News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

Karadzic’s broken Bosnia remains

Karadzic’s broken Bosnia remains

In the old days we would trot along to see Radovan Karadzic often. He would see us at the drop of a hat.

He was affable, jocular, hugely confident that what he was doing was right.

From time to time he would roll out his maps. There were lines separating the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) in Bosnia from the rest.

There was a line through the heart of Sarajevo – these quarters for the Muslims, those for the Serbs.

The term “ethnic cleansing” was not invented by the foreign journalists he courted so warmly. It was how his own followers described what they were doing.

Radovan Karadzic in 1993

Radovan Karadzic would freely outline his plans to journalists

Republika Srpska is the land that Radovan built. Ethnic cleansing was the means by which he achieved it.Go back there today and you see, starkly, that while the ideologues and architects of the policy are, for the most part, behind bars, the foot soldiers of ethnic cleaning are still at large.

They are still, in many cases, at their desks in the town halls and police stations across Bosnia.

Mirsad Tokaca runs Bosnia’s Research and Documentation Center.

It collates evidence of crimes committed during the 45-month war.

He believes there are between 3,000 and 5,000 war criminals who should face prosecution.

The Hague tribunal has restricted itself to a few dozen “big fish” and has said it will issue no more indictments.

Bosnia’s own state-wide war crimes court came into existence three years ago and has so far brought prosecutions against about a hundred people.

The local courts are supposed to prosecute local war criminals. They do not.

Where it started

Bijeljina, in north-eastern Bosnia, is where it all started.

Ten times they took me outside and told me they were going to kill me – it was a terrible experience
Jusuf Trbic
Bosnian Muslim survivor

On 31 March 1992, a paramilitary unit led by the feared Zeljko Raznatovic – known as Arkan – crossed the river from Serbia and unleashed a reign of terror.

Civilians were shot dead in the street. Prominent Muslims were rounded up, and some of them murdered.

The Muslim (Bosniak) population – tens of thousands of people – was driven out.

Eighteen years on, only a small proportion of those who were expelled have gone back, despite the legal right to do so.

Saalem Corbo is one of the returnees. He remembers how Arkan’s men rampaged through the town. And, he says, they had local help.

Mirko Blagojevic, a Bijeljina Serb and head of the Serbian Radical Party in the town, formed and led his own paramilitary unit, according to evidence presented to the Hague tribunal.

“He knew where the prominent Muslims in the town lived,” says Mr Corbo.

“He led Arkan’s troops to their houses so that they could be rounded up. Few of them survived.”

Survivor

Jusuf Trbic is one who did survive.

“Mirko Blagojevic came to my father-in-law’s house at 1600 on 1 April,” he told me.

“He was with Arkan’s men. They took me to Arkan’s headquarters and told me I had to make an announcement on local radio instructing all the Muslims to surrender their weapons.

“But I didn’t know anything about weapons. They held me all night and beat me.

“Ten times they took me outside and told me they were going to kill me. It was a terrible experience.”

We live with the former war criminals, we see them every day in the streets
Branko Todorovic
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

Mirko Blagojevic is not a convicted war criminal. No case has ever been brought against him, far less proven.

He is not hard to find. He has enjoyed a long career as an elected politician in the years since the war ended.

He emphatically denied co-operating with Arkan’s men. He denied all the allegations made by Mr Corbo and Mr Trbic.

Branko Todorovic runs the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bijeljina.

He said only two war crimes trials had been brought by local prosecutors since the war ended – and both of these were against Muslims who had co-operated with Serb guards in a concentration camp.

Karadzic and Arkan in Bijeljina, 1995

Arkan salutes troops in Bijeljina, where he unleashed terror in 1992

The Bijeljina courts, by the way, have jurisdiction over the Srebrenica area, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered in a few days in July 1995.

“We live with the former war criminals, we see them every day in the streets,” says Mr Todorovic.

Why does it matter?

The ethnic partition of Bosnia endures. The Dayton agreement of 1995 ended the war. But it divided Bosnia into two, ethnically defined entities – Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The leaders of Republika Srpska long ago abandoned their original dream of union with Serbia.

They have accepted some of the symbols of Bosnian statehood – a common currency, a shared passport, a flag.

Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and their relatives watched the hearing

Mr Karadzic’s hearings at The Hague have been broadcast on TV

The one truly successful example of reintegration is – ironically – in the army, where former Muslim, Serb and Croat enemies now serve alongside each other.Beyond that, there is little that is truly Bosnian.

The entities, not the Bosnian state, have real executive power.

The Bosnian state barely functions. It is incapable of carrying out the reforms that Bosnia desperately needs.

And so as Croatia and Serbia continue their respective journeys to the European mainstream – to EU and possibly Nato membership – Bosnia, still broken, still paralysed, is being left behind, and is in danger of sinking further into corruption, poverty and organised crime.

Look at Republika Srpska today and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Radovan Karadzic got much of what he set out to get.

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September 9, 2008

Serbian MPs endorse key EU deal

Serbian MPs endorse key EU deal

Serbian President Boris Tadic, with Serbian and EU flags

Serbian President Boris Tadic is pushing for EU membership

Serbia’s parliament has ratified a key EU document, in a major step on the path to joining the bloc.

The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) was backed by 139 deputies, with 26 voting against.

However, it still has to be backed by all 27 EU countries, some of whom are still not fully satisfied with Serbia’s co-operation on war crimes issues.

The EU has been a divisive issue in Serbia, partly causing the collapse of the last government.

In subsequent elections, however, pro-EU parties were voted in with a substantial majority.

The issue has also caused a split in the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), leading to the resignation of its leader Tomislav Nikolic.

Last week, in a historic U-turn, he committed the nationalist party to backing the SAA.

But that provoked a backlash by many members, forcing him to step down and form his own breakaway faction, while hardliner Dragan Todorovic took charge of the main SRS parliamentary group.

September 7, 2008

Serb opposition leader resigns

Serb opposition leader resigns

Tomislav Nikolic

Tomislav Nikolic went too far for party hardliners

The head of the main opposition party in Serbia has resigned after senior colleagues refused to back the country’s efforts to join the EU.

Tomislav Nikolic had recently persuaded his Serbian Radical Party to approve the ratification of an important agreement with the European Union.

But there was a party revolt over the issue, with critics saying it meant abandoning Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia this year.

Mr Nikolic had steered his party towards the centre of Serbian politics, focusing on social issues such as unemployment and poverty, rather than the militant nationalism of the past.

Mr Nikolic is officially the deputy president of the party as its leader, Vojislav Seselj is facing charges at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

His endorsement of the Stability and Association Agreement, signed earlier this year but still awaiting ratification by the Serbian Parliament, was a bridge too far for many of his party colleagues, our correspondent says.

A meeting of the party leadership on Friday night reversed the decision to endorse the agreement with Brussels.

Mr Nikolic resigned in protest, both from his position as de facto leader of the party, and as the head of its group in parliament.

The parliamentary vote on the agreement with the European Union is expected next week.

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