On 20 June, commenting on Amy Winehouse’s recent flop performance at a concert in Belgrade, the hosts of the US programme Chelsea Lately – Chelsea Handler, Chris Franjola and Greg Proops – made a series of crude and sneering racist remarks about Serbia and its people. After Handler expressed disbelief that Winehouse was allowed to perform while heavily intoxicated, Franjola commented ‘Well it was Serbia, they haven’t got a lot of rules over there’, to which Handler replied ‘I can’t believe they even allow Serbians to go to concerts’. Commenting on the fact that people in Serbia were describing the concert as a ‘disaster’, Proops remarked ironically ‘This is a place that had ethnic cleansing and genocide, and her concert was a bigger bummer than that’. After quoting Serbian defence minister Dragan Sutanovac, who wrote on his Facebook page that ‘Amy’s concert was a shame and a huge disappointment’, Handler quipped ‘Well so is your country’, which elicited a lot of cheering from the audience. After Franjola asked of Dragan Sutanovac ‘Wasn’t that the guy who beat up Rocky ?’, Handler commented ‘Dragan is a very popular Bolshevik name’.
[Unfortunately, the only remaining undubbed version of the clip that I can find on YouTube is accompanied by misogynistic insults directed against Handler that preclude it from being re-posted here, but readers are free to follow the link.]
I had never previously heard of this television programme or any of its hosts, but judging by the clip about Winehouse and Serbia, it is a deeply unpleasant high-school-level sneer-fest. Indeed, the comments about Winehouse were just as petty, spiteful and unfunny as the comments about Serbia. An exemplar of the sort of gratuitous viciousness that passes for popular entertainment today. And sustained petty sneering of this kind will almost inevitably involve racism, sooner or later…
A blogger creates a false identity and feels free to tell a whole multitude of lies, without any concern for those he is deceiving or for the dangerous consequences for some of them. The Pope is Catholic. Bears crap in the woods. The Tom MacMaster scandal is merely the tip of a very ugly iceberg: the blogosphere.
In some other places and at some other times, people were prepared to suffer persecution as the price of speaking out. Dissidents were ready to spend decades in prison and endure torture and ruin, or risk assault or assassination, because they spoke in their own name. There were gods other than comfort and self-gratification. Unfortunately, things are different today in the Western democratic world, where people have become so pampered by freedom, and so averse to anything that smacks of risk, that they indulge in the pleasure of speaking their mind without accepting the responsibility that comes with putting their name to what they say.
That a society which upholds freedom of speech, and which provides its citizens with unprecedented opportunities to exercise it, should also be one in which the vast majority that comments on the internet does so anonymously, is a symptom of the cowardice and the corruption of spirit that are corroding Western public ethics. Not for us, the path of a Martin Luther King, an Andrei Sakharov, a Vaclav Havel or an Aung San Suu Kyi. No, your Western blogger or commenter is unwilling to write under their real name, because they fear ‘problems in the workplace’. Or else the poor little darlings are worried that they may say something embarrassing and not be able to delete it afterwards. It’s a jolly good thing that earlier generations did all the hard work of fighting for democracy and human rights, because our present generation clearly would not be up to the task; would not be willing to risk so much as a scratched finger in the cause of struggling for freedoms that we take for granted.
From there, it is a short step to feeling possessed of the right to create false personas, then multiple false personas, so that every other blogger becomes an aspiring little Talented Mr Ripley. Inevitably, some, like MacMaster, will become so carried away by their adventures of deceit that they will end up seriously hurting or endangering others. Scams like his are structurally inherent in the nature of the blogosphere.
This is part of a more general malaise of selfishness that is eating away at the Western world. People fetishise rights and freedoms but despise duty and responsibility. They don’t want to pay taxes so that other people can have free university education, or even free healthcare. Some, probably most extremely rich people think it is entirely appropriate to make vast sums of money through the existing order, yet to evade as much as possible giving any of it back in taxes. Others see nothing wrong with spending their whole life living off state benefits, without any attempt at getting a job. Men and women have extraordinarily high expectations of romantic relationships, yet are frequently unwilling to give even a fraction emotionally of what it takes to make a relationship work.
Having said this, I do not blame any individual for choosing to blog or comment anonymously; some, if not most, of my favourite bloggers do so. It is the collectivity that is to blame; it has created an atmosphere in which it is more and more psychologically difficult for people to write under their real names – like being the only nudists on a crowded beach. Fear of writing under one’s own name may be justified, in some cases at least, given the toleration accorded by lazy comments moderators to abuse and even violent threats; their creation of an atmosphere that encourages intimidation. The selfish, spoilt, decadent, phoney morality of the blogosphere privileges liars, frauds, trolls, bullies, libellers, rumour-mongers, hate-mailers, stalkers and vulgarians over honest, decent commenters – all in the name of a ‘freedom of speech’ that it clearly does not understand.
Let me spell out a few truths that should be obvious but apparently are not. If a woman office-worker turns up at her office and finds the notice board covered with anonymous messages calling her a ‘bitch’ and a ‘slut’, and accusing her of sleeping around to gain promotion, and she complains to the manager, and if the manager then refuses to allow the messages to be removed, then he is not standing up for ‘freedom of speech'; he is colluding with sexual harassment. If an ugly, overweight or mentally retarded teenage girl is mercilessly teased by her classmates at school until she is finally driven to hang herself, the teachers that failed to stop the bullying were not ‘respecting freedom of speech'; they were criminally negligent. Yet blog (non-)moderators apparently don’t understand the difference between harassment and ‘freedom of speech’.
The anonymity and the laxness of the blogosphere corrupt our public discourse, as extraordinary expressions of vulgarity, hatred and venom, or of dishonesty, or of inaccuracy and laziness in the written word, are first treated as acceptable by bloggers, after which the rot spreads to other media. Yet the brave soul who tries to take a stand against this tide calls down upon themselves all the blogosphere’s hypocritical, righteous indignation.
When an elected Conservative councillor called publicly via Twitter for the columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – of whom I’m myself no fan – to be ‘stoned to death’, and she announced her intention of reporting him to the police, there were those who somehow believed he was the victim. Apparently, our elected representatives aren’t actually expected to set any kind of example of correct behaviour. When a frustrated traveller stuck at an airport threatened via Twitter to ‘blow the airport sky high’ and was consequently arrested under the Terrorism Act, this ‘martyr’ and his subsequent supporters apparently considered the tough job the police have to do fighting terrorism to be simply less important than the right to throw a wholly irresponsible public tantrum for suffering an inconvenience that millions of people experience every year. Hello ? Are you not aware that we’re fighting a mortal struggle against terrorists trying to destroy the freedom to tweet, and that our police have a difficult enough job to do without you adding these complications ?
Blogging is a responsibility as well as a pleasure. If you blog, you should take responsibility for what you say. If you really must remain anonymous, don’t say things that you would consider embarrassing or inappropriate under your real name. Either moderate the comments ethically, or keep the comments closed; don’t pretend you’re some sort of champion of the little blogger who can’t afford paid moderators, just because you can’t be bothered to moderate.
If you write something on your blog and it turns out to be grossly untrue, it should rightly affect your reputation. The knowledge that what you say might turn out to be false should act as an incentive to be very careful with what you say. If other people suffer as a result of your words, you should rightly be held to account – not in the sense of the secret police turning up to throw you in prison, but in a manner appropriate for a democracy; you should suffer the public opprobrium. If you are dishonest, sloppy, unreliable, vulgar or abusive, you should be known as such. Your face should not remain youthful and unblemished, like Dorian Gray’s, while the portrait in the attic is distorted beyond recognition by the ugliness of your sins.
There should be no freedom of speech without responsibility of speech; no freedom without responsibility. If you aren’t prepared to pay your fair share of taxes to support the healthcare, education, welfare and security of your fellow citizens – upon whom you and your prosperity ultimately depend – you have no business making money. Progressives know this, so they should stop upholding selfishness in one field while they criticise it in others. Because quite frankly, if the ugly mess we have today is ‘freedom of speech’, then it’s time to question the concept.
This is a guest post by Amila Jasarevic of Amila Bosnae
On the morning of 26 May 2011, the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency arrested General Ratko Mladić. When the news first broke, it said that a man believed to be Mladić had been arrested, and that the authorities were verifying his identity. Nobody really believed it, until the President of Serbia, Boris Tadić, confirmed in a press conference that the arrested man was indeed Mladić.
My news feed on Facebook literally exploded with the news. Articles from the world press were being passed around, the news spreading like a multilingual wildfire. Europe’s Most Wanted criminal finally arrested, after 16 years on the run.
But how much “on the run” was he, really? And why on that day ? What is so different today from the previous sixteen years?
Ratko Mladić was the Chief of Staff in the army of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was first indicted with war crimes on 24 July 1995, roughly ten days after occupying the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica and giving orders for the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. More than 8,000 civilians, mostly men and boys, were executed under his orders. Before that, he had been in charge of the siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in recorded history. The siege was merciless and inhumane, and more than 10,000 Sarajevans lost their lives.
Yet, up until 2001, Mladić was living and moving freely in Serbia. He was seen at football matches and dining in fashionable restaurants. He was even drawing an army pension from Belgrade until the end of 2005. More than once the media reported how “special forces” were on his track, but nothing ever happened. That’s why it was so hard to believe the news when it happened.
Shortly after the news of Mladić’s arrest went viral, I saw a status update on Facebook saying that just like Croatia paid for its EU candidature with Gotovina (which also happens to mean “cash”), Serbia is paying with Mladić. Ante Gotovina was a Lieutenant General in the Croatian army, who was extradited to the Hague in 2005. Last month he was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to 24 years in prison for war crimes.
The witty status update is not to be dismissed as merely a conspiracy theory. The notion that the move is motivated by political interests isn’t that far-fetched. Because what is exactly different now than in the previous sixteen years? Has the EU put a stop to any more concessions to Serbia? Is it a coincidence that the arrest came as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton was in Belgrade to confer with top Serbian officials on their country’s road to the EU? Is it a coincidence it came just a couple of weeks before Chief Hague Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is to address the UN Security Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the court?
Member of the Bosnian collective Presidency, Željko Komšić, said to the news portal Sarajevo-X.com that today’s arrest is proof that the Serbian authorities have always known Mladić’s whereabouts, and that he is simply being traded in for a closer relationship with the EU.
I spoke with Hazim Rizvanović, 41, a survivor of Mladić’s attack on Srebrenica. At the time he was active in the defence of the city. He told me how Colonel Karremans, head of the UN force that was supposed to protect Srebrenica, on 10 July 1995 – the eve of the massacre – told the Bosnian defence not to advance on Mladić’s troops, because international forces were going to air bomb their tanks. The next day, he says, a few bombs were dropped on a little brook well off from any tanks, and Mladić simply marched into town.
When he heard about the arrest, Rizvanović didn’t know whether to believe the report or not, as there have been so many political games involving Mladić and his arrest. “My opinion as an ordinary man is that they’ve always known where he was, all the intelligence agencies. This was just a matter of waiting it out to exchange him for the best possible deal with the EU. Time will tell what they ended up getting for him,” he told me over the phone from Denmark, where he has been residing since 2000. “I don’t expect anything from the court in the Hague, certainly not any new details on who else had their hands in the genocide in Srebrenica or who stopped the defence of the enclave. I haven’t had any expectations since the courts kept records away from the public in the case Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbia, resulting in Bosnia losing the case.”
Marko Attila Hoare, 38, author of three books about Bosnia and long-time observer and commentator on the situation in the Balkans, points out that we don’t know when the planing of today’s operation began and how long the Serbian authorities have known where Mladić was hiding. However, he too wonders why the arrest came when it did. “As I see it”, he wrote to me, “the Serbian establishment has long been divided between those who wanted to see him (Mladić) arrested – particularly among liberal politicians and intellectuals – because they want Serbia to join the EU, and those elements in the army and security services who have protected him, supported by the nationalists. So, the arrest suggests to me that there has been a subtle shift in the balance of forces, in favour of the liberal elements.”
When I asked him what he expected would happen in Serbia and Bosnia in the days that followed, he said “Nothing much… Most ordinary citizens don’t care about Mladić, and aren’t going to protest… There may be the usual protests by the minority of hard-liners, led by the Radicals and other such far-right elements, but this will have no effect on politics. As for Bosnia, nothing will change either; Dodik [President of Republika Srpska] will continue his long-term secessionist drive.”
It is a sad outlook that nothing will change, but probably a realistic one. Many years have passed since Mladić ordered massacres wherever he went, and those years have left a trail of disillusionment.
Sarah Correia, 36, a researcher in Political Science, is currently studying the memory of war in Bosnia and what it tells about the political situation in the country. On the morning of Mladić’s arrest, she went to a commemoration at the concentration camp Trnopolje in the north-west of Bosnia, set up for the non-Serb population. The region has been all but completely ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs. “There I could see in people’s faces the pain,” Correia writes. After returning to the near-by town of Kozarac, she heard the news. “Tears in everyone’s eyes, not so much of joy, but of surprise… a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed had come at last,” she says about that moment. But after the initial disbelief and joy, people just went back to going about their business, like nothing had happened. What could they expect? The very camp they visited this morning is now a school, just like it was before it was used to imprison and murder civilians. There is a monument in front of it, Sarah told me, but it’s not to the victims – it’s for some Serb soldiers who had fallen somewhere else. Memory of war is not just personal, it is a commodity fought over, manipulated and used on the political scene.
Not unlike war criminals, probably.
This is a guest post by David Pettigrew
The arrest of General Ratko Mladić is a profoundly important step on the long path to justice for the victims and the survivors of the genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims (Bošniaks) that was perpetrated from 1992 to 1995 by Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces. However, the expectation that Mladić’s arrest will “close a chapter” –as stated by Serbian President Tadić– on the war of aggression, or open a “new chapter” for Serbia, fails to recognize that Mladić’s genocidal legacy lives on in the form of the political entity known as Republika Srpska.
Between 1991 and 1992 Radovan Karadžić’s nationalistic Serbian Democratic Party brought about the creation of Republika Srpska in response to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina was preparing a referendum on independence as a multicultural nation. The name Republika Srpska literally means a Republic of or for Serbs. Unfortunately, the area in which this “Republic for Serbs” was declared was within the borders of Bosnia and included eastern Bosnia where the Bošniaks constituted, in most locations, the majority of the inhabitants. The creation of Republika Srpska was to entail the forcible displacement of the Bošniaks from within its self-declared territory through terror, rape, and murder, which in some cases included wanton mass murder. In July 1995 alone, over 8,000 men and boys were murdered at Srebrenica in an act that has been declared genocide by two international courts.
Srebrenica was not the only place where Bošniaks were targeted as such and murdered en masse. Additional atrocities and murders occurred throughout eastern Bosnia, between 1992 and 1995 in towns such as Višegrad. On two separate occasions in June of 1992 (on Pionirska Street and in the Bikavac neighborhood) women and children were forced into houses that were set on fire. They perished in the flames. Further, an estimated 3,000 were murdered on and around the Ottoman bridge in Višegrad and thrown into the Drina River. In August of 2010 I accompanied the Bosnian government’s exhumation team to Višegrad. Work on a nearby dam caused the river level to drop and it was finally possible to exhume the bones of the victims from the riverbed. We found the remains of many of the victims and identification is in progress.
In addition, hundreds of villages in eastern Bosnia were destroyed as part of the Bosnian Serb strategy, making return and repopulation by the Bošniaks virtually impossible. Approximately 1,000 mosques were destroyed in Republika Srpska, and in some cases, Serbian Orthodox churches were constructed directly upon the ruins. In one case, a Serbian Orthodox church was constructed on a Bošniak woman’s land without her permission and it still remains to this day. More than 350 mass graves that hold the remains of the Bošniak victims have been discovered within Republika Srpska. The perpetrators tried to hide their crimes by moving the remains to new locations. In the process, the bodies were dismembered, making the process of exhumation and identification tragically difficult.
Indisputably, the entity Republika Srpska was founded upon a genocidal ideology, maintained through the barbarity of genocidal acts and ultimately legitimized by the Dayton Peace Accords 1995. The surviving founding members of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, Biljana Plavšić, and Momčilo Krajišnik, are either on trial –having been charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war– or have already been convicted and sentenced for their role in the war crimes. However, the current President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik denies the genocide at Srebrenica and speaks openly of secession from Bosnia. In other words, in spite of the arrest of Mladić, Republika Srpska continues to be, for Bosnia’s Muslims, a dehumanizing zone of exclusion. Mladić’s legacy –Republika Srpska– remains intact.
One of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s greatest regrets, as the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, was the recognition and the naming of Republika Srpska. He feared throughout the process that such recognition and such a name would legitimize –if not reward– their genocidal aggression. Hence, to do justice to victims of the genocide against the Bošniak civilians (Bosnian Muslims), the arrest of Mladić must serve as a reminder to the European and international diplomatic community that it is time to reunify Bosnia through constitutional reform. It is indeed unseemly for President Tadić to reduce Mladić’s arrest to the final step in Serbia’s strategy for its entrance to the European Union. The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 call for those seeking membership in the European Union to respect human rights and the rule of law not only in their own countries but also in association with others. Serbia must now be called upon to denounce President Dodik’s rhetoric of genocide denial and secession and to fully support the reunification of Bosnia.
David Pettigrew, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Southern CT State University in New Haven, CT. His report on the exhumations in Višegrad can be found on his website.
As one of the many people who unthinkingly linked on my Facebook page to the campaign for the release of ‘Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari’, a supposed lesbian Syrian dissident blogger who wrote under the title ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ and who was supposedly arrested by the Syrian authorities, I have been following the exposure of this hoax with a mixture of outrage and fascination tinged with embarrassment. The perpetrator, a 40-year old American Master’s student at Edinburgh University called Tom MacMaster, described as a ‘Middle East activist’ by The Guardian, has humiliated and discredited those who honourably campaigned on behalf of this apparently worthy cause; put real Syrian dissidents and LGBT activists who stuck their necks out to help ‘Amina Abdallah’ at real risk; diverted attention away from real victims of the Syrian regime; and has made it much more difficult for such victims to be heard in future. It reflects an immorality of sociopathic dimensions.
Not least of MacMaster’s victims is Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London and an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians. He stole photos of her from her Facebook account and passed them off as photos of the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’. As ‘Amina Abdallah’ became a cause celebre, Lecic’s face was splashed all over websites and newspapers. This case of identity theft therefore had thousands of unwitting accomplices. One of these was The Guardian, which published two different photos of Lecic along with articles about ‘Amina Abdallah’ on 7 May and 7 June. In response to the second of these photos, Lecic phoned the Guardian at 4pm on Tuesday, 7 June to inform them that the picture was not of ‘Amina Abdallah’, but in fact of her, and demanded that the photo be taken down. The Guardian ignored this call, a subsequent call from her an hour later, and a call from her friend, demanding that the photo be removed. Lecic consequently appealed to the Press Complaints Commission, which promptly forced the Guardian to remove the photo by 6.45pm. However, the Guardian substituted it with the photo of Lecic from its earlier article.
All these details come from the Guardian‘s own lengthy attempt at self-justification, written by the newspaper’s readers’ editor, Chris Elliot. In his words, ‘The Guardian did not remove all the pictures until 6pm on Wednesday 8 June, 27 hours after Jelena Lecic first called the Guardian. It took too long for this to happen, for which we should apologise (see today’s Corrections and clarifications). The mitigating factors are… [etc.]’ Elliot does not actually link to the ‘apology’ in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, and one has to hunt around to find it, but here it is:
‘Guardian articles about Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a blogger on the subject of Middle East unrest, carried photographs purporting to show the blog’s author. In fact, the person pictured was Jelena Lecic, who lives in the UK. We apologise to her. An account of how these pictures came to be used appears in today’s Open door column on page 27 (Syrian revolt finds an unlikely heroine – an outspoken, half-American lesbian blogger, 7 May, page 24; Armed gang abducts gay blogger, 7 June, page 14; Fears for outspoken Syrian blogger after Damascus arrest, 8 June, page 16 [all with links]).’
So ‘We apologise to her.’ is the sum total of the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic for colluding in her identity theft, in a paragraph otherwise devoted helpfully to directing readers to Elliot’s effort at self-justification. Note that this constitutes a – highly curt – apology for misusing her photos, but there is no apology for ignoring her calls and disbelieving her; for forcing her to turn to the Press Complaints Commission; or for then republishing a second photo of her after the latter had forced it to remove the first.
As Lecic told the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman [see video above], ‘most of all, I was very upset with The Guardian, because I’ve complained, twice yesterday, and nobody got in touch with me… For me, it’s been very upsetting, and obviously it got involved my family; my friends; I’ve been disturbed at work. It’s just astonishing that just anybody can use your picture and put a story together, and before you know it, it’s everywhere.’ Readers should watch the whole video, and then see if they think the Guardian‘s apology was adequate.
Also notable is Elliot’s repeated reference to Lecic, whom he describes as a ‘distraught young woman’, throughout his article by her first name. No doubt, the UK’s flagship liberal daily newspaper thinks that this familiar form of address is appropriate when referring to someone it has wronged, when that person a) works in admin; b) is a woman; and c) comes from a Balkan country.
We can compare the Guardian‘s treatment of Lecic to the rather more fulsome and generous, indeed grovelling apology it made to the celebrity radical left-wing genocide denier, Noam Chomsky, five and a half years ago, also in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, after its journalist, Emma Brockes, had been guilty of an error of detail in describing Chomsky’s views on the Srebrenica massacre. There was certainly no reference then to the complainant by his first name, or reference to him as a ‘distraught elderly man'; it was ‘Prof Chomsky’ this and ‘Prof Chomsky’ that. One use of ‘Professor Chomsky’ and thirteen of ‘Prof Chomsky’ in the space of a single apology ! By contrast, the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic used her name only once, in full, then directed its readers to a text which refers to the ‘distraught young woman’ six times by her first name.
That, dear readers, is how women are treated by The Guardian – the flagship liberal newspaper in the land of the Suffragettes and Sylvia Pankhurst. Maybe if Lecic had published an article or two on ZNet denying the Srebrenica massacre, like Chomsky’s friends often do, the Guardian might have addressed her as ‘Ms Lecic’ ?
Hat tip: Joseph W., Harry’s Place
The start of Ratko Mladic’s trial today means that the most important Bosnian Serb war-criminal, alongside Radovan Karadzic, is now facing justice. This trial will be crucially important for two reasons.
Firstly, its proceedings may shed some light on the role of Serbia and its military in the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. At the time of the massacre, Serbia was in a federal union with Montenegro, and the joint state went by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija – SRJ). Its army, the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, provided logistical support for the Bosnian Serb army – the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’ – and its Croatian Serb counterpart, though these were formally independent of it. The minutes of the SRJ’s Supreme Defence Council (which comprised the presidents of ‘Yugoslavia’, Serbia and Montenegro) were recently used by the prosecution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in its case against former Yugoslav army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic. They reveal that Perisic regularly appealed to the Supreme Defence Council to provide such logistical support to the Bosnian Serb military, and that these appeals continued up until the eve of the Srebrenica massacre. Hopefully, the trial of Mladic, alongside that of Perisic, will provide more information on the role of the Army of Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, it is likely that Mladic’s ability to provide such information was one of the reasons that Serbia’s military shielded him from arrest for so long. This is, however, an optimistic hope, as Mladic is more likely to continue denying responsibility for the massacre and to shield his former protectors than he is to spill the beans.
The second, and more important reason why Mladic’s trial is important, is that it provides the best chance yet to prove that genocide occurred not only at Srebrenica in 1995, but in other places and at other times in Bosnia-Hercegovina as well. The judicial record on this question so far is ambiguous. Germany’s courts have convicted Bosnian Serb perpetrators for offences relating to genocide carried out in parts of Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. One of these, the paramilitary leader Nikola Jorgic, was convicted of genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, but appealed his conviction all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter upheld Jorgic’s conviction for genocide, ruling that the German courts’ definition of genocide was consistent with the international legal definition. The German and ECHR rulings on Jorgic corroborate the view that genocide occurred across Bosnia from 1992, not merely at Srebrenica in 1995. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice, in the case for genocide brought by Bosnia against Serbia, acquitted Serbia of all genocide-related charges apart from failure to prevent and punish genocide. The ICJ specifically stated that genocide in Bosnia occurred only at Srebrenica in 1992, not in other places or at other times. Mladic, however, stands accused by the ICTY prosecution of systematic genocide across both western and eastern Bosnia from May 1992. If Mladic is found guilty on all charges, the judicial record for a genocide in Bosnia that occurred across the country from 1992 to 1995 will be greatly strengthened.
Be this as it may, the significance of this trial, and of Mladic personally, should not be overstated. News reports have suggested that Mladic was, along with Serbia’s wartime president Slobodan Milosevic and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, one of the three principal perpetrators of Serb war-crimes in Bosnia. In fact, the singling out of these three individuals, to the exclusion of all others, betrays a false understanding of the nature of the Great Serbian killing campaign and of how it was organised. In reality, the Serb military aggression against Bosnia and programme of mass killing of its non-Serb inhabitants was planned and organised by the regime in Belgrade; not merely by Milosevic the despot, but by a much wider circle of top political, military and police officials. This war followed on seamlessly from the prior war waged by Serbia against Croatia in 1991-1992.
Mladic, on the other hand, was merely a run-of-the-mill officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) until well after the war in Croatia had begun. He served as chief of the Department for Instruction of the JNA’s 3rd Military District based in Skopje in Macedonia until January 1991, then as assistant to the commander of the Pristina Corps in Kosovo until July 1991, when he was transferred – still as a mere colonel – to Knin, which was the self-proclaimed capital of the Serb rebels in Croatia. He was appointed chief of staff of the 9th (Knin) Corps at the end of July, and played a central role in ethnic cleansing operations against Croatia. In October, after Serbia together with Montenegro had carried out a coup d’etat to establish exclusive control of the federal organs of rump Yugoslavia, including of the JNA, Mladic was promoted to major-general. From late November or early December 1991, as they were preparing to wind down the war in Croatia and to shift it to Bosnia, the Milosevic regime and the leadership of the JNA set about organising a Bosnian Serb military within the framework of the JNA, something that involved concentrating all Bosnian Serb soldiers and officers in the JNA on Bosnian territory. On 30 December, the rump Yugoslav presidency (i.e. the representatives of Serbia and Montenegro) established a new military district – the ‘2nd Military District’ – based in Sarajevo, that had jurisdiction over Mladic’s Knin Corps. At the same time, Mladic was promoted to commander of the Knin Corps.
Thus, when the JNA launched a full-scale war against Bosnia in March and April 1992, Mladic was not even based in Bosnia, but was still in the relatively junior position of commander of the Knin Corps, based in Serb-occupied Croatia. He nevertheless participated in the start of the aggression against Bosnia; his forces captured the town of Kupres in south-west Bosnia from its predominantly Bosnian Croat defenders on 8 April 1992 and helped to organise the future Bosnian Serb army in that region of the country, after which he returned to the Knin region for further operations against the Croatian Army.
On 27 April 1992, Milosevic’s regime proclaimed the new ‘Yugoslavia’ – i.e., the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro. The Bosnian Serb rebel entity, subsequently known as the ‘Republika Srpska’, had already proclaimed independence a month before. By establishing the SRJ and the Bosnian Serb republic as formally separate states, the Milosevic regime aimed to pretend to the world that it was not involved in the war in Bosnia, and that this war was really just a ‘civil war’. This necessitated a formally independent Bosnian Serb army, separate from the Yugoslav army, and Mladic was handpicked by Belgrade to be its commander. On 30 April, Milosevic and other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA met with the Bosnian Serb leaders under Radovan Karadzic to arrange the formation of a Bosnian Serb army, and it was agreed that Mladic – who had been promoted to lieutenant general only a few days before – would serve as its commander. In early May, JNA Chief of Staff and acting Yugoslav defence minister Blagoje Adzic summoned Mladic to Belgrade to inform him that he was to be promoted to both commander and chief of staff of the JNA’s 2nd Military District, based in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. At about the same time, the acting president of the Yugoslav presidency, Branko Kostic, ordered the previous JNA incumbent of the post to surrender his duties to Mladic, whose appointment as commander of the 2nd Military District was reported by Belgrade TV on 9 May.
Mladic subsequently recalled that ‘When I took up duty in the 2nd Military District I immediately assigned myself the task of assembling men and forming a command and General Staff, partly from the remnants of the 2nd Military District and partly from the men who had come with me from Knin and from other areas, who were born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We immediately began the formation of a General Staff of the [Bosnian] Serb Army.’ On 12 May, the self-declared Bosnian Serb parliament voted to establish a Bosnian Serb army incorporating all JNA units on Bosnian territory, and to appoint Mladic as its commander. Yet the law was not promulgated by the presidency of the self-declared Bosnian Serb republic until 19 May. Until that time, Mladic was still formally subordinate, along with all Serb forces on Bosnian territory, to the Yugoslav military command and Yugoslav presidency in Belgrade. Only on 19 May did the the JNA formally split into two separate armies: the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, made up of troops from Serbia and Montenegro, which formally withdrew from Bosnia on the same date; and the ‘Army of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, subsequently simply the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’, headed by Mladic and now formally independent.
In other words, although Mladic played a prominent and significant role in the Serb military assault on Bosnia that began full-scale in the spring of 1992, he was far from being its chief instigator or organiser. The latter was the political and military leadership of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army, which handpicked and groomed Mladic for the role. Attributing excessive importance to Mladic as organiser of the war in Bosnia downplays the party that was actually responsible: the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
War crimes investigators at the ICTY were aware of how the war and mass killing in Bosnia were organised. According to the amended indictment of Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia:
‘Slobodan MILOSEVIC participated in the joint criminal enterprise as set out below. The purpose of this joint criminal enterprise was the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter referred to as “Bosnia and Herzegovina”), through the commission of crimes which are in violation of Articles 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Statute of the Tribunal. The joint criminal enterprise was in existence by 1 August 1991 and continued until at least 31 December 1995. The individuals participating in this joint criminal enterprise included Slobodan MILOSEVIC, Radovan KARADZIC, Momcilo KRAJISNIK, Biljana PLAVSIC, General Ratko MLADIC, Borisav JOVIC, Branko KOSTIC, Veljko KADIJEVIC, Blagoje ADZIC, Milan MARTIC, Jovica STANISIC, Franko SIMATOVIC, also known as “Frenki,” Radovan STOJICIC, also known as “Badza,” Vojislav SESELJ, Zeljko RAZNATOVIC, also known as “Arkan,” and other known and unknown participants.’
However, at the time of writing, not a single official of Serbia, Montenegro or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – i.e. of the regime that organised the war – nor any officer of the JNA (excluding officers of the Bosnian Serb army who had previously served in the JNA) has been convicted by the ICTY of war crimes in Bosnia. The weight of ICTY punishment has, so far, fallen exclusively on the Bosnian Serbs, while the regime of Milosevic in Belgrade and the leadership of the JNA have been mostly let off the hook. Only six such officials were ever indicted: Milosevic, Stanisic, Simatovic, Perisic, Arkan and Seselj. Arkan was assassinated before he could be arrested, while Milosevic died while his trial was in progress. This leaves a maximum of four representatives of the regime who could, if the prosecution is wholly successful, receive punishment for organising the worst case of aggression and mass killing in Europe since World War II. None of these belonged to the top rank of officials responsible for organising the war in Bosnia, with the exception of Stanisic, who was head of Serbia’s State Security Service.
Of the other representatives of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ from Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA high command who were listed in the Milosevic indictment, Stojicic was assassinated in Belgrade before the indictment was issued. Adzic and Kadijevic, the two top figures in the JNA during the war in Croatia and (in Adzic’s case) during the first stage of the war in Bosnia, were never indicted. Neither were Jovic and Kostic, the Yugoslav presidency members for Serbia and Montenegro respectively, and therefore (along with their counterparts for Vojvodina and Kosovo) the individuals in ultimate formal command of all Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia up until 19 May 1992. Other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA also escaped indictment over Bosnia or Croatia – such as Montenegro’s wartime president Momir Bulatovic, and acting Yugoslav army chief of staff Zivota Panic (who died in 2003).
Some relatively minor JNA figures were indicted for war-crimes in Croatia, in relation to Vukovar and Dubrovnik, but over Croatia, as over Bosnia, the weight of the ICTY’s punishment has fallen on the Croatian Serb agents of Belgrade – such as Milan Martic and Milan Babic (and potentially also the still unarrested Goran Hadzic) – while the officials of the former Milosevic regime have escaped extremely lightly.
This extraordinary failure of international justice over Bosnia – the failure of the ICTY to indict more than a handful of the officials of the regime and army responsible for the planning and launching the war, and so far to convict a single one of them – reflects both the inability of its prosecutors to understand the war properly, as well as their poor strategy in issuing indictments. As I have indicated elsewhere, a preliminary draft of a war-crimes indictment for the leadership of the SRJ (Serbia and Montenegro) drawn up in 2001 by investigators – including the present author – aimed to indict Milosevic and other members of his regime together, including Jovic, Kostic and Adzic. But by a decision of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, the policy was then dropped in favour of an indictment of Milosevic alone. Apart from allowing his chief collaborators to escape justice, this had the unfortunate effect – as Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Milosevic, himself noted – that when Milosevic died in 2006, his trial came to an end, and with it, the trial of his regime. This contrasts with the sensible indictment strategy pursued over Serbian war-crimes in Kosovo by del Ponte’s predecessor, Louise Arbour, who indicted five top members of the regime together, including Milosevic.
In her published memoirs, del Ponte’s failure to understand the planning and organising of the war in Bosnia is apparent; it is a failure that found expression in her misguided indictment strategy. She describes Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two figures primarily responsible for the break up of Yugoslavia – as if their respective roles in the process were equal, and as if none of the other leading members of Milosevic’s Belgrade regime was of similar importance. But this is false.
The break up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia all formed part of a single process, planned by the regime in Belgrade under Milosevic’s leadership from at least the spring of 1990, with the goal of creating a Great Serbia (masquerading as a ‘new Yugoslavia’). So far as Bosnia was concerned, this ‘joint criminal enterprise’ aimed to destroy the country and kill or expel most of the Muslim or Bosniak population. Most of Bosnia, as well as large parts of Croatia, were to be annexed by Serbia, and rump Croatia was to receive some Bosnian territory as well, with the Muslims or Bosniaks, at best, being confined to an Indian reservation in between. Tudjman was an eager collaborator in this programme of genocide and aggression, whose other leading members were, in particular, the aforementioned Jovic, Kostic, Kadijevic, Adzic, Stanisic, Panic and Bulatovic. None of these has yet been punished, and most of them certainly never will be.
As for Mladic, he was merely a middle-ranking agent in the planning and launching of this enterprise – more than a pawn, but not more than a knight or a bishop. So while his arrest and trial should be celebrated, and while we have much to expect from it, let us not pretend that justice is being served.
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