Can Radovan Karadzic get a fair trial at The Hague?

For the second day in a row, Radovan Karadzic is boycotting court hearings in The Hague. The former Bosnian Serb leader is demanding more time to prepare for his trial.

Karadzic is charged with war crimes and genocide from the bloody 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia. He says the numbers of victims has been exaggerated, and accused the tribunal of being one-sided by bringing only Serbs to court.

In his home country, where he remains popular, many think the government should never have given him up in a bid for EU membership.

For more than a decade Radovan Karadzic eluded the authorities. Karadzic says he hid from the public following a bargain he struck in 1996 with senior US diplomat to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke.

The former Serb leader said he was promised immunity from prosecution in exchange for keeping a low profile. The alleged text of the document was published last year in a Serbian newspaper.

But Richard Holbrooke has denied the claim, and The Hague tribunal has refused to recognize the deal.

During his years in hiding, Karadzic never lost touch with his friends. This is how today, a well-known Serbian writer, Brana Crncevic, came to publish a book written by the former Bosnian Serb leader while he was still in hiding. Karadzic sent Crncevic e-mails and attached his manuscript to one of them.

“He wrote the book while he was in hiding. When someone is lonely, what can he do except write?” says Karadzic’s publisher and friend, Crncevic. “Sometimes I’d also get letters from Radovan in my post box – they were friendly letters, but without clues as to where he was. Although he was in hiding, he was freer than us – we are living under a government that is a traitor to its people”

On the day Karadzic’s trial begins in The Hague, his followers vow to take to the streets.

Their daily demonstrations against his arrest were eventually forbidden by police.

Meanwhile, member of Karadzic’s defense team Goran Petronijevic says there’s little hope for a fair trial as some big politics is involved in the case.

Protest organizer Milenko Bodin from the faculty of security studies, University of Belgrade, says his government has sold out Karadzic.

“Ratko Mladic will not be enough," believes Bodin. "Like I said, general politics is to cleanse politics of the Balkans of Serbia. Serbia must vanish. This is a trial of the Serbian national being.”

But the Serbian government defends its decision to arrest and extradite Karadzic. Handing him over to The Hague Tribunal is a key step towards the country being considered for European Union membership.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic does not doubt that. “Our international obligation, according to international law, is to fully cooperate with The Hague tribunal and no matter what we think and what our personal feelings are, in accordance with the constitution, we are going to continue doing that. But I can honestly and openly say that I wish the period of our cooperation with The Hague tribunal will be over quickly, so that we do not have anymore to ever again do with those people and their constitution.”

Karadzic’s book never made it to the bookshops and, what’s more, when he takes the stand to defend himself at the Hague, not many Serbs will be watching.

The president of the journalists association of Serbia, Ljiljana Smajlovic, who covered the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, says today’s bad economic times mean there won’t be many Serb journalists present this time around.

“Unless some outside western institutions funds the coverage of the trial, it does not get covered,” states Smajlovic. “And this time for Karadzic, I don’t think anyone is going to want to finance Karadzic’s defence in the Hague because a similar decision to closely follow Milosovic’s defence in the Hague backfired on western institutions because Milosovic was far more clever and far more competent in defending himself and managed to arouse a lot of anti-western sentiment during the trial.”

Radovan Karadzic is the 44th indicted war criminal Serbia has sent to stand trial in The Hague tribunal.