Feature

Serbia: The capture of Mladic

The former Bosnian Serb military leader is accused of being responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

“Serbia and its president have done a great thing,” said Bosko Jaksic in the Belgrade Politika. The arrest last week of accused war criminal Ratko Mladic “is the symbolic end of the long, shameful series of failed policies, weak diplomacy, and bloody ethnic war.” Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader, has been on the run for 15 years, accused of being responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995—the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II—as well as for the ­1992–96 siege of Sarajevo and other crimes against humanity. His arrest in northern Serbia is a blow for justice, just as his extradition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague will be. And yet, this being Serbia, “many people take a cynical view” of the timing of the arrest, which came just before a visit from the European Union’s foreign minister and just after diplomats warned that the failure to find Mladic was holding up Serbia’s bid to join the EU. I admit that I share this cynicism. Yet even so, “the important thing is that Mladic has finally been caught.”

Serbs’ reaction to the arrest is heartening, said the Bratislava, Slovakia, Sme in an editorial. Sure, a few thousand radical nationalists protested in the streets, declaring that Mladic is their personal hero. But the vast majority of Serbs welcomed the arrest with relief. “That means that the Serbs are finally coming to terms with the war in the former Yugoslavia and are nearly mature enough for EU membership talks.” But one thing still needs to be explained: How did Mladic stay in hiding for so long? He was discovered in a town where his family reportedly had connections and property—surely a site that could have been searched long ago. Before Serbia can be welcomed back into the European family, its authorities need to figure out “who helped him hide, whether these people are still in state or army service, and what is to be done with them.” Just as he did not hide alone, Mladic did not kill alone, said Emir Suljagic, a Srebrenica survivor, in the Sarajevo, Bosnia, Oslobodjenje. The genocide of Bosnian Muslims was a group effort, perpetrated by Mladic’s militias with the assistance of thousands of ordinary Bosnian Serbs. The crime required “thousands of hands, tons of bullets, buses, buildings to house the prisoners, bulldozers, and excavators” to bury the bodies. “All these machines were controlled by men” who now live a few villages away, untroubled by the forces of justice. Mladic and the others who “dreamed up” the genocide are now behind bars. But “at large are still the middle echelons, those who actually conducted the operation on a practical level, issuing orders to send troops from point A to point B, driving the trucks and excavators from point C to point D.” When will these people be held to account for their crimes? “Mladic’s arrest is not the end. It is but a start.”

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