Karadzic: master of disguise
Deaglán de Bréadún
Radovan Karadzic sure knows how to work up a disguise. The beard is the secret as it softens that sharp jaw-line which is one of his distinctive features. I attended a press conference he gave in Moscow when I was stationed there for The Irish Times back in early 1994. He was accompanied by a Russian ultra-nationalist bogeyman, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a big name at the time but now largely forgotten.
Karadzic didn’t look like a mass-murderer but, then, what does a mass-murderer look like? His rumpled appearance and old-fashioned “quiff” hairstyle reminded me at the time of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael backbenchers at home. But now, in his latest ”ultra-cool” manifestation he looks like a roadie for one of the older rock bands, maybe The Eagles or Crosby, Stills & Nash. Alternative medicine was also a good cover but it is hard to believe that elements in the Belgrade “system” didn’t know where he was for some time and have now decided to serve him up as a bargaining-chip for EU entry.
Staying on that side of Europe, it was very sad to read of the death in a car-crash of Bronislaw Geremek, a former communist intellectual who played a major role in the Solidarity movement in Poland with Lech Walesa. I reported on two visits he made to Dublin, in 2004 and 2006. He gave me an interview in the lobby of a hotel on St Stephen’s Green and we both smiled when the waiter who served us turned out to be a young Polish immigrant. Geremek was fulsome in his praise for Ireland’s decision to allow people from the former communist countries to come here and work, immediately after accession to the EU in 2004. Only three EU states opened their doors from Day One: Ireland, Britain and Sweden.
I asked him about Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish socialist who criticised Lenin for abolishing democratic elections after the Russian Revolution. “Rosa Luxemburg was a wonderful person,” he said. He drew an interesting parallel between Lenin and Gorbachev, recalling that the former had brought in the New Economic Policy in an attempt to popularise the communist regime. Gorbachev did something similar: it didn’t work in the long term.
He was elected MEP in 2004 (having previously served as foreign minister) and was strongly of the view that English should be the EU’s working language: “We should accept that English, this technical European English, is the language of the European Union. Maybe we have to accept French as the language of reference for documents of the EU. One of the concerns of the EU should be the support of the national languages and the national cultures but not inside the European institutions.”
Geremek’s visits attracted little public attention here, unlike another intellectual of similar vintage, Noam Chomsky, who came to Dublin around the same time in 2006. Although he has interesting things to say, the cult of Chomsky puzzles me a bit. I was invited to chair a talk he gave at UCD and found his views to be fairly predictable, although they were lapped-up by the vast crowd, a certain proportion of whose grandfathers must, ironically, have been marching around in shirts of blue in the 1930s. Meanwhile a doughty fighter like Geremek who wrested democracy from the jaws of Stalinist totalitarianism was virtually ignored in Ireland.
I was in New York covering the Taoiseach’s visit when I read about Geremek’s death in the obituary page of The Irish Times, where I also discovered that a fine journalist, the highly-respected Eric Silver, formerly of the Guardian, had also passed away.
I met Eric in Jerusalem a few years ago. I was nervous about meeting downtown because I had attended the scene of a suicide bombing in the vicinity the day before. But he insisted: it was clearly a matter of principle not to let himself be intimidated by terror and I went along with that, however uneasily. We had a nice chat over a few drinks, with some amusing banter about the Irish toast Sláinte (health) and the Hebrew counterpart L’chayim (to life) and, when we parted, he said he would be delighted to meet me again but he would choose the location. For me it was an interesting insight into the mind of a nation under siege. See http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2002/0322/1016671548691.html
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times (on vacation until August 18th)