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Childhood Friend Says Tadic was Cruel, Artistic

Parents would warn their children to
stay away from Dule, Tadic’s nickname.

To at least one Bosnian Muslim neighbor, Dusan Tadic was once a drinking partner and a friend. But these days, those who knew him see Tadic as a symbol of what went wrong in Bosnia, of how neighbors and friends turned on one another in a frenzy of ethnic hatred fed by ultranationalist propaganda. Tadic, 39, on Tuesday becomes the first defendant to appear before the U.N. tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Prosecutors accuse the former Serb prison camp guard of murder, torture and rape — cold-blooded crimes among the worst they’ve heard of from Bosnia’s war.

Tadic’s indictment says he and a Serb gang “ordered prisoners ... to drink water like animals from puddles on the ground, jumped on their backs and beat them until they were unable to move.” Short, stocky and usually dressed in a black leather jacket, Tadic looks bored in The Hague tribunal courtroom as prosecutors debate international law. His defense is mistaken identity.

But a childhood friend says Tadic showed signs of cruelty even as a boy, reportedly threatening his elementary school teachers in the northwestern Bosnia village of Kozarac. “Parents would warn their children to stay away from Dule,” Ahmed Kulenovic said in an interview late last year, still using Tadic’s nickname. Kulenovic remembers a different side of Tadic: games on the playground and above all, a shared love of art.

“We liked to think of ourselves as great artists,” the 40-year-old Kulenovic said in his sparse living room-kitchen in Poertschach, an Austrian lakeside resort. Their favorite artist was Van Gogh, and they drew their own cartoon strip: Ping and Pong. Once, Kulenovic recalled, Tadic won a regional competition with his self-portrait as a member of the straight-arrow Communist youth. In Communist Yugoslavia, Dule’s pedigree was good. His father, a peasant, joined the partisans in World War II to fight against the Nazis and their Croatian fascist allies. He finished the war an officer.

But besides art, Dusan Tadic found little to interest him. The local teacher wrote recommendations for both boys to attend specialized art high schools. Kulenovic couldn’t afford it. And Tadic decided to go to auto mechanic school in Belgrade. Both young men took up karate, and became sparring partners.

Tadic earned a coveted black belt, and as he grew and developed, his shoulders broadened. He added a swagger to emphasize them, a swagger so distinctive, Kulenovic said, that mutual friends who were thrown into Serb camps claimed to recognize Tadic by his walk alone. By then, Tadic’s youth of friendship with Muslim neighbors was far behind him.

The two friends saw less of each other. Tadic opened a cafe near home. Kulenovic moved to Austria, but he heard from friends that Tadic had been swept up in Serb nationalism. In the spring of 1992, war broke out in Bosnia, and the northwest was one of the worst places. In May, Muslims were rounded up, killed in front of their homes, imprisoned in detention camps. One of them, at Omarska, was where Tadic allegedly held murderous sway.

Today, Kulenovic sees his childhood friend on television, under arrest as a war criminal. When he thinks about what happened, he is hurt and confused, not only over the loss of “Dule,” but of the trust and understanding on which he thought life was based. “If someone like that did all this, then there is really no chance,” Kulenovic said. “That’s the biggest evil, that it was not someone from far away, it was one of us.”

Additional resources
May 6 · On Trial's Eve, Tadic Claims Innocence
May 5 · War Crimes Trials Begin Tuesday
Key Facts about the War Crimes Tribunal
War Crimes Profile: Dusan Tadic
War Crimes Tribunal May Pale Compared to Nuremberg
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from the United Nations
Coalition for International Justice
Reports concerning human rights abuses in Bosnia published by Intac Access
Major War Criminals/Suspects from CalTech's Bosnia Site
Reports on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia from CalTech's Bosnia Site

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