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Music Cue: Reflecting On Radovan Karadzic

SCOTT SIMON, host:

A couple of children in the New Belgrade neighborhood used to come up to Dr. Dragan Dabic, pat his stomach, point to his white beard, and ask if he was Santa Claus. He would laugh. Those people who knew Dr. Dabic assumed that the man with long whiskers, a tubby belly spilling over stretchy yoga pants and Jerry Garcia glasses, who gave lectures in health food stores and senior citizen centers about meditation, herbs, chi and chakra energy centers, who said he kept his long, white hair tied in a black knot on the top of his head to absorb more energy from the universe, was a holdover from the 1960s, dispensing peace, love and herbal remedies.

This week, when Serbian police arrested Dr. Dabic on a city bus, he was revealed to be Radovan Karadzic, who is wanted for war crimes during the war in Bosnia. Dr. Karadzic, who's 63, headed the Bosnian Serb government. He had been hiding, apparently, mostly in plain sight in Belgrade and Vienna since 1995. The International Criminal Tribunal indicted him for ordering the 43-month-long siege of Sarajevo, which encircled the city to starve and slaughter the people inside, and his key participation in acts of genocide, including the massacre of 7.500 Muslims in Srebrenica.

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Dr. Karadzic was always a man who invited parody. He was a psychiatrist by training, had once been imprisoned for taking hospital money to build his own chicken coop. He had great, fastidious swells of silver hair. He squeezed nurses' bottoms and wooed conquests of all kinds by writing and reciting poems about blood, sex and the divinely ordained, blood-deep supremacy of the Serb people.

Now, the world has seen enough evil not to be shocked to learn that a mass murderer can also love pets, long walks on the beach, and taking neighborhood children out for ice cream. A man who writes love poems can assist the massacre of innocents. I leave it to the professionals to fathom what part of the brain can shut out the soul.

But I'm intrigued by something else. Dr. Karadzic apparently kept photographs in his apartment of four youngsters he said were his grandchildren. They are not. He said that they lived in the United States and that he loved visiting them there. It is irresistible to wonder, who are those children? When Radovan Karadzic drifted into sleep at night, maybe with the assist of his herbal preparations, did he look at their faces and sometimes imagine himself to be their doting, dutiful grandfather? Did he want to send them cards, candy, pictures and toys on their birthday? Did Radovan Karadzic disguise himself as the person that somewhere inside he wished that he was?

His most effective, unexpected, outrageous disguise was to appear to be kind. What a disguise.

(Soundbite of music)

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SIMON: And this is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.