Natasha Kandic: The Shame of Serbia

Roundup: Talking About History

Natasha Kandic is the executive director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Serbia. This article was translated by Vesna Bogojevic from the Serbian.

THE arrest of Ratko Mladic on May 26 caught me off guard. I couldn’t believe it. I clenched my fists, trying to grip him tightly in my hands. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief.

But then I heard the speech by the Serbian president, Boris Tadic. For him, Mr. Mladic’s arrest represents the closing of a dark chapter in our history and a removal of the mark of shame that has stained the Serbian people for two decades. But there was no mention of the many other perpetrators of genocide during the 1990s or of the responsibility the Serbian state bears for those crimes. Once again, it seems, we might lose the chance to open a painful but necessary debate about the past....

Mr. Mladic’s arrest brought relief to the families of victims. It offered the Hague tribunal recognition that it is a successful agent of international justice. And it granted Serbia the long-coveted prospect of membership in the European Union. The Serbian government has managed to persuade the world that it values a European future more highly than the criminal heroes of the past.

But I am not so sure that Serbia has given up on Mr. Mladic and his fellow generals, who prosecuted a genocidal war in Bosnia. The sympathy that state officials and the news media expressed for Mr. Mladic last week is yet another mark of shame on all of us. The deputy prosecutor offered him strawberries. His wish to be visited by the health minister and the president of Parliament was granted, as was his request to visit his daughter’s grave. The Serbian public was constantly updated on his diet in jail, and we all learned that Mr. Mladic flew to The Hague in the suit he’d worn at his son’s wedding. He was treated as a star....

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