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NO 151-152

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE1 > Helsinki Charter No. 151-152 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 151-152

May - June 2011


Ratko Mladic in The Hague


By Ivan Torov

At long last! After a 16-year-seach that generally resembled some obnoxious game of who gets whom more effectively, a general and creator of the most monstrous war crime in the territory of Europe after WWII found himself in the place he should have been in long ago when first news about the tragedy of almost the entire male population in Srebrenica started pouring in. He found himself in ICTY which now, almost at the end of its mandate, has the opportunity to put an end to its historical mission without leaving behind too many riddles, dilemmas and doubts about the extent to which it managed to objectively, at trials, disclose the background and the nature of the bloody Balkan nationalistic feast in 1990s. Even if - as many think - marathon trials of Slobodan Milosevic, Vojislav Seselj, Radovan Karadzic and almost the entire political, military and police leaderships of Serbia and Republika Srpska of the time have not substantively changed the perception of Serbia's role in ex-Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration, the upcoming trial of the old and shabby - but arrogant and cocky nevertheless - general Ratko Mladic is probably the last opportunity to avoid fresh quantities of disappointment and resignation after the announced closure of "the Balkan chapter in The Hague."

Anyway, today, after so many years since the end of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the first place, when so many circles are saying that with the emergence of the truth reconciliation between nations, states and political and intellectual elites is the next step, it turns out that such reconciliation - no matter how necessary - cannot be real and genuine if still based on fueling of the same motives and causes that have led to the wars, ethnic cleansing and unprecedented crimes, and if revision of "historical truth" only cements beliefs of national oligarchies about "our truth being the only and the only valid one."

The very operation of "tracking down" and arresting the most infamous fugitive from the ITCY justice and the days of long preparations for his extradition to Scheveningen were turned into a grand, popular show strongly intoned with kitsch and banalities. In those days few were those in Serbia who recalled Srebrenica, the tree-year siege of Sarajevo and other crimes for which the Bosnian Serb war commander has been accused, but there were many obviously intent to picture him in public just as "an unlucky guy" from those cheap national soap operas, no longer a cruel and ruthless executioner. That was the picture the state bodies and their services, but also the powerful media loyal to them, were after. Day in day out, the media were elaborating on the general's poor health, making lists of all his ailments, writing about strawberries and a TV set he earned for, his family problems, the sport cap he was wearing to replace "the famous military hat of Duke Misic" and guessing his present-day looks. No doubt that on one hand all this was meant to prove that Gen. Mladic of today was not even a shadow of his former self, of that powerful national hero from the times of "the defense war," "heroic" siege of Sarajevo and "liberation" of Srebrenica from "centuries-long slavery under Turks." On the other hand, it was meant to hush up the embarrassing questions about his arrest resulting from an intensive search or Brussels' ultimatum: a step the regime simply had to take to obtain EU candidacy. Moreover, all this was meant to cover up the accomplices in his 16-year-hideout, the role of some governmental officials and military services, as well as the state's readiness to prosecute those from the former cabinet (Kostunica) who have obstructed his arrest. True, the regime promised a thorough investigation but its poorly disguised dose of triumphalism about Mladic's arrest "bringing to an end the embarrassing Hague story" indicate an empty talk. For, any thorough investigation into the general's 16-year-hideout could rather complicate the regime's position at home and abroad.

Actually, any digging into "the Mladic file" would only add fuel to the fire of the utterly embarrassing debate on the effects of the long but futile search for the mastermind of the Srebrenica genocide. The question would be raised why was it that Serbia - deliberately or not, makes no difference - took upon itself the risk of occasionally obstructing itself on its road towards Europe. And the answer would be obvious: after the calvary of 1990s Serbia has wasted yet another decade and paid for it dearly with almost the last place on the list of European integrations, continuation of political, national, economic and social agony of the Milosevic era and another lost generation finding its exit strategy either abroad or in the grey area of crime. And such a (recurrent) sin can be ascribed to the all so-called democratic governments after Premier Djindjic's assassination.

Along with all this devastating effects comes the fact that all of Serbia's regimes after 2000 have not managed (or even tried) to fundamentally change the public opinion and perceptions of the great majority of elites about the 1990s wars and war crimes. Their deliberate promotion of the thesis that Milosevic, Karadjic, Mladic and others must be extradited to The Hague because Serbia is internationally duty-bound to do that, rather than because Serbia must undergo a catharsis and face up its role in ex-Yugoslavia's tragedy, actually created the space for two parallel and seemingly opposite processes: the official one marked by shorter or longer periods of delay, buying time or obstruction of the cooperation with ITCY meant to create a delusion about Serbia's readiness to confront its past, and the other that bypassed the necessary U-turn in the interpretation of wars and war crimes in all the spheres of social life after Milosevic - from educational system and governmental and political institutions' tolerance for the growing wave of extreme nationalism to the media - and thus contributed to the present-day predominance of the nationalistic matrix of late 1980s and early 1990s. No wonder, therefore, that the story about "civil wars" is still officially promoted in Serbia and that its highest officials miss no opportunity to tell us that "the real truth about the wars in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia is still to emerge." No wonder, therefore, that the term "genocide" is systematically avoided in relation to the mass crime in Srebrenica, that a balance between all warring parties and war crimes is being established and that at the moment of Mladic's arrest more than one-half of Serbia's citizens see him as "a national hero who saved and liberated Serbs," rather than a serial murderer of thousands of innocent people. Isn't that in itself a reason enough for keeping Serbia on test despite the fact that it extradited Mladic to ICTY?


NO 151-152

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