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A Bookmark in History

The arrest of Ratko Mladic could mean much more than putting a murderer behind bars.

by Barbara Frye 26 May 2011

It’s an odd fact that long-awaited events often feel sudden when they finally happen. So it is with today’s arrest of Ratko Mladic, after 15 years on the run.


At least that’s how it felt to some of us who had begun to wonder if the 69-year-old Bosnian Serb wartime general and mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre would ever be taken alive.


According to Serbian state television, RTS, the arrest took place around 5:30 a.m. in a northern village, so quickly that neighbors did not notice it. Reports said Mladic was not disguised but had aged so as to be hardly recognizable.


Detail from the UN information sheet on the charges against Mladic


What a day for Serbia and its president, Boris Tadic.


Leaders from around the world are offering congratulations. Those from the EU take on an “I always believed in you” tone, sounding like elated teachers when a promising but troubled student makes a breakthrough. The Dutch are now likely to unblock the country’s entry into an expanded trade and association agreement with the union, something they had vetoed three years ago unless Serbia arrested Mladic. This also obviously removes a major hurdle in Serbia’s path toward EU membership, although Belgrade must still arrest Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb wanted for war crimes, and find a way to deal with Kosovo.


As I write this, one correspondent in Belgrade tells me that activity on the street is normal, no protests, no reaction. Many people, she guesses, still have not heard the news. Predictions are risky business, but it seems that the nationalists have rather played themselves out. Sure, there might be some protests, but Tadic has promised to prosecute those who break the law and the most recent nationalist demonstrations have looked more like death throes than anything else.


Many of the reactions posted on the RTS website are nicely summed up by the words of one commenter who wrote simply, “Finally, but better late than never. Bravo, Serbia. I am proud.”


In Bosnia, Hajra Catic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica, said, "After 16 years of waiting, for us, relatives of victims, the arrest is a relief,” according to RTS.


And Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Muslim member of the country’s three-member presidency, had a rather cryptic response, telling a press conference, “The arrests were carried out by Serbian legal institutions with the support of legal institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” I assume we’ll hear more about that later, if it’s true.


Two other notes about this extraordinary event: it occurred only days after Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, had concluded that Serbia was not doing enough to hunt down Mladic and Hadzic. Mladic will now face that tribunal on charges of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.


And it came on the heels of a remarkable apology from Serbia’s state television for having been a mouthpiece for the Milosevic regime, spewing “insults, slander, and hate speech,” in the 1990s.


Change, when you see it happening before your eyes, is a fascinating thing indeed.



To the right is a list of articles TOL has published over the years that chronicle the chase for Mladic and Radovan Karadzic and the still-reverberating consequences of Srebrenica.



1942 Born in the municipality of Kalinovik in Bosnia and Herzegovina

1961 Enters military school and proves an apt pupil

1992 Promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Yugoslav People’s Army, becomes chief of the main staff of the newly created Bosnian Serb army, and begins the four-year siege of Sarajevo.

1995 Stands accused of ordering the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, a UN safe area. Relieved of his command and indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.





Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor.
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