaggerate greatly claims against Serbs (exaggerating and hyping the death toll by extra hundreds of thousands, counting military dead as civilians, including battle and fighting deaths as being executions, writing every accusation and atrocity story anyone could think up) while it would suppress news of a large number of crimes against them.

    • Gerard Toal says:

      Yes, there’s lots of work to be done. We could use a good scholarly biography of Izetbegovic, and of Tudjman. But there was no coherent and organized “western” conspiracy by intelligence agencies and “the media” against the Serbs or even Yugoslavia. On this general topic, you might enjoy The Hour of Europe by Josip Glaurdic.

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