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24 Nov, 2017 14:02

Foregone conclusion: The conviction of Ratko Mladic and the end of the Yugoslav tribunal

Foregone conclusion: The conviction of Ratko Mladic and the end of the Yugoslav tribunal

To the surprise of no-one, Ratko Mladic was convicted in the final act of the Yugoslav tribunal in The Hague. A fitting end to ‘a monster of ferocity and anger’ as one journalist saw fit to describe him. But have we been told the full story?

It was straightforward, goodies-and-baddies stuff: an aggressor motivated by ethnic hatred attacking the victims, and the whole thing rendered inevitable by the long period in which tensions were pent-up.

Even when NATO went several bridges too far in attacking Belgrade, the years of propaganda from sources with then-relatively intact reputations would have led many to shrug with resignation and apathy.

For those unfamiliar with Ratko Mladic’s background, he was the commander of Serb forces – from both Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska (RS) – throughout the siege of Sarajevo, which began in the spring of 1992. The siege was the longest in history, close to four years, during which almost 14,000 people died. The charges in The Hague, however, related to the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. Mladic was indicted almost immediately, but he evaded capture for fourteen years.

Rumors of his whereabouts - his means of staying one step ahead of the authorities and even his death circulated throughout that time - not unlike RS leader Radovan Karadzic. The arrest of Karadzic in 2008 led to a revival of widespread interest in the whereabouts of fellow fugitive Mladic, fueled by the bizarre nature of what turned out to have been Karadzic’s cover: he had been practicing alternative medicine under an assumed name and behind a sizable beard in Belgrade and Vienna. Mladic was eventually found in a far less interesting context, undisguised save for hiding behind a door in an ordinary apartment. There is speculation sympathizers protected him until the point when society had moved on, so his status no longer demanded his capture be prevented.

Noam Chomsky, American linguist and social critic, pointed out that when it is not possible to control people physically, then it is necessary to control thought – and at the time, speaking up for Serbs was not the done thing. Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author, posited that sides in the conflict were dictated by religion, pointing out the division between Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosnians, and Orthodox Serbs. Adding the religious dimension makes more sense than the ethnic one alone, but still doesn't go very far.

Even those who have researched the war often take as their starting point that the Serbs were entirely responsible for each of a series of wars, while repeated incidents of racial intolerance involving Croatian football fans are seldom linked to that country’s pre-Yugoslav history. A little research, however, uncovers a fuller picture. Nobody ever starts a war just for the hell of it, and there is a solid case for Croatia being encouraged not only by Slovenia’s departure but also by German guarantees to provoke Belgrade into taking some action, not least in protecting Serbs living in Croatia.

German support for Croatia had several pillars. Croatia had strong historical links with the German-speaking people(s) to the north. Centuries earlier, Bismarck’s solution to the German question resulted in a Lesser Germany, rather than a Greater Germany including Austria, whose territory had included Croatia since the late eighteenth century. Naturally, this would lead to people moving hither and yon, and bilateral ties at various levels of formality.

Unquestionably, there had been collaboration to the point of co-dependence with the Nazis during the war. Moreover, Germany’s post-war economic miracle had reached its peak with German reunification, and by the early nineties, all this had led to it being regarded as a virtual superpower in its own right. With implicit and diplomatic support from their old allies, the Croats were always at risk of veering into over-confidence.

No good can come of defending the indefensible, and Srebrenica was a horrific and heinous crime on a grand scale. Sadly, we live in a world where such atrocities, even on a grand scale, occur frequently, and undoubtedly the level of attention they receive is determined by some other factor. The word 'genocide' was coined by Raphael Lemkin, to describe what happened to the Armenians in Turkey. Lemkin was disappointed that the word did not appear in the judgment of the Nuremberg tribunal (those at Nuremberg who were sentenced to death were found guilty of 'aggression'), and describing the massacre of Armenians as 'genocide' remains controversial to this day, almost a century on from when Soghomon Tehlirian, and Armenian who witnessed the murder of his mother and brother, shot Talaat Pasha, a grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire who had helped coordinate the killing of Armenians, with the words, “This is for my mother.”

There is no such compunction, nor even hesitation about using the word genocide to describe Srebrenica, a massacre of men and boys. The organization Remembering Srebrenica is a very good charity, but it is interesting that it associates so readily with the Conservative Party as to join its conference this year. The Serbian side of the story is dismissed, and in the absence of any balance, there would be nothing to stop details being embellished or even invented ex nihilo.

The surest way to silence talk of victor’s justice, debunk conspiracy theories and refute accusations of double standards would be to learn from the mistakes of the Yugoslav tribunal in setting up the Kosovo one. Stories of things like the Kosovo Liberation Army murdering defenseless prisoners of war to harvest their organs should be investigated, the perpetrators tried, convicted and punished.

That would be just, but unless it was to serve the interests of the West somehow, then your correspondent would not be holding his breath.

Marlon Cameron, for RT


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.