Thursday, May 19, 2011

War Criminal

You’ve of course heard it said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  So is mass murder.  Two sides of a conflict can have a completely different reaction to a horrific event.  Whenever July 12-13 rolls around, the local Muslim population and international dignitaries gather at Potocari, Bosnia, the site of a former UN compound, to commemorate the massacre of about 7,500 males that occurred at Srebrenica, a so-called UN “safe zone” back in 1995.  The sadness and sense of loss is palpable, even through the YouTube videos that I’ve viewed. Relatives of the dead pray for their departed loved ones in a solemn occasion.

Meanwhile, local Serbs drink, dance, sing and clink their beer bottles in festive merrymaking. To be fair, it just so happens to be a Serb holy day.  But whose name will you hear being praised from their lips?  General Ratko Mladić, the erstwhile commander of the Bosnian Serb Army that cut a swath into Eastern Bosnia in the mid Nineties, the end result of which was a Republika Srpska ethnically cleansed and recognized by the international community.  On that evil day in 1995, buses carted the males off to kill sites in the surrounding area, while an ineffectual and virtually quiescent UN Dutch battalion of 450 troops stood by.

Mladić looked the part of a dark hero for a people with a torturous history: barrel-chested, ruggedly handsome, snarl painted on his face, and a look as if he were to blow his top at any moment.  The middle-aged commander humiliated his Muslim and Dutch captives and seemed to relish every minute of it. He’s been a fugitive wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague for years.  He’s probably hiding in Serbia, but no one knows for sure.  Years ago he would periodically appear in videos of family gatherings.  His counterpart, Radovan Karadžić, who was the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, had been hiding in Belgrade with a white bushy beard and mustache until authorities finally nabbed him in 2008.  But Mladić is a bigger fish, as he was directly responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.  He’s also a liability, for Serbia will never be able to enter the EU without delivering him up.  His family is trying to get him declared dead, claiming that the now 68-year-old has had strokes and that his lack of communication with the family means he’s passed away.  Right!  Nice try.

One of my students, who was probably no more than five years old during the Bosnian War, commented in class thus:

I can't wrap my head around the idea that while life was "normal" growing up in the 1990's in America, there were such horrific things going on in other parts of the world. Its crazy to me that things like this are still happening in the world, because of the way of life I have. I can't imagine what the wives and children of all the men felt when they were gathered and taken away from the area, and killed. It's just such a cruel, unfair act that its hard to understand the motivation behind those who kill the innocent.