It is with a sense of relief and disbelief that many Bosnians and Serbs alike today learn about the arrest of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide and war crimes during the 1992-95 civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The arrest of Ratko Mladic may come as a surprise to many, but international pressure has been building in recent years that Serbian authorities finally bring the general to justice.
Living with the memory of loved ones massacred or mutilated by warring parties while perpetrators are still at large remains an additional trauma for families regardless of sides in the conflict. For many, the collapse of Yugoslavia along ethnic and religious divides proved a rude awakening as the peoples of Europe stood helpless witnesses to indiscriminate violence and crime on a scale the continent had not seen since the Second World War.
Memories and traumas live on in Bosnia, and as long as criminals are not brought to justice, there will be no release from the agonies of aggression. Sarah Correia of Café Turco describes the situation:
I am in Kozarac now, a place razed to the ground in May 1992. I went to Trnopolje today for a commemoration, and I could see in people’s faces the pain. But then I came back to Kozarac and got the news. Tears of joy in everyone’s eyes, and a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed has come.
Still, suspicions that Serbian authorities have for long been complicit in hiding Mladic or at least turning a blind eye to his whereabouts linger on. Consequently, one of the first questions facing the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, was why the law did not catch up with Mladic earlier, as told by Sladjana Lazic of A Slice Of Serbian Politics:
Asked why Mladic was not arrested five years ago, Tadic added that there will be an investigation about that, and if the investigation proves that people from the Government or state structures were responsible for interferences with that process, they will be prosecuted as well. Tadic also said that Mladic would be extradited to the United Nations war crimes tribunal but did not specify when, only saying that “an extradition process is under way”.
In this context, the issue of alleged war criminals on the loose has long been running havoc to Serbian prospects for membership in the European Union, and it seems it has become a cause célèbre to the point that Serbian authorites simply had to catch Mladic. Commenting on this, Sleeping With Pengovsky writes:
The arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladić comes at an extremely crucial moment for Serbia. At a time when Croatia is apparently on the verge of having been given a fixed date for EU entry, when Chief Prosecutor at the Hague Tribunal Serge Brammertz said that Serbia has not done nearly enough to catch the two main remaining war criminals (Mladić and Goran Hadžić), at the time when the EU is considering reintroducing visas for some Balkan countries including, apparently, Serbia, it would seem that Belgrade had no choice but to take the issue of general Ratko Mladić off the table.
No matter what the feelings and sentiments may be today in Bosnia and Serbia, the arrest is an opportunity both to move on towards a brighter future and a means to better grasp the tragedy of recent history. At the end of the day victims of war and terror in former Yugoslavia may now rest in greater peace and dignity than only yesterday. What a difference a day makes.