Is Poetry a War Crime? Reckoning for Radovan Karadzic the Poet Warrior

27 Pages Posted: 13 May 2005


What is to be made before the law of the "poet-warrior" activity of the fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the "poetic-military complex" of Serbian religious-ultranationalism where poets are far from gentle folk, but rather part of a "self-romanticizing macho fantasist" aesthetic and way of life? This Note suggests that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) can use Karadzic's texts and affectations to warrior poetry in the pretrial brief and in admitted evidence, if and when Karadzic ultimately appears for trial. The violent nationalism of radio broadcasts, political journals, speeches, interviews, and manifestos have been fair game for the Office of the Prosecutor to make their cases in the last decade in both the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals. Why should poetry, perhaps the most powerful maker of myth and in the Yugoslavia context, a great mover of dangerous men and women, be any different in the eyes of international law? This Note suggests in particular that the materials at least have evidentiary value in the mens rea determination for genocide, the most significant crime Karadzic has been indicted for and the offense that has been branded the "ultimate crime." Part I sets out the highly flexible rules of evidence admissibility as well as the current evidentiary standards for genocide at the Tribunal. Part I also considers the window of opportunity afforded by ICTY Rule 93 which allows for the introduction of "character" evidence that proves a "consistent pattern of conduct relevant to serious violations of international law." Part II chronicles Karadzic's poet warrior activity and the broad contours of his "poetic-military complex." Part III illustrates how the poet warrior activity fits into a mens rea determination for genocide and the Rule 93 character evidence rule. The Conclusion considers some ways the admission of Karadzic's poet-warrior activity would change international law at the ad hoc Tribunals and possibly their permanent successor court, the International Criminal Court.

Keywords: Karadzic, Radovan Karadzic, ICTY, genocide, Serb, Serbian, Yugoslav, Bosnia, War in Bosnia, International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, poetry, war crime, war crimes, poet, law and culture, law and society

JEL Classification: K33, K10, K14, K39, K42, K49, K41, K40, H10

Suggested Citation

Surdukowski, Jay, Is Poetry a War Crime? Reckoning for Radovan Karadzic the Poet Warrior. Available at SSRN:

Jay Surdukowski (Contact Author)

Sulloway & Hollis ( email )

9 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301
United States

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