On Tour With the 'Butcher of Bosnia'

Tourists in Belgrade can visit the hangouts of the hiding Radovan Karadzic.

BELGRADE, Serbia, Sept. 16, 2008 — -- He is charged with war crimes and genocide, but that's not enough to dissuade tourists eager to see how former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic managed to live in hiding for 13 years.

Without the mountains of Slovenia or Bosnia nor the stunning coastline of Croatia or Montenegro, Serbian travel agencies have to live on their wits. One agency now offers tourists the chance to follow in the footsteps of Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who was arrested in Belgrade in July, 13 years after he was indicted for war crimes by the U.N. tribunal in the Hague.

Karadzic was for years rumored to be living in remote monasteries in the mountains of Bosnia, but the truth was as bizarre as it was humdrum. He had simply reinvented himself to become an alternative health guru selling cures for impotence -- right in Belgrade.

The man who presided over the brutal 3½ year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo disguised himself by growing a long white beard, wearing glasses the size of saucers and tying his long hair in a topknot.

He held lectures on spirituality, wrote for a magazine, traveled, acquired a girlfriend and lived a life that was a world away from what one would expect from a man who was a wanted fugitive.

For $10, tourists can visit the spots where he did it all.

Unassuming, Unappealing Neighborhood

Vekol Tours offers groups a tour of Karadzic's favorite places. It begins in new Belgrade, an unappealing sprawl of Socialist-era apartment blocks, across the river from the old part of the city.

In what is called simply Block 45, on the Jurija Gagarina street Karadzic, he lived under the assumed identity of Dr. Dragan David Dabic. Graffiti on the walls now proclaims it as "Radovan Karadzic Street," but the unassuming location was not nearly as conspicuous while he was living there.

"I've read so much about this, and I just could not comprehend how the Serbs couldn't catch a guy like that. After seeing the place, I can understand it better," said Bettina, 61, from Germany.

Guides point out where Karadzic lived and the places he went in Block 45 but are forbidden from making any comment that might be construed as politically motivated.

"We don't want to express any political opinions," said Dana Petrovic, 25, one of the guides who conducts the tour in English. "It is a completely apolitical program."

There are 15 people on each so-called Pop-Art Radovan Tour, and a Sunday group endured frigid temperatures and steady rain at each stop on the Karadzic tour.

Bakery, Supermarket and 'Bear's Blood'

The unremarkable destinations along the tour's route are a reminder of the low-key life Karadzic assumed to avoid raising any suspicions.

After a stop at his local bakery where "Dr, Dabic" bought and ate his favorite homemade potato pies while observing Serbian Orthodox Church fasts, the tour visits his local supermarket, where he bought groceries and fat-free yogurt.

The excursion stops in at the spot where Karadzic liked to wind down and felt most at home: At the Mad House cafe, the neighborhood pub and local nationalist hangout. Karadzic, it appears, who had changed so many of his habits in his alter ego, still retained one of his old ones: He remained a serious drinker, guzzling many a glass of Serbian "Bear's blood" red wine, which tourists are invited to sample.

The joint is unpleasantly small, with just a bar and four small tables, jammed with Balkan men and no women. Locals joke that sitting among them could be Ratko Mladic -- Karadzic's military commander who is still at large and whose picture hangs on the wall alongside that of Karadzic and of his wartime ally, Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader who died during his own trial in The Hague in 2006.

Customers often turn to the gusle, a traditional lone-stringed folk instrument. One night, they say, Karadzic himself played the gusle. " It was the most beautiful sound," recalls one of the regulars, while pouring one more glass of "Bear's blood."

Karadzic Pancakes

Following the route of the No. 73 bus line, the bus on which the authorities say he was arrested -- a claim he disputes -- the tour arrives at the Pinocchio pancake shop in suburban Zemun, which now features a menu item called the Karadzic pancake. Filled with chocolate and cranberry, it was reportedly his favorite treat.

"We wanted to find out some more about Karadzic," said one vacationer, a lawyer from Ljubljana, Slovenia .

She and her husband were on a weekend break in Belgrade. Others on the tour were a family with two teenage daughters from Croatia, several French teenagers, three women from Germany and a Cypriot .

Claire Bernard, 20, a French history student, said, "It's pretty interesting to see all the places where Karadzic was."

Locals Disturbed by Tourist Interest

The tour ends with a stroll past the front of the Serbian war crimes tribunal where Karadzic spent his last few days before he dispatched to the Hague.

The 1990s Balkan war period rouses such agony among pro-European Serbs that few locals would care to do the Karadzic sites tour as part of a happy holiday.

"I can't imagine who would actually want to take the tour," said Marko Jeftic, an Internet marketer who lives in Belgrade. "Maybe it's just a way of creating attention for the tour operators. Why would foreign tourists want to walk in the footsteps of a war criminal? It's completely idiotic."

"We face up to the past, but often only after a long reluctance," says Gorcin Stojanovic, a prominent Belgrade movie director. "A tour in Karadzic's footsteps should actually be organized in Bosnia, and it should include all places where horrible war crimes were committed, and of which he has been accused. That tour would be something."