Radovan Karadzic sent word he plans to defend himself against U.N. genocide charges, but his fellow Serbs were more enthralled with details that emerged Wednesday about his secret life: a mistress, a bogus family in the U.S., and regular visits to the Madhouse bar and its photo of his beardless days as wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs.
With U.N. officials predicting Karadzic would be handed to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the next week, an attorney said the prisoner would handle his own defense, just like his former mentor, the late Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 while on trial.
Karadzic will do it looking like his old self, without the bushy white beard and long gray hair that hid his face when he was arrested by Serbian authorities, his attorney, Sveta Vujacic, said. Karadzic asked for and got a shave and a haircut.
“He looks like new, exactly the same, only 14 years older,” Vujacic said.
Since the arrest was announced Monday, Serbs have been intrigued by how Karadzic transformed himself from a flashy suit-and-tie politician into a long-haired health guru living openly in their midst while being sought for alleged crimes during Bosnia's 1992-95 ethnic bloodletting.
“His new life was fascinating. He hid in the open,” said criminologist Leposava Kron.
The metamorphosis was so complete that many of Karadzic's neighbors said they were struggling to comprehend how the friendly man they knew as “Dr. Dragan David Dabic” was one of the world's most-wanted fugitives.
Belgrade media said Wednesday that the alias was taken from a Bosnian Serb who died in Bosnia's capital in 1993 during the war.
Karadzic had a girlfriend named Mila whom he presented as an associate in his alternative medicine business, said Zoran Pavlovic, a software engineer who says he was hired in February to set up a Web site.
Pavlovic said he visited Karadzic's apartment in a grim suburb of the capital called New Belgrade once or twice a month to discuss the project.
The rented two-room flat was a mess, with things strewn about. Karadzic was always dressed in black and often complained that money was hard to come by, Pavlovic said.
Karadzic's neighbors had only praise for him.
“He was always polite, offering his services to help my husband, who had a stroke,” said Milica Sener, who lives one floor down. “But I declined. We don't believe in alternative medicine.”
Shopkeeper Gordana Blagojevic said Karadzic bought yogurt and whole-grain bread at her store every other day, sometimes with his girlfriend in tow.
“I was shocked to hear who he really is,” Blagojevic said.