Posts Tagged ‘ Karadzic ’

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

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Serbia Moves Forward

Serbia’s future is starting to look a bit brighter. Due to the country’s cooperation with the current United Nations’ war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic, the European Union will lift its trade ban on Serbia. Previously, the Dutch government was opposed to the trade deal, demanding that Serbia try harder to track down war criminal suspects such as General Ratko Mladic. The implementation of the trade agreement is expected to boost the country’s economy and foreign investment in Serbia, and government officials in Serbia feel closer to applying for EU membership.

More exciting news for the citizens of Serbia (as well as for Macedonia and Montenegro) is that EU governments agreed last week to allow visa-free travel in the Schengen zone starting from December 19 this year. The Schengen zone includes 25 European Union member states, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland but excludes Britain and Ireland. Bosnia and Albania are disappointed that the new rule does not apply to their own countries, but the EU deems them “not-ready”.  Before visa requirements were introduced in 1991, citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia enjoyed visa-free travel to Western Europe for 40 years as part of Yugoslavia, the only communist country that permitted its citizens to travel freely abroad.

Spending some time in Serbia, I saw how difficult it was for my friends to travel, even to bordering countries. They deserve the same opportunities as the students from the United States or the European Union, to research, study and vacation in other countries. According to a Belgrade survey, more than 70 percent of Serbia’s young people have never traveled abroad. Soon this will change in time for the holiday season, and JAT airlines, the main carrier for Belgrade will offer special airfares to entice travelers.

However, the good fortune of some countries in southeast Europe is causing tension in others. Bosnian Muslims feel at a disadvantage because in their ethnically split country, Bosnian Serbs may obtain a Serbian passport and ethnic Croats in Bosnia, who hold Croatian passports can already travel. The EU claims Bosnia’s troubles are of its own making.  The decision to lift visa restrictions on Serbian citizens is also prompting Kosovo Albanians to claim they live in South Serbia, so they can access the travel benefits. Most applications for residency status are denied. It’s ironic that as Kosovo is currently defending the legitimacy of its declaration of independence from Serbia in the International Court of Justice, some Kosovo citizens are attempting to declare residency in Serbia. Serbia is right to refuse their applications, as citizens of Kosovo cannot change their nationality when convenient.

Out with One, Waiting for Another

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?

Srebrenica

Stone near the entrance to the memorial in Srebrenica

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Memorial in Srebrenica, Bosnia

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Close up of repetive names

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