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LUC The Hague - Psychiatry and the Balkans in the Popular Imagination: A Reconsideration

Tuesday 22 May 2018
Anna van Buerenplein
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG The Hague

Radovan Karadzic and Jovan Raskovic – two of the architects behind the wars that broke up the former Yugoslavia – were psychiatrists. This point is, somewhat surprisingly, rather well known among academics, politicians, news media, and even the public.  In fact, Karadzic has a strong claim to being the world’s most famous living psychiatrist, with his twelve-year long evasion of international and domestic police the subject of much media attention, including several books and Hollywood films.  Yet what might be seen as a historical quirk – that both men dedicated their professional lives to understanding and treating mental illness – has instead become an obsession.  Commentators from a wide swath of disciplinary and political backgrounds have all zeroed in on the status of these two individuals as mental health professionals as an element of intrinsic importance in understanding the dissolution of Yugoslavia.  According to this point of view, only by viewing Karadzic and Raskovic as psychiatric doctors can we truly comprehend the horrors that unfolded in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  This paper assesses this widespread interest in these two men as psychiatric practitioners and critically analyses the reasons that their occupational choice has been the subject of such fascination.  Ultimately, it argues that the focus on these individuals as mental health practitioners has more to do with (mis)conceptions about psychiatry as a disciplinary field than having any real utility in explaining what unfolded in the Balkans during the 1990s.

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