News / Europe

Mladic Arrest Tests Balkan's Will to Heal Wartime Wounds

Combination photo shows Bosnian Serb army commander General Radko Mladic in Pale dated May 7, 1993 and in Belgrade after he was arrested on May 26, 2011.
Combination photo shows Bosnian Serb army commander General Radko Mladic in Pale dated May 7, 1993 and in Belgrade after he was arrested on May 26, 2011.

Observers say the arrest of of Europe’s most-wanted war crimes suspect, Bosnian Serb military General Ratko Mladic, will help clear up international concerns about Serbia and support its reconciliation process. But while the legal process moves ahead, the country may have more difficulty letting go of the past.

Reporters at the press conference where Serbian President Boris Tadic broke the news of Mladic's detention questioned the timing of the announcement, suggesting it may not have been a coincidence the arrest happened during a visit by Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Policy chief. Ashton was in Belgrade to discuss Serbia's EU application. Tadic dismissed the speculation.

"We are not making calculations when and how to deliver," said President Tadic. "We are doing that because we truly believe this is in accordance with our law. This is because of our people, Serbs. This is because of moral dignity of our country and our people. But this is crucially important in terms of reconciliation between people that are living in the region of southeast Europe’s former Yugoslavia."

Growing Pressure

Serbia has been under intense pressure to arrest Mladic. The top prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia recently warned that a much more rigorous approach was needed to find Mladic. And the EU has tied Serbia’s membership to the detention of the military leader accused of orchestrating the genocide of nearly 8,000 Muslims men and boys in Srebrenica, a small Bosnian town on the border of Serbia. The 1995 massacre was Europe’s worst since World War II.

Refik Hodzic of the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York says the pressure appears to have worked.

“I don’t think we that we would see the arrest of Ratko Mladic had it not been for this," said Hodzic.

The tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands indicted Mladic in 1995 for the Srebrenica massacre and for atrocities committed during the three-year siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.

Hodzic said prosecutors not only will be looking for evidence linking Mladic to those crimes, but for information on how the general evaded arrest for so long.

“There were various allegations both from the tribunal in The Hague and the media in the region that he was protected throughout the years by the Serbian military, by the state institutions," he said. "And a telling fact is that men from the community where he lived, where he was arrested, men said, ‘Well, we never noticed anything strange but an increased presence of the police in the last months and years.’”

The Serbian president said there will be an investigation into how Mladic was living freely for 15 years. The issue touches on deep divisions within Serbia about whether Mladic should be prosecuted. 

War Hero or Criminal?

A poll conducted for the government’s National Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal this month said 78 percent of those surveyed would not report Mladic to the authorities.

“Many Serbs, yes, do regard Ratko Mladic as some sort of hero," said James Ker-Lindsay, an expert with the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“They look to the events that took place in Bosnia and rather than seeing him as a military leader of an act of aggression rather view him as being the defender of the Bosnian Serb people," he said. "So in that sense, there is a certain degree of latent support for him.”

But he says Serbians are conflicted because they understand their country’s future has to be a part of Europe.

“It’s not about forgetting what took place in Bosnia or, indeed, the entire Western Balkans in the 1990s," said Ker-Lindsay. "But it’s about recognizing that Serbia’s got to atone for this, pay its price and move on. And people understand that Mladic is absolutely central to that process.”

Relatives of Srebrenica’s victims welcomed news of Mladic’s arrest but expressed some reservations. Kada Hotic, a member of the Mothers of Srebrenica Association, accused Serbia of knowingly hiding Mladic, who she called a “monster.”

She said even though the general is being handed over to justice, she is afraid his trial will end without a verdict, as happened in the case of Slobodan Milosevic. The former Yugoslav president died in his prison cell in 2006 before his war crimes trial concluded.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader during wartime, is currently on trial at The Hague. Even after Mladic's own trial begins, Hodzic said the Serbian government must tell the people it sent Mladic to prison because he committed genocide, not just because it is good for the country’s image.

“And until that happens, I think this sort of instability that exists will not go away because the nationalist narrative," Hodzic said. "The anger is there. The victims don’t see satisfaction through these trials because they are not followed by acknowledgment in the local community by the government.”

While Serbia's internal process of healing is uncertain, the country’s external relations are unclear, as well. One last Serbian fugitive is wanted in The Hague. The EU has yet to say whether Belgrade must also arrest political leader Goran Hadizc, or whether three out of four suspected war criminals is good enough.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs