Thursday I was excited to see the photo of none other than Ratko Mladic on the cover of the IHT at the newsstand; “he’s been caught,” I thought, “just like Karadzic a few years ago.” Of course, he hasn’t, and the article spends far too much time on summarizing the case against the general, although there are a few intriguing (and I mean that very literally) details, such as how his men communicated:
As the former protector described the process as it worked in 2006, they discarded mobile telephones and SIM cards 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from their gatherings in crowded places where they could easily blend in. Meeting face to face, they hardly spoke, discussing protection logistics by exchanging written messages that they burned.
But the meat of the matter is up in the lede:
But a softening by several European countries on whether his arrest should be a prerequisite for Serbia’s admission to the European Union is raising questions about whether he will ever face justice.
The idea that Europe would soften their stance on Serbia is repugnant not only to any idea of human rights, but also to the survivors of Srebrenica (and Sarajevo, Visegrad and any other campaign in the Bosnian War). If you don’t believe me, go watch the excellent BBC documentary A Cry from the Grave and its follow-up, Srebrenica: Never Again? I challenge anyone who feels like Mladic is “yesterday’s news” to sit through the whole documentary — particularly the segments in which former UN interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic describes being separated from his family by the Dutch with a quiet, incandescent anger — and then argue that relenting on the search for Mladic is justifiable under any circumstances.
If that fails to convince, let me allow the Bosnian Serbs to sum up their own position in their own words, through a remarkable interview that Croatian-American New York Times reporter Chuck Sudetic relates in his book Blood Vengeance. The New York Review of Books review is archived on reviewer Mark Danner’s website.
It merits a full quote here. The narration is Danner’s; the interview Sudetic’s.
Those Serbs that survived, now homeless, penniless, unable even to bury their mutilated dead, made their way to Bratunac. It was there, in 1996, that Sudetic interviewed Mihailo Eric, a remarkable Serb from Kravica:
“After the Christmas attack, when the people from Kravica were refugees in Bratunac, the menfolk were bitter, weren’t they?”
“They were angry…”
“What did they say?”
“Revenge…. They said, ‘Kad tad. Kad tad, sooner or later our five minutes will come.'”
“…And the opportunity finally came.”
“Yes, blood vengeance.”
“Did they come for you?” [He nodded.] “They were excited?”
“What did they say?”
“They said, ‘Grab your gun and come down to the soccer field.'”
The soccer field at Bratunac, that is, whence the Dutch hostages heard “a great deal of shooting.” Much of that firing was done by men like Mihailo Eric. As it happens, though, Mihailo himself, a war hero, a man who had been gravely wounded, shot through the forehead earlier in the fighting, refused to take part in the massacre. As he tells Sudetic,
“It’s one thing to kill someone in battle, and it’s something else to kill prisoners, men who’ve surrendered and have no guns.”
“And have their hands tied?”
Mihailo’s attitude, of course, was unusual; had it not been, the war would have been fought very differently. During Sudetic’s interview he and Mihailo were interrupted:
The door behind me swung open. A man with a construction worker’s beer belly stumbled in. He had a ruddy complexion, light eyes, and light hair. It was Mihailo’s father, Zoran; he had been a member of an “obligatory work brigade” called to Bratunac on the day the killings began. We stood up… The father sat down in Mihailo’s chair, and Mihailo stood behind him leaning against a wall.
“Was it honorable to kill them all?” I asked the father.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It was a fair fight.”
Mihailo stared at me from behind him with a forlorn look in his eye.
“Absolutely,” the older man said again, and he turned to the woman: “Get some more brandy.”
In Bratunac, in Kravica, one suspects that the father’s view would be the accepted one. For him, Mladic’s victory over Srebrenica offered an opportunity, a chance to end the cycle of attack and retribution. Having finally conquered the enclave, would one then hand back to the Muslim leaders seven thousand men of military age (who, even if they weren’t soldiers, could easily take up arms) so they could then, or at some point in the future, rejoin the fight—the fight, that is, to regain the homes they had just lost? What, after all, had losing his home done to Zoran Eric and the other survivors of the Muslim attack on Kravica?
No, the moment must be seized, for future survival’s sake; and even Mihailo, though he stood aloof from the killing, freely admits he understands the feelings that lay behind it.
“And they killed all of them [Sudetic asks him], everyone they could?”
“And the Muslims in the column who escaped across the road? They held them up…as long as they could so that they could get some men together and have one more crack at them, didn’t they?”
“They came around looking for volunteers.”
“Did guys from Kravica go?”
“They wanted to kill as many of them as they could.”
“So they could never come back? So there would not be enough military-age men left to fight their way back?”
“Never,” Mihailo said.
The raw motives for ethnic cleansing laid bare: never come back. Never. Going ‘soft’ on the hunt for Mladic is letting Zoran Eric’s idea of justice to permeate 21st-century Europe. For many policymakers, the morass of the Balkans sows confusion and there’s always a tendency to do the easy thing, which is so rarely the right thing. Serbia will never be able to rehabilitate properly if Mladic’s capture doesn’t remain a priority, and throwing EU euros at it won’t change that. In fact, I’ll argue that it will enrich and empower the substantial portion of the population who think like Zoran Eric. Many of these young men were on display last week in Genoa and Belgrade. What is their vision of a future Serbia, and does the EU want to condone it?
If France, Germany, Belgium, and Greece cave in on considering EU membership for Serbia in Luxembourg on Monday, they will continue to make a shameful mockery of the lives lost in the Balkans from 1990 to 1999, and do a modern democratic Serbia no favors — Tadic himself says that Serbia (or at least the Serbia that his Democratic party represents) will continue to hunt for Mladic. Will the EU insist on a lower standard than the present leadership of Serbia? One hopes not. Stand up for something, Europe. At least Srebrenica succeeded in shaming the Dutch into not being pusillanimous.
Greece, of course, would like nothing better for Mladic and Srebrenica to be swept under the rug. But perhaps this is because Greeks themselves participated in the taking of Srebrenica. Takis Michas, a Greek journalist with outstanding credentials, has written about that and is now being sued for speaking the truth, by none other than the same reactionary core who wish to rob Macedonia of a name. Keep reading for more about that.