Today Ratko Mladic, the Serbian commander who ordered the execution of at least 7,000 men in Srebrenica was extradited to the Hague to face charges under the International Criminal Court. The write up in the Guardian ends with the probably justification for this move — Serbia’s desire to enter the E.U.. As is noted in the article, the Serbian president Boris Tadic made clear that he viewed the arrest and extradition of Mladic not as an ethical move, or a truth-seeking in a climate of national amnesia, but as a political token.
The president also said it was time for the EU to do its part by boosting his country’s efforts to join the bloc, arguing the arrest of Mladic proves it is serious about rejoining the international fold.
“I simply ask the EU to fulfil its part,” he said. “We fulfilled our part and we will continue to do so.”
The EU had repeatedly said Serbia could begin pre-membership talks only after it arrested the wartime Bosnian Serb commander. Some EU countries have said Serbia needs to do more, including arresting its last fugitive, Goran Hadzic, who led Croatian Serb rebels during the 1991-1995 war.
Tadic said Hadzic would be arrested as soon as possible.
This sixteen year-delayed arrest seems like an attempt to sanitize and distance the violence by suggesting that a few toxic leaders can be prosecuted. No better time to pretend to care about systematic violence than when your nation is up for consideration by the E.U.. And of course, note the language of the Guardian describing Hadzic as the nation’s “last fugitive.” It isn’t surprising that many believe that the Serbian government long knew the whereabouts of the brutal Serbian general who was ‘hiding’ with relatives.
It would be nice to think of this as a win for the extra-national organizations — particularly the International Criminal Court. This seems like a romantic view — President Tadic didn’t turn Mladic over until they could see the cash just out of reach. And of course, it wasn’t the moral judgment of the International Criminal Court which reached the Serbian’s leaders hearts, it was the threat of losing their bid to become members of the European Union.
The other part of this idea that extra-national organizations can affect cultural change within a nation should be held in the context of international involvement in the very war crimes that Mladic is accused of.
Summarizing the catastrophe in 1997, David Rohde — who as a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the first mass graves around Srebrenica — offered a blistering critique of the moral lapse on the part of the “safe area’s” alleged guardians: “The international community partially disarmed thousands of men, promised them they would be safeguarded and then delivered them to their sworn enemies. Srebrenica was not simply a case of the international community standing by as a far-off atrocity was committed. The actions of the international community encouraged, aided, and emboldened the executioners. … The fall of Srebrenica did not have to happen. There is no need for thousands of skeletons to be strewn across eastern Bosnia. There is no need for thousands of Muslim children to be raised on stories of their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers slaughtered by Serbs.” (Rohde, Endgame, pp. 351, 353.)
That’s right, United Nations observers had convinced Muslims to disarm and then turned them over to the Serbians under Ratko Mladic. How did they do that? Well, the United Nations security council passed a resolution which declared that Srebrenica was a safe zone where “all parties and others concerned treat Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act.” In the months before this, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim villages had been destroyed — when the UN declared that Srebrenica was the safe zone and sent blue helmet UN peace-keepers — refugees flooded into the town.
Ratko Mladic seized Srebrenica and took every Muslim captive. Mladic divided the men from the women and then had the men executed in a gymnasium in Srebrenica. Thousands of Muslim men were rounded up from the surrounding areas and were trucked into Srebrenica where they were executed and buried in mass graves. Where were the U.N.? Well, that depends who you ask. The official charges against Mladic say that he kidnapped and held hostage those two hundred United Nations blue helmets.
I don’t really care. What is valuable to note is that the best of intentions — those who were attempting to bring peace and reduce the conflict became complicit in systematic violence against unarmed civilians. The United Nations promise to keep Srebrenica safe, and the disarmament of the Bosnian Muslims should be remembered as part of the event.
This isn’t to excuse Mladic, but to put into context the extradition and the trial-to-come.
Mladic was a General in an army. The political forces which operated to sustain these forces are still unaccountable. Ratko Mladic was also the general who oversaw the siege of Sarajavo. He was (and still is) heralded as a hero by many nationalistic Serbs. He was beloved by his nation precisely because he did what no one else could do — he purified the Serbian nation of outsiders and acted as the uncompromising agent of nationalistic vengeance.
Now that the Serbian leaders desire to be seen as European Union members who are supposed to exhibit the symbolic pursuit toward a vague notion of human rights, Mladic is cut loose.