How Karadzic's poetry helps to prove his genocidal intent

Jay Surdukowski is the lawyer, scholar, and poet I previously mentioned who has agreed to let me publish an excerpt of his research. Below are some excerpts from his excellent article "Is Poetry a War Crime? Reckoning for Radovan Karadzic the Warrior-Poet" which was published in the Winter 2005 issue of the Michigan Journal of International Law.

What the article is about...
This Note will suggest 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? Even
beyond providing background proof for rabid nationalism, the texts, videos, and
other testimonies relative to Karadzic as poet-warrior could have value in
demonstrating mens rea for crimes Karadzic is accused of orchestrating. This
Note will suggest 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.” The videotape of the world’s deadliest poetry reading
[Karadzic and Russian nationalist poet Eduard Limonov taking turns reciting
poetry and firing a sniper rifle into Sarajevo] as well as Karadzic’s
poems and incitements with poetry at the front lines should be a part of the
Prosecution’s case just as these other evidentiary and context-building
rhetorical texts.
How poetry can be used to prove genocidal intent...
The major opening where poet-warrior evidence might specifically be
admissible is proving the intent involved in the crime of genocide—the most
important charge Karadzic faces.

In practice, proving genocidal intent is an “all encompassing” inquiry.
This is chiefly because the specific intent needed for genocide, the
“intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic racial or religious
group” is difficult to prove. Lacking a confession or concrete documentary
evidence of a plan, inferences on mens rea are drawn case-by-case from whatever
evidence is presented at trial. In determining proof of discriminatory
intent, “the Trial Chamber takes account of not only the general context in
which the acts of the accused fit but also, in particular, his statements and
deeds.” Such evidence may include previous statements and acts of the
defendant and the “general political doctrine that gave rise to the acts.”
An example of Karadzic's poetry, from Goodbye Assassins...
Goodbye Assassins, it seems from now on
The gentlefolks’ aortas will gush without me.
The last chance to get stained with blood
I let go by.
Ever more often I answer ancient calls
And watch the mountains turn green.

Goodbye, assassins, a rare thought of genesis
enters my mind. Of knowing the heaven.
And blood, that ugly word, violent and dark,
Angers Milutin, the ancestor asleep,
gentle even in death, as if in times of fasting.

From the grave, as if from the primeval beginning,
Innocent and simple,
His love rises toward streams,
A piece of bread,
Which sufficed him.

His thoughtful gaze at the streams,
The heavens, unbroken, total,
Takes in me as well.
I cannot share your madness!

Lost brothers, time puts us to the proof.
Shoot the heads of the world without me!
Insane mates. The century’s ravens.
The world travels a narrow path,
Without strength or belief, a target or a bullet.
The papers ooze the age lymph;
Confused the devils get married.

I detect forebodings, fear excessively
For the heavens’ light and the rare summers.
Goodbye, assassins, the boundaries between
The worlds are trampled
Instead of the heart, a hornet drones in vain.
History turned its back on us.
What should one shoot at?
Like an octopus, the age hides its vertebra,
And the winter approaches
With white drifts.
Karadzic's self-satisfaction with Sarajevo's destruction, as one of his early poems had predicted...
There is a poem of mine about Sarajevo. The title was “Sarajevo,” and first line
was “I can hear disaster walking. City is burning out like a tamyan in a
church.” In this smoke, there is our conscious of that. And a squad of armed
topola—armed trees. Everything I saw armed, everything I saw in terms of a
fight, in terms of war, in terms of—in army terms. That was 20, 23 years ago,
that I have written this poem, and many other poems have something of
prediction, which frightens me sometimes [laughter].
Reading Karadzic's poetry is proof enough for anybody that he's a sicko obsessed with killing and violence. Let's hope that, based on Mr. Surdukowski's scholarship, that Karadzic's poetry is also used against him as evidence in his Hague trial.


Blogger John1975 said...

All these writings would be circumstantial at best.

Know, though, that I haven't a clue of the way the criminal court works in these matters.

All I know is the American 12 man jury trial. I haven't looked into who actually brings the judgment down at the ICTY.

If I were a prosecutor, though, I would only introduce this evidence as late as possible and then only after I had judged the reaction of the jury, who ever that is in these matters.

I don't know, to me it just seems like using these poems is scraping the bottom of the evidence barrel; it comes off as desperate. Surely there is more credible, substantial evidence out there than trying to prove what words on paper mean from a personal poem.


7:39 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

I don't deny that K's poetry may well contain evidence of mens rea but I'm not convinced that this is enough. Couldn't it be argued that a lot of what is being said in the poem expresses a renunciation of violence?

8:56 AM  
Blogger Balkan Ghost said...

Maybe while one poem can be read to mean different things, the writers intent becomes more clear when he's written hundreds of poems.

I wish I could have done a better job of summarizing the article in a short posting... there's lots on the evidentiary standards that the ICTY uses, and more examples and analysis of K's poetry.

Jay tells me his article is online for anyone who wants to read the whole thing. Try: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=710081, or:


2:00 PM  
Blogger Yakima_Gulag said...

I never heard of poetry being used in evidence in any normal court in a civilized country.
Of course I don't think of Karadzic as a real poet anyway, he barely rises to the level of propaganda!
I am with John that it would not be terrific evidence.
The Tribunal doesn't have a jury in our understanding of the word, it has a panel of I think it is three judges. It works a bit like hte Diplock no jury courts in Northern Ireland in the 1980s.
This is on purpose because it's easier to protect the lives of three or four judges than it is to protect 12 jurors.
People who commit acts of terror or war crimes are not nice people.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's believe every word the bible says because it has Psalms. No one disagree. This MUST be true, at least, using FindingKaradzic's methods. There is no way this is going to be used, well it may be used, but it'll just point out how desperate the Hague is.

4:13 AM  
Blogger Aaron Ostrovsky said...

As the editor of MJIL who published Jay's piece, I am pleased it is getting some recognition. I think it is important to point out, based on some of the comments, that Jay's article was more of a "think piece" than an actual hard evidentiary argument.

I would not presume to speak for Jay but I am not sure he intended the argument to be about whether true mens rea can be demonstrated from poetry but rather to ask the question: What kinds of things have we overlooked in looking into the minds of monsters like Karadzic?

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

poo poo pee pee,

who cares

its already been gotten away with

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balkan Ghost is a self serving wanker bemt on profit from his recriminations .

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What should one shoot at?
Like an octopus, the age hides its vertebra,
And the winter approaches
With white drifts."

Though I am unable to read the original, both the rhythm of the images and of the component sounds is in order throughout the poem... Though I would not compare this Karadzic to Homer, one notes this commonality between them: the singing of warriors and their actions (which includes the sacking of cities, as in The Odyssey, or the taking out of heads of state, as in this poem).

It is certainly easy to dismiss poetry as propaganda if the views which it puts forward differ from one's own, but, as someone who reads a Kenneth Rexroth as freely as an Ezra Pound, taking something from both, we should remember that aesthetics does not necessarily fit into an Era-specific box as do charges of genocide.

This poetry, to return to it, and to use Julius Evola's classification of art according to the regression of the castes, is an example of 2nd estate 'warrior' poetry as opposed to 4th estate 'socially responsible'/'social realism' poetry, so I treat of it as such.

The lines which I quoted are the shrewd products of someone capable of standing outside of what is now known as liberal democracy, or of what is now known as modernity, in order to have that breathing space necessary to come to an understanding of it. There is a certain poetic objectivity of which these lines partake, and of which a poem should partake, which is more than the poet.

Whatever this man's crimes happen to be -- and I will learn what I can about the subject now that it is on my radar -- I am pleased to have come across dynamic as opposed to cosmopolitan poetry, even in the midst of this hybrid of the 3rd & 4th Estates and their concerns.

Finally, one notes that several billion people are adherents of faiths whose holy scriptures glorify massacres, as with the Christians, Jews, and Muslims for whom the purported massacres of Canaanites and Sodomites are holy writ, and something implicitly and retroactively agreed with.

Point the finger in this instance, and perhaps you will find that the finger starts pointing in more and more directions, fissiparous as a French Revolution, which is a sign of an unstable premise to begin with.

Singedfur@yahoo.com (an American poet living in the South Pacific)

11:47 PM  
Blogger lpcyusa said...

I read lots of war poetry written by a great myriad of people throughout centuries and, I also read the writings of my own Jewish family that were military officials during WWII. My Grandfather, and, also my son who toured twice in Iraq and even I can write similar poems as to Karadzic in my poetry tesifying to things I saw when I was in Java during East Timor 1970s).

THis does not at all prove to any legal entity that I possess genocidal tendencies just because I wrote about war generally speaking.

Any war general could write poetry about scene from war. WRiting about it things that one sees in war in a narrative, does prove the author had genocidal intent in writing his poem.

It is one of the weakest legal arguments and manifests how desperate the Hague is any type of evidence it does seems it currently does not possess evidence for his trial.

If his case is that weak, he can prove all types of badgering of witnesses, family, me, etc, and how Hague has / is impeding international justice in his case and have his trial canceled.

While most persons may think this idea is ridiculous I strongly believe there is more than enough proof from a great variety of sources that is able to legally have the Hague under no uncertain legal terms cancel the Karadzic case with notations on the case why they legally had to.

11:38 PM  
Blogger lpcyusa said...

just because people wrote about what happens in war does not equal intent. It just legally is not correct.

11:42 PM  

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