Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ratko Mladic and the Cost of Genocide

I was stationed as a military policeman with the stabilization force (SFOR) in Bosnia from October 1997 to April 1998. When we arrived in country we were given a debriefing by the outgoing unit. I was told that the members of the unit had had Serb war criminals pass through their checkpoints unhindered because the Army wasn't interested in risking the safety of its soldiers to enforce that policy. I vowed to myself that if I ever encountered any war criminals that I recognized as such (we had their faces on posters) I would risk my life and career rather than let them go. If they resisted I would give up my life rather than let them go free. This is because I knew the history of the region from intensive reading before deployment.

In World War II some 1.5-2 million people had been killed during an internal civil war within Yugoslavia as terrorist Ustashe Croatians took over control of Croatia under fascist protection and Serbia was torn between the communist Partisans of Josip Broz Tito and the nationalist Chetniks of Gen. Mihailovic. Because there were no war crimes trials or prosecutions after the war, those who had personally suffered by having had family killed, like Ratko Mladic, thought that it was alright to take personal or national vengeance by ethnic cleansing and massacres. I was determined that war crimes trials have a chance to avoid another round of genocide in the future.

Over the fifteen years since the civil war in Bosnia ended at Dayton, Ohio in December 2010 the most important successor states to the old Communist Yugoslavia have given up nationalism. First Croatia in the early 2000s as Franjo Tudjman died and was followed in office by a pragmatist Western-oriented politician rather than another Communist turned nationalist. Then Boris Tadic replaced the Serb nationalist who had overthrown Slobadan Milosevic in 2001. With the handing over of Mladic to the Hague for trial, Serbia removes the main barrier to entry into the European Union. Now only Macedonia and Bosnia remain. Macedonia with its ethnic strife between Muslim Albanians and Christian Slavs and Bosnia with its barely-suppressed conflict among Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs. The Office of the High Commissioner, the office responsible for the implementation of all economic and political reform in Bosnia since Dayton, is set to be abolished in less than a year. If that happens the chances of any further reforms being achieved becomes remote. And Bosnia will remain a ticking time bomb within Europe--if not in its heart than maybe in its groin.

While I was on leave from Bosnia in early 1998 I went on leave to Poland. I visted Oswiecim (Aushwitz). I remember distinctly looking into a display case of spectacles taken from those who had entered the gas chambers at Aushwitz. I wondered if they added up to the 6,000 then thought to have been murdered at Srebrenica in 1995. The number since then has been scaled up to 8,000. I remember thinking how short the direct distance was between Srebrenica and Aushwitz and the wonder that it had only taken half a century to travel from one to the other. Srebrenica, unlike Rwanda or Cambodia, was not located someplace in the Third World. It was in Europe. Non-Christians were still not welcome there.

The European and Western indifference to the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia helped to pave the way for the fundamentalist growth in the country since 1992. As it was mainly the Arab Gulf countries and Iran that provided Bosnia with financial aid and arms, the population grew to accept that the most backward countries in the Middle East were their natural allies. Just as the betrayal at Munich in September 1938 paved the way for the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia a decade later, the Western indifference helped to pave the way for fundamentalist Muslim inroads into Bosnia and Kosovo. Hopefully, London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna won't pay the full price for their policies in the 1990s.

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