Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:


One of the most intriguing — albeit repugnant — real-life characters I’ve come across while researching the Yugoslav wars is undoubtedly Dr. Biljana Plavšić. Although she looks harmless enough — conservative garb, pearl earrings, silver-grey coif — this former Vice-President of Republika Srpska was a nasty old bird indeed. Numerous websites catalogue her litany of crimes. Prior to her political career, Plavšić was a biologist at the University of Sarajevo. Speaking scientifically, of course, she characterised Bosnia’s Muslims as genetically inferior peoples, as traitors and cowards who’d chosen to convert to the Islam of their Ottoman conquerors. She also looked down upon Serbs from Serbia, once declaring that evolution had forced the Bosnian Serbs to become tougher because they had to live in the midst of their Muslim enemies. Contradicting this, Plavšić was a rabid proponent of ethnic cleansing and sought to rid Bosnia of those same Muslims that had made Bosnian Serbs tougher than all the rest. She also idolised former international bank robber and paramilitary commander Željko ‘Arkan’ Ražnatović, referring to him as the sort of hero Serbs need. After the war, and after Radovan Karadžic was banned from office, Plavšić served briefly as President of the Republika Srpska. She ended up getting something of a come-uppance when she was arrested for war crimes by the ICTY. She did some time but was subsequently released early on a plea-bargain deal.

The fact that website after website (my own included!) list the same tales about her brings me to my next point: namely, the perils of cyber research. I’ve read exactly the same tales again and again, undocumented claims copied and pasted word for word, and one of the most fascinating claims about Plavšić leads only to a dead end. Apparently, she was once ‘famously’ photographed stepping over the body of a dead Muslim to kiss Arkan. Countless websites say so, including Wikipedia. Yet this ‘famous’ photo seems not to exist. Surely, when there are so many other photos from the Yugoslav wars online, this one should be available somewhere? But even the footnote on the Wikipedia article leads only to another article that makes the same undocumented claim. There’s no sign of the photo in Plavšić’s case files on the ICTY website, either. Lazar has searched for it in Serbian, too. No luck. Is it just a myth?

If anyone can actually provide me with this photo, I’d be really happy. So happy I’d probably have to thank you in the acknowledgements of my book!

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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Nzugu Hoffman 

    You’re right, that photo is nowhere to be found and Plavsic herself, in her interviews after coming back to Serbia, repeatedly pointed out that if this photograph existed, it would certainly been leaked to the public by now.

    On the other hand, Plavsic goes to great lengths to play down her confession asking people to read the court documents. Her position now is that what she confessed to was that she has not been aware of things she should have been aware of, implying that her actions were purely humanitarian, as if she had nothing to do with creating and pumping up the atmosphere of violent nationalism that brought about war crimes.

    Her statements also contradict what Carla del Ponte says in her book and since she purposely misquotes del Ponte to make herself look like a victim of biased justice, she doesn’t seem to be above lying as she often claims, saying that telling untruths is biologically impossible for her.

  2. 2

    Hi. Nice to hear from you and to learn that this photo either just can’t be found or doesn’t exist. Although I agree that Plavsic doesn’t seem to be above lying – her saying it’s biologically impossible for her to lie sounds much like all her other quasi-biological rhetoric during the war, which she presented as ‘truths’.

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