Ten-year-old photos had been used to mislead social media users into believing that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has named a street after convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić.
After a United Nations tribunal sentenced former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić to life in prison for genocide in the 1990s Bosnian war, some Balkan social media users started reminding the world about his links with the current Serbian political establishment — and spreading misleading information.
One such meme falsely claims the current president has recently named a street “Ratko Mladić Boulevard” and utilizes photos showing Vučić posting a street sign with the name. The following tweet is a typical example:
Ratko Mladic was just sentencted to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The sitting President of “European” Serbia named a street after Mladic. pic.twitter.com/xoLse5HwCG
— Admirim (@admirim) November 22, 2017
The photos are not photoshopped, but are presented out of context, making the overall claim false. The “street sign” is not a metal plaque, but a poster glued with sellotape. In reality, no street had been named after the notorious Mladić.
On 26 May 2007, Vučić, as general secretary of the far-right, ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), took part in a protest against renaming a Belgrade street after the slain Serbian liberal Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, who was assassinated in 2003 after starting a cooperation with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This cooperation lead to extradition of former President Slobodan Milošević, the main sponsor of Ratko Mladić.
At the protest, Serbian nationalists confronted liberals who supported the new name. The nationalists carried banners and posters in support of Mladić, who was a fugitive from justice at the time.
As member of the SRS, Vučić served as Milošević regime's minister of information from 1998 to 2000. In 2008 after its pro-European Union wing split from the Radical Party and formed the Serbian Progressive Party, Vučić joined them.
In 2014, after Vučić become prime minister, the Serbian fact-checking site Truth-o-meter presented the following archived footage from 2007 event as part of their efforts to advance the public record.
While in power, Vučić has toned down any nationalist rhetoric, trying to build himself an image of a pro-European politician who mends fences with the neighbors. In 2015, he paid two visits to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, the site of genocidal massacre perpetrated in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladić. While paying respect to the victims and condemning the act “a terrible crime,” Vučić has also maintained an official line that refuses to allow use of the word genocide in relation to Srebrenica, in spite ICTY judgments.
His statement after the ICTY verdict on Mladić didn't express open support for the war criminal. While asserting that no one but the Serbs cares about the Serb victims of the 1990s wars, he stated that instead of delving in the past “we have to go to the future and think where our children will live… We must not choke ourselves on the tears of the past, but soak ourselves in the sweat of efforts for creating a common future.”
The footage and photos from the 2007 protest are now used by various critics to haunt Vučić about his alleged hypocrisy, from at least two sides. The opponents of Serbian nationalism use them to present him as closeted radical, while some of the more extreme Serbian nationalists criticize his attitude, considering it too meek.