Thrust and Parry: Radovan Karadžić and the Translators and Interpreters at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

  • Ellen Elias-Bursać
Keywords: interpreting, translation, war crimes trial, Radovan Karadžić, power dynamic

Abstract

Every word of testimony in the war-crimes trials held at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was transcribed and recorded, translated and interpreted into other languages. The translators and interpreters enjoyed an unusual degree of visibility in this setting. Their choices of terminology, phrasing, tenor, are discussed, even hotly disputed at every session of these long trials, and the language staff are called upon to defend their choices in official memoranda. Radovan Karadžić, former president of the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, chose to conduct his own defense after he was arrested and accused of war crimes. He was well-enough versed in English that he could follow the interpreting closely as it came from the booth. His disputes with the language professionals were frequent and barbed. The relationship between the interpreter and Karadžić then became one much like fencing—thrust and parry.

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