This is a photo of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In April of 1992, snipers from the top floors of the Holiday Inn started shooting upon marchers in a peace rally. This marked the escalation of violence and the start of the three year siege of Sarajevo. The siege and much of the war in Bosnia was led by the Bosnian Serb General, Ratko Mladic. He was caught this week by police after a long spell as a fugitive from the United Nations sponsored, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia I took the photo of Holiday Inn while visiting the city in October of 2009.
He had a sort of Bin Laden status here in Serbia. I’ve seen his Most Wanted poster in the airport and other government buildings often. The Tribunal indicted him back in 1995 for his role in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the conflict from 1992 – 1995. Authorities captured him on a raid on his cousin’s home in the village of Lazarevo, a small farming community close to Belgrade. The arrest was huge news in Serbia, and made headlines around the world.
He is most infamous for his role in the massacre at Srebenica. Around 8,000 civilians were executed in this Bosnian border city, when his troops entered the UN “safe haven.” The PBS/BBC documentary that I linked to above, is an excellent introduction to the event. He was eventually asked to step down from his post, as the war moved into a stalemate. The Bosnian Serbs had overwhelming military force and took up to 70% of Bosnia, but it was reduced to 49% with the Dayton Accords of 1995. Shortly thereafter, the UN Tribunal indicted him, but he lived freely under military protection until Milosevic was ousted in1999. The 16-year time span that he was a “fugitive” is actually only 11, because he went into hiding not until 2000.
I am glad that he will have to go through the trial and the facts of the case will be documented by the court. I would prefer it to occur in Serbia or Bosnia instead of the Hague. It would be better for the Yugoslavians to deal with it, rather than foreigners. I feel it would help in the acknowledgment and speed the reconciliation process.
Why did it take authorities 11 years to finally capture him? I am not sure and I would like to hear from some expert readers. I think one of the big reasons was his failing health and he wanted the free health care that the Hague would provide. At age 69, he looks much different than he did 11 years ago when he went into “retirement.” Reports indicate he may have suffered a stroke and lost mobility in one of his arms. I wish I could read Serbian to get more of the details because it is of course receiving full coverage in the papers.
The reaction here in Belgrade is muted. Most of the Serbs I talk to are either happy that justice will be served and they do not feel sorry for him, or they are tired of hearing about for the past 11 years and are glad that the country can move on. Of course, most of the Belgraders I am acquainted with cosmopolitan and well educated. Mladic’s support comes from the military and poor, rural Serbia where he has been hiding. There was a small group of soccer hooligans downtown this week protesting the arrest. They were chanting “knives, barbed wire, Srebenica” which is a soccer slogan. I need to get some more information on this and I’ll ask around. The mood in Belgrade is much different than when former Bosnian Serb President, Radovan Karadzic was caught in July of 2008. I also think he wanted to spend some time with his family before he dies. He has not been in contact with his wife and son and grandchildren since he went into hiding. They have suffered much. Mladic’s daughter committed suicide in 1994, and it is speculated she could not come to grips with his acts as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” one of his nicknames.
I’ll try to follow some of the trial, but it is so drawn out that it probably won’t start for another year or so. I predict he’ll die before a verdict is reached due to failing health. I am not sure what the implications will be of his capture. Serbia has lots of reform to do before it gets into the European Union. The arrest will help, but they need to clean up the economy, justice system, infrastructure, etc. And with the current state of the EU and it’s currency and immigration issues, I don’t see them expanding in the near future. I feel strongly that Serbia should first try to join “Yugoslavia” before going towards the EU. The Balkans make a natural economic and cultural block that would help the lives of its citizens even more than entry into the EU.