Not too much to report on the trial of Radovan Karadžić in the Hague tribunal this week…considering he has yet to show up. The former Bosnian Serb leader is charged with 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1992-95 war in which 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million were forced from their homes. Perhaps one last pathetic attempt to exercise some control over his life, Karadžić who is representing himself, asked in vain for a ten-month postponement to prepare his defense. He plans to boycott his trial again on Monday, in which case he will be issued a lawyer for the hearing that could take 2 years to complete.
Meanwhile, Former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavšić returned to Belgrade on Tuesday after being released by the United Nations war crimes tribunal. Known for her extreme statements while in political office, she served only two-thirds of her 11-year sentence for crimes against Muslims and Croats during the war in Bosnia. In 1992, a widely circulated photograph shows Plavšić in the Bosnian town of Bijeljina, elegantly dressed and literally stepping over dead bodies of Muslims to congratulate another Serbian leader for “cleansing” another village. Plavšić is a well-educated woman, formerly a biology professor at the University of Sarajevo and a Fulbright Scholar to Cornell University. During the war she often called the killing of Muslims a “natural thing”.
Although slightly ashamed to be a visitor, I went to the small town of Srebrenica in Bosnia this past summer. As the largest mass murder since World War II, over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred in the Srebrenica Genocide. I walked through the place that triples as a graveyard, place for prayer, and a memorial that looks very similar in style to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. Names of victims are listed in alphabetical order, but I quickly noticed one striking difference- in Srebrenica, there are consecutive columns of the same family names. Is this because they are common Muslim names, or because several generations of families were completely wiped out? I think both. As I walked out of the memorial site, a car passed me with an old woman weeping in the backseat. These women will never get over the brutal massacre of their families in 1995, and around 160 of them traveled all the way to the Hague for the trial this week. Looking for justice, they waited outside angry that Karadžić did not appear.
Karadžić could serve 25 years for genocide, yet Plavšić was released after only 9 short years. Because she pretended to be repentant in the international courts, she avoided a charge of genocide and has now returned to Belgrade to her family’s apartment. The judges believed her dramatic repentance and hoped this would influence others awaiting trial. However this spring, she was quoted in the Swedish magazine Vi explaining that her “confession” was nothing but an act. Riding a bus from Kosovo to Serbia only a few months ago, I couldn’t help but to notice the portraits of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić prominently displayed next to the driver. My stomach turned as I stared at those photos for the 7 hour trip. Although the wars are over and many people have moved on with their lives, hatred is still present in the Balkans… on all sides. With such weak sentencing of Plavšić as an example, is the international community helping to put the hatred to rest or to prevail?