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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

BREAKING! Ratko Mladic Arrested

Wonderful news for any of us who followed the horrors of the break up of Yugoslavia,  and witnessed hundreds of thousands killed in the nationalist wars that followed. The Yugoslav wars were  mainly inspired by the Serbian Leader Slobodan Milosevic, his henchman Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia, and his key military leader, Ratko Mladic.

The last key figure of that evil triumvirate, responsible for mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing, has been arrested in Serbia.  According to Belgrade’s Blic Newspaper

Ratko Mladic was arrested five hours ago by the Security information Agency (BIA), reports the Serbian daily “Blic”. Mladic, who was arrested in Lazarevo, near Zrenjanin, has been using false papers and identified himself as Milorad Komadic….

“With his arrest we ended a very difficult period and removed a stigma from Serbia and Serbian people, wherever they are. I think that this operation shows that the institutions of the state of Serbia made this country safe and secured the rule of law”, Mr. Tadic said.

This is also great news for the people of Serbia who, with this last arrest, have a pathway to join the EU and acquire the norms of the civil society, probity and free elections contained its protocols. As Serbian president Boris Tadic has just said

On behalf of the republic of Serbia, I inform you that Ratko Mladic was arrested this morning … The extradition process is taking place.

Mladic will be extradited to the Hague where he’ll face the following charges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Count 1: genocide

Count 2: complicity in genocide

Count 3: Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds

Count 4: Extermination

Count 5: Murder

Count 6: Murder

Count 7: Deportation

Count 8: Inhumane acts (forcible transfer)

Count 9: unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians

Count 10: murder

Count 11: murder

Count 12: cruel treatment

Count 13: inhumane acts

Count 14: attacks on civilians

Count 15: taking of hostages

For those of you too young to remember the Bosnian War, the continued freedom of  Mladic – who personally directed the murder of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in the UN safe area of Srebrenica, the worst civilian massacre in Europe since the Second War – was not only an insult to international law but also a reminder that the troubles in the region might not yet be resolved. As long as elements of the Serbian people continued to protect a mass killer – how could that nation be trusted to have accepted its role in the horrors of the 1990s?

As the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has just said:

The arrest of Ratko Mladic is a historic moment for a region that was torn apart by the appalling wars of the 1990s. Ratko Mladic stands accused of terrible crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it is right that he will now be brought to face international justice. Today our thoughts are with the relatives of those killed during the siege of Sarajevo and genocide in Srebrenica.

Among some of my peers and friends, including Samantha Power who’s Pullitzer Prize winning book A Problem from from Hell came out of her experiences during the war, we felt ourselves part of the ‘Bosnian Generation’. This was strikingly different from the Vietnam generation that preceded us. They felt the consequences and catastrophes of wrong headed intervention. We felt the consequences and catastrophes of wrong headed non-intervention.

The failures of Bosnia led to the more muscular policy in Kosovo. Of course these same principles of liberal interventionism (something I don’t actually believe in) were conscripted and used by the Neocons during the Iraq invasion. But the principles were not entirely lost. They survive in the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine adopted by the UN in 2005. Under that, national governments no longer have immunity from war crimes conducted against their own civilians, even if they are within their national borders, or part of civil war or strife. It was this R2P doctrine which was activated in the UNSCR 1973 resolution against Gaddafy when he threatened to massacre the citizens of Benghazi.


Personally, the day when Srebrenica fell to Mladic’s troops in July 1995, was one of the darkest in my life. From my various contacts I knew the rumours of young male babies having their genitals cut off, or a 13 year old boy being shot through the mouth once the cameras had been turned off, and the Dutch UN troops protecting the people had been neutralised, would be horribly accurate. For weeks, British and European politicians denied there was a massacre. Then the satellite photos were revealed. And news from survivors came out.

The horrors of ethnic and racial war in Europe, so well known to my parents generation, seem to have erupted out of nowhere. Europe, much more than any other continent, was the heart of darkness in terms of genocide and racial war in the 20th century. To see that return, after so many millions dead, was like the terrible shocking twist in a horror story.

I vowed to myself to go to Sarajevo, and in any way I could make some reparations for the passive acquiescence of John Major’s government to these horrors. It’s something I’ve never ceased writing about in fact or fiction ever since.  

So I celebrate Mladic’s capture, just as I celebrate the attempted capture of Bin Laden. This is another mark of the increasing role of international law – a standard that seem to be almost swamped by the War on Terror and unlilateral pre-emptive war as outlined by Bush, Cheney and the Neocons.

I wish Bin Laden had been captured alive, but I’m glad he is finished. I look forward to Mladic having to answer his charges in the glare of publicity and face his guilt before the whole world.  

May the many dead rest in peace. May the ones they left behind find some peace and healing in this moment of justice.


  1. The Serbian conflict illustrated a massive failure by the UN, and in particular, the European nations’ inability to rein in their neighbor–in part, because of the expectation that the Yugoslavia was under the umbrella of USSR, and then the Russian Federation. The period was rife with furious letter writing, but showed how ineffectual on matters of real human rights have been. Not within their own borders, but unwilling to step in, in the face real misery.

    Serbia. Kosovo. Georgia. Held in check by the Soviet Union, ethnic tensions flared after the fall of the towers of Communism, and Europe watched, and watched in horror, and watched a while longer. I disagree that it came from nowhere–the conflicts built and were reported, and meanwhile, folks fretted and knitted foreheads. In Georgia, it took the newly formed Russian military to keep the Georgians from killing the Ossetians.  The odd balancing act with the Eastern Bloc nations, and fears of a former Soviet military on the move, and the old tensions between East and West–and fears on both sides of the economic fallout on BOTH sides of the former Wall–were very much responsible for the inaction, as everyone wanted to preserve their markets and not expose them to war.

    These conflicts were more than just tragedies on a human scale–the former Yugoslavia set the tone for armed conflicts that drew as much on terrorizing opponents, and crippling their will through rape and torture as strategic weapons–but on an international scale, as nations watched, but did little.

    Serbia. Bosnia. Kosovo. They are black eyes to anyone who says, “Never forget!” in the face of the Holocaust Memorial.  We, as a world, let horrors occur, and the damning thing, is that the bulk of Europe allowed it to happen under their noses, and did nothing until shamed into intervening.  

    In retrospect, it’s easy to make excuses. Fall of the Soviet Union. Not wanting to step on the toes of the former Eastern Bloc nations. Not wanting to step on the toes of the former Soviet Union. Not wanting to believe that horrors could arise again so quickly after 40 years of stability.  Not wanting to admit that action was necessary, in your own back yard. Not wanting to believe that such a thing could happen again, while you watched. I understand the excuses, but in the end, the EU watched as atrocities unfolded, and wrung their hands until UNPROFOR could be formed, even as Kuwait and the Persian Gulf were in flames.

    The truly international effort in the Croatian conflicts was unprecedented. Pakistan. Jordan. Malaysia. Ukraine. Argentina. Brazil. Kenya. Nepal. India. Poland. Bangladesh. The Russian Federation. All sent troops to assist the efforts to join the European nations, and the US to help. Disjointed at first, and in part, not fully understanding the true horrors that were at the heart of the conflict, it was a turning point in international intervention.  

    The Persian Gulf conflict with the annexation and looting of Kuwait was heavy in many folks’ minds, all the while the former Yugoslav nations tore at each other.  A relatively “clean” conflict in the Middle East, most were not ready to accept how nasty the Croatian situation truly was. That it didn’t keep the UN from reacting stronger in Africa in the last ten years is damning to us all, especially after the lessons in Somalia.

  2. Interestingly, I now know a young man here who left Serbia as US bombs fell. He as one of the infants in arms that we saw fleeing with their parents.

    Now he is a teenage worldclass downhill bike racer and Scotts Valley ‘dude!’. Interesting conversation with him and his peers about growing up with “TERROR!” shouted in their ears. Turns out that what it mostly did was make them cynical:

    “It taught me not to care about anything.”

    Thanks, George.

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