General Ratko Mladic’s arrest and his extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia satisfied the prerequisites for Serbia’s membership in the European Union. As expected, the western media have tagged the defendant as the “Butcher of Bosnia” and piled on as many charges against him as possible, thereby masking NATO’s role in Yugoslavia. But there can be no reconciliation without truth, which, as Slobodan Despot observes, is far more complex than the Manichean account given.
Ratko Mladić did not serve his country well by hiding from justice for all these years, but his late capture may allow a more serene evaluation of the tragedies in which he was the protagonist, an evaluation that would have been impossible had the trial been held in the immediate post-war period.
At the time when the ICTY indictments were issued, the West unanimously designated a single culprit: the Serbs. Since then, things have changed.
Foreign interference in the conflict, especially by the Americans, has been widely studied and analysed (see the books by Jürgen Elsässer and Diana Johnstone). Similarly, Jacques Merlino, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman & David Peterson and others have conclusively shown how media manipulation on a very large scale was used to influence public perception of the war.
Protagonists presented until recently solely as victims have been accused or convicted of the same crimes as were the Serbs. Tudjman’s Croatia, in “Operation Storm”, in the summer of 1995, massacred thousands of Serbs and ethnically cleansed 250,000 others from Krajina. Hashim Thaci’s KLA in Kosovo massacred Serb civilians and trafficked their organs. Bosnia, led by the late Alija Izetbegovic, president-elect of the Muslim community and theoretician of Islamic fundamentalism, was proved to be a bridgehead for the Mujahedeen, first Saudis and then Iranians, and a haven for terrorists. In fact, most of the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, London and Madrid had stayed in Bosnia and Bin Laden himself had a Bosnian passport issued in 1993.
For those who have the courage to remember, the period when accusations of genocide were made against Ratko Mladić and his political superior, Radovan Karadzic (whose capture and on-going trial in The Hague seems to have already been forgotten) was marked by militant anti-Serb propaganda by the West. From the perspective of 16 years later, this propaganda now appears irrational and extravagant.
It will be difficult to present General Mladić as a wolf who attacked innocent sheep. At the arrest of each new Serbian official, the International Community and the media jubilantly assured us that guilt would be demonstrated but they were remarkably discreet once the trial began. The trial of Milosevic had completely disappeared from the screen by the time he died, that of Seselj, although fantastic, was hidden and then fizzled out, and nobody is in the least interested in Karadzic’s trial. Each of these protagonists, in his defence, has accused the people who set up the court trying them of (at the least) partiality and cynicism.
Hopefully, the Mladić trial will be an exception to this rule. Hopefully it will seriously examine the entire context that led to the massacre of Srebrenica and how a vulgar “tit-for-tat” between two armies was transformed by rhetoric into something far worse: genocide.
The widespread and abusive use of this word in Western and Bosnian-Muslim descriptions of events of July 1995 shows that the main aim of its use is to intimidate. When we compare this usage with what happened at Nuremberg and the legislation it led to, it becomes clear that the ICTY wants to prevent any rational examination of Srebrenica. Astoundingly, the definition of genocide established at Nuremberg excludes the Srebrenica massacre since the latter targeted only men of fighting age (in spite of the “men and boys” ritually referred to), and not a community as such.