As you would expect, I am still following the coverage of the Radovan Karadzic case, still looking to see if anyone is going to provide on-the-record information to back up all of those charges that the world's most infamous war criminal had, at some point, been hiding in Orthodox churches or monasteries. I wrote my Scripps Howard News Service column about this issue last week, turning to the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America for input on the situation. He was not, to say the least, amused by all of the anonymous charges against the Serbian hierarchy, especially that ABC News report that turned the bizarre news about Karadzic's career in alternative forms of medicine and therapy into this label -- "Orthodox mystic."
"It's like that old saying that you can't fight city hall," said Metropolitan Christopher, in frustration. Journalists and outsiders "want to link all of this to the Serbian Orthodox Church. And they want to say that all Serbs, everywhere, are guilty of the actions of these violent men and that, most of all, the Serbs are the only people who have ever done these terrible things to their neighbors. ...
"They forget that men like Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were enemies of the church and used violence against the Orthodox, too. Our bishops were jailed and beaten for opposing the regime behind this violence."
I know that this is all rather complex and byzantine.
But it's crucial to realize that it was possible, during all of that fighting, to be in favor of the defense of Serbian villages and churches and even to oppose the creation of an independent Kosovo, yet to remain totally opposed to ethnic cleansing and the kinds of hellish violence unleashed by the likes of Karadzic. There were people who opposed the Milosevic regime and who backed cease fires, over and over. These brave leaders included Muslims, Jews, Catholics and, yes, Serbian Orthodox hierarchs.
Yet lines keep getting blurred in print. Notice this paragraph in a New York Times report late last week:
Mr. Karadzic, even before the outbreak of war in Bosnia, often declared publicly that his mission was to "protect" Christian Serbs from Bosnian Muslims threatening to create an Islamic state. He made virulent speeches, warning that if Bosnia broke away from Yugoslavia, its Muslim population could be decimated.
Note those quote marks around the word "protect."
The first half of that paragraph does not mesh with the second. Defending Serbs in war-torn areas is one thing. The charges that Karadzic faces at The Hague go way, way, way past anything that military leaders would consider "defense." If he had settled for a defensive role, he would not be on trial. Yes, there were Serbian villages and churches that needed to be defended.
However, that isn't what this is all about:
The indictment is a 25-page document citing crimes in numerous locations, most crucially the three-year siege of Sarajevo, which left more than 10,000 civilians dead, and the mass killings at Srebrenica, where nearly 8,000 unarmed men and boys were executed in a weeklong massacre. ...
The massacre at Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo have been thoroughly documented in other trials. Mr. Karadzic himself has been filmed visiting the Serbian gun positions that were pounding the civilians of Sarajevo. At Srebrenica, Mr. Karadzic can argue he did not order the massacre; prosecutors will have to prove that even if he did not issue such an order, he was kept informed and could have stopped the killing.
I know it's confusing. I know it's hard to keep all of this straight. But let's focus on Karadzic's crimes, which were offensive, not defensive.
Photo: A damaged icon in a war-ravaged Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo.