Ratko Mladic: Western foe, Serbian hero

One of the prominent figures of the past week was the former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic. The Hague Themis is trying to punish him for all the atrocities committed during the war in Bosnia. But for many, he remains a hero who did not allow bin Laden to destroy his people. He also interfered with the plans of the U.S. and the EU to separate the Serbs. As a result, Mladic became the enemy of both bin Laden and the West.

The reason behind his hunger strike was questioning of a witness at the trial. The details are not clear, but it seems to have to do with the crimes in the Bosnian town of Rogatica. The witness has allegedly suffered abuse, but Mladic openly laughed listening to his story, and then he was taken out of the courtroom. The defendant decided to go on a hunger strike.

Mladic is accused of violating the laws of war during the Bosnian massacre of 1992-1995. He is charged with crimes committed during the siege of Sarajevo as well as the genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica. The General did not acknowledge his fault, and President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic agreed with him. "There was no genocide in Srebrenica. There were individual cases of war crimes," said the politician. He added that he did not consider Mladic a war criminal.

Who is Ratko Mladic, one of the most wanted persons in the world for over 15 years, whose trial attracted so much attention? He is one of the main protagonists of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps, his biography has the answers to the questions about his behavior during the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 years ago.  

Mladic was born on March 12, 1943 in the village of Bozhinovichi in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time it was a member of the Independent State of Croatia that was allied with the Nazi Germany. Ustaša Croats and Bosnian Muslims were among the supporters of the occupiers who were destroying the local Serbs even harder than the Germans. Mladic's father was killed in a battle with the Ustaša and their Muslim associates. He had every reason to hold a grudge against the Muslims and Croats.

Until the summer of 1991, when a large-scale war broke out in Yugoslavia, Mladic was building an ordinary military career in the Yugoslav People's Army (YPA). In the summer of that year he was transferred to Croatia, where the Croats and Serbs were killing each other. Mladic distinguished himself in the battles with the Croats striving for independence. In the spring of 1992 he was granted a rank of lieutenant general in Belgrade and was sent to his native Bosnia.

By that time the war spread to Bosnia. The YPA was no longer a combat-ready unit. Using this, the local Muslim groups one by one captured Serbian villages and mercilessly massacred their residents. In their ranks there were many mercenaries from Islamic countries who got to Bosnia with the assistance of Osama bin Laden. The late leader of the Bosnian Muslims Alija Izetbegovic granted bin Laden Bosnian citizenship.

The goal of bin Laden and Izetbegovic was to build an Islamic state in Bosnia where there would be no room for the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Thinking back to the actions of Muslim troops during the World War II and looking at the atrocities of Islamic mercenaries in Serbian villages (which the U.S. and the EU turned a blind eye to), Mladic left the YPA. In mid-1992, he took command of the scattered Bosnian Serbs troops and became the self-proclaimed commander of the army of Republika Srpska in Bosnia.

Since late 1992, the military initiative was in the hands of the Serbs. They displaced Muslims from most of the territory they occupied. Gradually, 70 percent of the territory of Bosnia was shifted under Mladic's control. Of course, it was hardly without violence against the Muslims, some of whom were committing atrocities in the Serbian villages, while others were not to blame. 

The West believed that the Serbs had to display greater humanism than all the rest. In 1993 "blue helmets" of the UN took under their defense the Muslim towns of Srebrenica and Zepa that were cleared from the Serbs prior to that. Bosnia, where Muslims, Serbs and Croats lived intermingled, has never had ethnically clean cities. Srebrenica and Zepa during 1992 became purely Muslim. However, the U.S. and the EU did not question it.

Mladic surrounded Srebrenica and Zepa, but did not want to seize them for a long time because of the presence of the UN troops. The Muslim troops who committed attacks on Serbian positions took advantage of this situation. Mladic has repeatedly drawn the world's attention to this, but no one would listen. Finally, in July of 1995, he decided to put an end to the enclaves.

Mladic gave an order to attack Srebrenica and Zepa. By July 11, 1995, both cities were occupied. Later the investigation revealed that 8,000 people fell victims of the Serbian troops, and another 30,000 Muslim became refugees. However, among those killed men prevailed, many of whom were armed. Those events were the basis for the genocide charges against Mladic and placing him on the international wanted list under pressure from the West.

By late 1995, the war in Bosnia was over. Mladic, along with a Bosnian Serb, political leader Radovan Karadzic, was awaited in The Hague. They were wanted for over 10 years - bin Laden is perhaps the only other person who had been on the wanted list for that long. In 2008, Serbia managed to detain Karadzic.  

In May of 2011, in the village of Lazarevo a person was detained with a passport in the name of Milorad Komadicha. Later it turned out that it was Mladic, who in years of wandering had become a hero for many Serbs. Former President Boris Tadic, who was eager to join the EU, was not hiding his joy. He said then that he was very proud of this operation as it would open all doors for joining the European Union.

Since then Mladic has been held in The Hague, and the trial commenced in the spring of 2012. However, the trial looks more like judgment. The General and other Serbs are being made responsible for the massacre where both Muslims and Croats participated. The leaders of the EU and the U.S. have done a lot to make the war in Bosnia a bloody one. Yet, not one of the leaders of the Bosnian Muslims has been charged.  

Likely, Mladic is not an angel. But he fought for his people who would not be treated right in the Islamic state of bin Laden and Izetbegovic. He thought that the Bosnian Serbs must live within their national state, Serbia. It is not surprising that for many Serbs (even pro-Western ones), he remains a national hero. The West had other plans in this regard and made Mladic the worst enemy to be trialed at the Hague Tribunal.

Pavel Chernyshev


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov