Less than two weeks ago, on July 11, 2008, Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica mourned both the long buried and their still-lost loved ones as they remembered another July 11 — the horrible day in 1995 when the international community, in the form of the United Nations, utterly failed them. On that day, 8,372 men and boys — supposedly under the protection of the U.N. — were separated from their families and massacred. For 13 years the international community again failed them — this time by failing to find and prosecute those who’d been charged by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal with ordering the killings.
On July 12, Times Online wrote in its editorial:
“The men who ordered the killings, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, remain at large. For 13 years they have been protected not by vast deserts or impenetrable mountains, but by people who refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that they are war criminals.
“Guilt for war crimes does not expire. …The men responsible for Srebrenica can run, but they cannot hide forever. Their surrender would unblock Serbia’s vital EU accession talks. More importantly, it would bring, at last, some moral restitution for their victims.”
Yesterday, Serbian authorities arrested Radovan Karadzic, the alleged mastermind of the genocide.
‘True architect of mass murder’
“Richard Holbrooke, the former US assistant secretary of state who negotiated the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia, described Karadzic as ‘a real true architect of mass murder’ and hailed the news of his arrest as ‘a tremendous step forward for Serbia’s desire to join the West,’ reported David Charter of Times Online.
“He said: ‘This is the most wanted man in Europe, the Osama bin Laden of Europe. He has evaded capture for almost 13 years. He was the primary intellectual architect of the ethnic cleansing.’ “
National Public Radio, meanwhile, quoted former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who termed the arrest “extremely significant.”
“He really is the person who was behind the systematic ethnic cleansing — murder — of several hundred thousand Bosnians,” she told NPR. “It does show that justice will prevail.”
Genocide, war crimes, other atrocities …
Karadzic faces genocide charges not only for his role in the massacre, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II, Charter explained, but also “for organising the siege of Sarajevo, which claimed 12,000 lives. He was understood to have been brought before a hastily convened court in Belgrade last night after he was seized by Serb forces inside the country, according to Boris Tadic, the president. …
“Under the indictment, last amended in May 2000, the UN war crimes tribunal charged Karadzic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996.”
Why, after 13 years of protection, did Serbian authorities successfully take him in?
The answer lies in a Serbian election earlier this year — and in its victors’ drive to join the European Union. On May 11 Times Online reported that “Pro-EU reformers were hailed last night as the surprise victors of Serbia’s snap general election, which was seen as a referendum on whether the Balkan country’s future lay towards the West or back with its traditional ally Russia.”
That set the stage. The EU set the conditions for eventual membership.
‘A milestone in cooperation’ with criminal tribunal
According to the BBC, “The arrest of Mr Karadzic and other indicted war criminals is one of the main conditions of Serbian progress towards European Union membership. The EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the news.
” ‘This is certainly a milestone in Serbia’s cooperation with the international criminal tribunal on the former Yugoslavia. It proves the determination of the new government to achieve full cooperation with the tribunal,’ Mr. Rehn said.
“The news will delight EU foreign ministers meeting today in Brussels, who already had Serbian accession on the agenda and have piled enormous pressure on Belgrade to find the final war crimes fugitives,” Times Online reported.
“Pre-accession talks have started, designed to encourage the reformist government. … A statement from the EU presidency, currently held by France, said the arrest was ‘an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union.’ “
Significant as Belgrade’s new tilt to the West is, the moral dimension of its leaders’ action on Monday deserves the last word. In a fascinating piece assessing both Karadzic and the significance of his capture, Aleksandar Heman — a Bosnian fiction writer living in the United States — wrote for Balkan Insight.com:
“He fully existed only when organising the genocide, he was invisible and irrelevant before it, and has been invisible ever since. Karadzic’s star shone only against the dark skies of a vast crime. This is why Karadzic is still popular among the Serbs in the Republika Srpska and Serbia proper: like a mythological being, he came out of nowhere to do what needed to be done — wipe out the ‘Turks’ and create an eternal, heavenly kingdom, completing the mythological job started hundreds of years ago in the Battle of Kosovo. He did not care what the world might say — for the world is but a minor distraction in the eternal Serbian struggle to survive and live as the celestial people; he was ever willing to sacrifice even his moral well being for the people. …
“Karadzic’s aura was enhanced by his withdrawal into the woodsy, mountainous background after he abandoned all his political positions in 1996. Like a hajduk, the mythological Serbian outlaw, he is a lone wolf preserving Serbdom from perishing, surviving in the face of a great enemy — the “Turks” and the world itself — willing to come again out of his heroic obscurity if necessary.
“Karadzic in the The Hague is a remedy to the Serbian nationalist mythology — Scheveningen is not a mythological space, but a prison. There, Karadzic would be in the limelight that would dispel the darkness of the nationalist mythology. He would be at the centre of a legal process, a trial based on documents and testimonies, which would demythologize his actions, and dismantle his criminal universe.
“The man who thought he was bigger than the world, who believed he was entitled to dispensing divine retributions on behalf of his people, needs to be humbled by the human court of the world. It is time the myth of Karadzic was replaced by the truth of his crimes.”
Susan Albright, a MinnPost managing editor, writes about national and foreign developments. She can be reached at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.