ST. PETERSBURG — The arrest of Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic has stirred up still raw emotions among the sizable Balkan population in northern St. Petersburg.
Reaction to Monday's arrest is as mixed here as it is in Serbia, and it hinges on the same ethnic differences that triggered violence in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Karadzic, charged with genocide by a U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for his actions in the Bosnian war, is either a monster or a hero, depending on who's talking.
Stephen Zaremba, parish priest of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, said his several-hundred-member Christian congregation feels betrayed.
"The Serbian people are angry," said Zaremba, who characterized Karadzic as a hero. "I've got a whole parish full of people who wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for him."
Zaremba thinks the international media has unfairly demonized Karadzic. In his view, Karadzic was just doing his job, even in his involvement with the killings in the small village of Srebrenica for which he's most known.
"That's part of warfare," Zaremba said. "I'm not saying he's an angel. There were slaughters on all sides."
But patrons of the Balkan Food Store and Bakery on Fourth Street N — predominantly Bosnian Muslims — celebrated his arrest.
Several did not want to give their names because they feared confrontation with neighbors, but they thought Karadzic was a terrible man who deserved to get caught.
About 3,000 Bosnians moved to Pinellas County during the 1990s as refugees of the war that split the former nation of Yugoslavia along largely religious lines.
In St. Petersburg, neighborhoods full of Bosnian Muslims and Christian Serbs are mostly separated by a drainage canal that bisects 77th Avenue N.
Several Bosnian stores and restaurants have popped up in the area, which is also home to the St. Sava church, a mainstay of Serb culture in the Tampa Bay area.
But the two religious groups don't associate with each other for the most part, still harboring bad feelings from across the Atlantic.
"You can't really discuss it without rehashing everything," Zaremba said. "Anything coming from that area is explosive."
Andrew Dunn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8150.