"We have ended a difficult period of our history and removed the stain from the face of Serbia" - Serbian President Boris Tadic, May 26, 2011.
As you walk through the Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade, a sign can be found featuring a figure one might think was merely a missing man. In a sense, he has proven to be, sheltered and defended by friends and loyalists. But Ratko Mladic, the thinner Bosnian Serb figure who has become something of a satanic cause celebre, is now in the hands of Serbian intelligence, courtesy of a unit organised by Serbian President Boris Tadic. 'Congratulations guys, you found the one you've been looking for,' proclaimed Mladic to those arresting him.
Initial details were sketchy. The suspect, found in the province of Vojvodina, had documents showing him to be Milorad Komadic. An anonymous official claimed that, 'He has some of the features of Mladic. We are analysing his DNA now' (Reuters, AP, May 26). For years, he had managed to attend football matches in Belgrade and frequent dining spots with ease. Each time, the pudginess seemed to subside.
The most infamous of Mladic's bloody exploits (there are many, including the siege of Sarajevo lasting over three years) remains the massacre committed by his troops in the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in 1995. As hypocrisy is often the homage vice plays to virtue, the 'safe area' designated by the United Nations at that time proved to be rather more dangerous than 'safe'.
To this can be added that tasteless gesture by Mladic's men, when chocolates were handed out to Bosnian Muslim children as a gesture of pacification. This was the ominous prelude to brutality. 'No one will be harmed,' claimed a Bosnian Serb commander on July 12, 1995 as he patted a boy on the head. 'You have nothing to fear. You will all be evacuated.'
While women and children were expelled from the enclave, the men were butchered in numbers approaching 8,000. While the children got the chocolates, they lost their fathers. As a tribunal judge from the war crimes tribunal described it, there were, 'Scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.'
What the capture has come to suggest is a series of pegs Serbian identity and security must be hung on if it is to come into the European fold. Capture him and hand him to European authorities in The Hague, and integration will be guaranteed. Normalisation will take place over the grave of that misguided vision: the Greater Serbia.
Indeed, joining the EU has become something of a fetish, and EU officials continue to tempt their Serbian counterparts with promises. The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has gone so far as to claim that Serbia's EU prospects are 'now brighter than ever'. Everything else is subordinate to that aim. The nationalists are furious at yet another act of indignity inflicted by the functionaries in Belgrade. Tadic and treachery are bound to be mentioned in the same breath.
The reaction has shown yet again that this is the season of happy hunting for dictators and brutes. While various regimes in the Middle East and North Africa withdraw and possibly (and in this, it's only a small possibility) reform in the wake of bloody uprisings and protests, Mladic finds himself in esteemed company. The desire to run riot with arrest warrants is running high.
The danger, as with all crimes of this nature, is getting a measure of justice exacted when a figure of such prominence features. Proportionality can often be lost. In the case of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem held fifty years ago, identity politics intervened as well – in that case, making the German figure a means to a nationalist end. Hovering over the trial proceedings was the voice of the President Ben-Gurion, who spoke about the need to scold the world for its complicity in having allowed the Holocaust to take place.
Let us hope that the Mladic trial will not be undertaken with that spirit of nationalism, sobered as it will be by the surrounds of The Hague. Mladic's lawyer has come up with an optimistic note on behalf of his client. 'He is appealing to people to calm down, there should be no bloodshed, he does not want to be a cause of unrest.' The Serbian Radical Party, which has promised massive protests, may think otherwise.