25th Mar 2018

Mladic extradition 'not enough for Balkan reconciliation'

  • Drakulic: 'I would like to believe that the EU is a project capable of preventing wars or at least rising nationalism' (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The EU on Tuesday (31 May) welcomed the extradition to the Hague of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. But a Croatian author, Slavenka Drakulic, says this move is not enough to achieve reconciliation in the Western Balkans.

Her books explore the monsters we could all become one day if faced with the power to shoot, rape or simply keep silent, out of fear, when atrocities are committed. The war criminals on trial in the Hague, now joined by the "butcher of Bosnia", Ratko Mladic, are all people like you and I, Drakulic says.

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A closer look at their lives, their loved ones, their daily chores and musings reveal nothing spectacular, no sign of pathology or sadism.

Aside from the individual guilt, dealt with in each of the cases in the Hague, a more disturbing, top-down collective guilt of governments at the time is still to be acknowledged.

Having lived in Yugoslavia throughout her young adulthood, Drakulic is a firm sceptic of the standard narrative that the war was a product of a "lid" being suddenly taken away from a boiling pot of resentments among different ethnic groups when the regime of Yugoslav strongman Joseph Tito ended.

"This was not started by a village of Muslims suddenly attacking a village of Serbs. It was top-down, it came from politicians who knowingly stirred up nationalistic sentiments and started portraying 'the other' as something less than human. In order to be able to break the strongest of the human taboos, killing another person, you first have to look at him or her as an 'it', " she said during a reading of her book As if I am not there in the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Looking at the current state of politics in the region, Drakulic sees little appetite for real reconciliation and putting aside the dangerous nationalistic speeches. If anything is being done, it is only for the sake of the European Union, she says.

"It's like in some sort of an Orwellian world - you have a double speech, one intended for the EU audience and another one, more nationalistic, for internal consumption."

Even the arrest of Mladic and his subsequent extradition to the Hague needs to be seen in the bigger scheme of things. The good news is that the Serbian government is willing to make such "trade offs" and speak of reconciliation, with both the presidents of Croatia and Serbia now being "best buddies."

The bad news is that this is to a large extent lip service. "There is still a lot of nationalism and the government should make it an active policy to fight it, but this is not the case," Drakulic said.

In Europe itself, the thermometer of nationalism is rising as well. "I would like to believe that the EU is a project capable of preventing wars or at least rising nationalism," the writer added.

She recalled that 10 to 15 years ago, there was only one Jorg Haider rising to prominence in Austria and the EU immediately reacted and suspended relations with Vienna: "Now there are far-right parties in parliaments and even in position of influencing the government in some 20 European countries. Europe is in trouble."

Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes

The former Bosnian Serb warlord was sentenced to life in prison for committing genocide and war crimes in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. Mladic is still regarded as a 'hero' among some Bosnian Serbs, in a country undergoing resurgent nationalism.

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