Monday, July 11, 2005

Past finally catches up with Serb slaughterers

Sometimes diplomats can be very stupid. For the past few weeks, British diplomats in the Balkans pushed the notion that Monday's commemoration of the massacre of 8000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian and Bosnian Serb troops at Srebrenica 10 years ago was an ideal opportunity for everybody there - including Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Muslim leaders - to make a joint declaration of "reconciliation and apology".

To their surprise, the victims didn't think this was such a good idea.

What happened at Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, was an act of genocide carried out with meticulous attention to detail by Serbian and Bosnian Serb troops after the Dutch military force that was supposed to defend the United Nations-declared "safe area" delivered almost the entire Muslim population of the town into their hands without a fight. Neither Muslims nor Croatians had any reason to apologise for the horrors at Srebrenica.

It is the Serbs and the Dutch who need to apologise - but most Serbs are still in deep denial.

In recent weeks, the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade and the Serbian caucus in the Bosnian Parliament have refused to adopt or vote down proposed declarations that would have denounced the Srebrenica massacre. Somebody even planted two powerful bombs near the memorial centre in Srebrenica, although they were discovered and disarmed.

Reformist Serbian President Boris Tadic insisted on showing up for the ceremony, but his presence was condemned equally by Muslim survivors and by fellow Serbs.

Forgiveness and reconciliation must happen one day, but it cannot even get on the agenda while the chief organisers of the Srebrenica genocide - former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, General Ratko Mladic - are still free and still seen as heroes by many other Serbs.

Both men have been on the run since Nato forces imposed a ceasefire and a kind of UN trusteeship in Bosnia in 1995, but they moved freely around Serbia until their patron, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, was overthrown and delivered into the hands of the UN in 2001. Even now, they are hidden by many willing Serbs.

Although they were both indicted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague 10 years ago, they have thumbed their noses at international law for a decade because Nato troops either couldn't find them or didn't try to break through their rings of bodyguards and arrest them because the casualties would be too high.

Now, however, the tectonic plates are finally beginning to shift in the geographical space that used to be Yugoslavia - now splintered into Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo - because the European Union has finally started to use its leverage.

It is more carrot than stick. The real inducement for these countries to turn themselves into law-abiding democracies is that they have been led to believe that they might then qualify for EU membership, with all the prosperity and security that that would bring.

But law-abiding democracies hand over indicted war criminals to international courts when asked, so suddenly the mass murderers who carried out atrocious acts of "ethnic cleansing" become a liability for the governments that had been protecting them as war heroes.

In 1998, five years after the war crimes tribunal was set up, the detention centre in The Hague held only five prisoners. Now there are 62, including a former president, a former prime minister, a former defence minister and a former interior minister. Eighteen more are on bail pending trial and 56 others have been convicted and moved to other prisons to serve their sentences.

"This is without doubt the most active and productive period in the life of the tribunal thus far," Judge Theodor Meron, president of the tribunal, told the UN Security Council last month.

Twenty men, some of them very senior officials, have surrendered to the tribunal in the past six months, cutting the list of those still wanted to only 10. The missing 10 include all three of the biggest fish - Karadzic, Mladic and Croatian General Ante Gotovina - but even they may soon be arriving in The Hague.

The EU's refusal to continue with Croatia's entrance negotiations has transformed Zagreb's willingness to co-operate with the tribunal. Its refusal even to open talks with Serbia-Montenegro until Belgrade stops stalling has had a similar result.

In April, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, former head of the Serbian army, surrendered in The Hague. There is suspicion that his and other waves of "surrenders" were eased by cash payments by the Serbian Government to the families of the indicted men - but the point is that it is happening.

There is even hope that Karadzic and Mladic may soon be delivered to the tribunal. Last week, Karadzic's son Aleksandar was arrested by Nato troops in Pale, his father's former capital, and taken away for questioning.

Nothing will bring the victims of the genocide back to life, but the hunt is closing in on the killers.

* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


Anonymous said...

It is sad that the Serbs are not willing to change their barbaric ideology, and they are still giving world a chance to see who they really are; and this way Bosnians, Albanians, Croations and everybody who fought them are benefiting from this.

Wake up Serbia! you are not the main republic of Yugoslavia anymore, you lost! Don't do more demage to your self.

Anonymous said...

Wake up albanians, Kosova will never be independant. It will remain apart of serbia forever so just deal with it.

Anonymous said...

You who murder 8000 people just because you see them different will decide on nothing, bloody nazis!

Anonymous said...

On #2 comment, Kosova is de facto separate from Serbia. Belgrade does not have and will never have control over Kosova any longer, and if Belgrade attempts anything like that, it will lose southern part of Serbia as well(Preshev, Bujanovc, and Medvegje) like they lost every part of Yugoslavia.

Deal with that, Serbs!

Anonymous said...

Commenter #2 is correct. Kosova will be apart from Serbia forever, and ever, and then some more.


Anonymous said...

A great research idea: Can Serbs be called human beings? I can find more similarities between them and Orangutans.

John, DC

Anonymous said...

Comment #2 guy should get some grammar classes. Or I don't blame him because he is a Serb.

Anonymous said...

Brothers of Dardan blood, please do not act as they have, respect them with all their nasty habits, we should know better :)

Yes, Serbia has given sons bathed in blood but the more we waste time in putting them down, degrading them, the more we move away from our goal, that of remaining what we are :) Alban, Dardan, Ilir...