Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it!
The people of Serbia know what happened in Bosnia and Kosovo. They know that genocide occurred and that the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo were the primary victims. Why then do they refuse to extradite Karadzic and Mladic? Why are they refusing to admit the truth about the gruesome massacre in Srebrenica? Is the whole world conspiring against the Serbian people and more important is there a covert Western campaign to dehumanize the Serbian people? The present author will attempt to explain why Serbia keeps providing shelter for notorious war criminals, such as Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
Even though he has been accused of committing egregious atrocities in Bosnia, Mladic is still hiding in Serbia under the protection of the Serbian authorities. Considered a national hero in Serbia, Mladic commands great respect and admiration. How does one explain the non-compliance of the Serbian authorities to accommodate the international community?
According to some estimates, more than 50% of the Serbian population still believes that there was no massacre in Srebrenica. The figure is probably much higher among the Bosnian Serb population. I recently watched a debate on Serbian TV about Mladic’s role in the Srebrenica massacre. The central question of the debate was whether or not the massacre in Srebrenica had actually taken place. One participant remarked that there had been no massacre in Srebrenica and that Mladic has always been a Serbian hero. When asked why she believed in Mladic’s innocence and why she held him in such high regard, she replied that Mladic had been killing “bloody Turks” in Srebrenica. She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that more than six hundred years have passed since the Turkish presence in the Balkans. In order to understand the root causes of the Serbian nationalism we will have to return to year 1389. It was in this year that the infamous battle between the Turks and the Serbs took place in Kosovo, the outcome of which had come to play a pivotal role in the rise of the Serbian nationalism. Considered God by many Serbs, Prince Lazar’s death probably still constitutes the most significant event in the Serbian history. Islam has ever since been viewed as Serbia’s primary enemy in spite of the fact that more than six centuries have passed since Lazar’s death.
This enormous hatred of the Turks was easily transferred onto the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo, even though their only common denominator was Islam. In point of fact, many Serbs still make no distinction between the Turks and the Bosnian Muslims. In contemporary Serbian literature, Muslims are frequently portrayed as backward, uncivilized and belligerent savages, for corroboration see for example books by Vuk Draskovic and Njegos. Paradoxically, despite their grossly distorted let alone parochial views of Islam, Draskovic and Njegos have many readers in Serbia. What better way to mislead the public than to have “experts” like the notorious Serbian ultra-nationalist Draskovic spread vicious anti-Islamic propaganda? Once these so called experts had managed to create a sense of “victimization” in the Serbian people, justifying a war to defend the Serbian people from the “Islamic threat” and the “Albanian nationalism” was easy. Of course, there were no such threats, if anything, the situation was reversed. The Albanians in Kosovo had been suffering from Serbian repression for years. The Muslims of Bosnia were and still are the most secularized Muslims in the world so all talk of the Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia has always been nonsensical and completely groundless. For a thorough analysis of Islam in Bosnia see Noel Malcolm’s Bosnia a Short History. Thus, it is clear that the Serbian nationalism has always been fuelled by myths (see Michael Sells’s brilliantly researched The Bridge Betrayed for a comprehensive analysis of the root causes of the Serbian nationalism).
The principal reason Serbia refuses to turn Ratko Mladic over to the War Tribunal in The Hague is the ancient Serbian dream of a “Greater Serbia”. Many Serbs believe that Mladic was fighting for a creation of the “Greater Serbia” and for that reason they tend to deny or at best downplay his atrocities. I think that this also explains the Serbian unwillingness to admit the truth about the Srebrenica massacre. Acknowledging the truth about Mladic’s role in Srebrenica massacre would have severe repercussions for Serbia. First, the Serbian people would finally realize that their government had been deceiving them all the time about the war in Bosnia and Kosovo. More important, they would learn that the Serbs were not the victims as their government had been telling them from the very beginning of the war in Bosnia.
This paper is dedicated to my grandfather Alija Salihovic who was killed in the gruesome massacre in Srebrenica. May his soul rest in peace and may the people of Bosnia never forget the egregious atrocities perpetrated by the Serbian aggressor.