Thursday 12 July 2012
Last Update 13 July 2012 1:43 am
As weeping Bosnian families reburied 500 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre, Ratko Mladic, the man accused of ordering their murder, felt ill in the dock at The Hague.
As the mourners laid their husbands, sons and brothers to rest in their graves, Mladic’s trial was adjourned and he was helped from the dock to be examined by a nurse. Because of concern for his condition, an ambulance was called. The former Bosnian Serb general was taken to hospital, where tests were done. The court agreed to reconvene again yesterday, in the hope that Mladic would be well enough for his trial to continue.
It was all so reassuringly civilized. Of course Mladic himself had personally promised first the Dutch peacekeepers and then the Muslims of Srebrenica, that nothing bad was going to happen to them. He had come to protect their town and all its inhabitants. He gave his personal guarantee. When hours later, his soldiers began rounding up the men and boys, he made similar emollient statements. There was nothing to worry about. They were just being processed. They would be marched away while their identities were being checked. No one should worry.
We know now that some 8,000 males of all ages, were taken to various killing fields, where they were butchered on Mladics’s orders. He had lied to the Dutch UN peacekeepers and he had lied to the people of Srebrenica. He led his men into the town with blood-lust in his heart and a determination to conduct ethnic cleansing. Without their menfolk, the Muslim women of the town would be liable to rape from Serbs there, and would in any event want to move away to relatives, where they could be supported.
Yet when Mladic was led carefully from the court room on Thursday and the stretchered to hospital, did he for one moment doubt his safety ? Did he for an instant imagine that there was a man with a pistol in the ambulance, who would shoot him in the back of the head ? Did he fear that when he reached hospital, someone would deliver a lethal injection that would cause him to die in fear and agony ? Almost certainly, Mladic had no such concerns at all. He knows himself to be in a civilized European city. He recognizes that the authorities will protect him against any revenge attack. He also knows that if he is found guilty, there will be no execution for him — just the likelihood that he will spend the rest of his days behind bars. And because his health is apparently so frail, those remaining days may not be many. Indeed the prosecution case against Mladic has been shortened and simplified, precisely because there are fears that the accused may die before his trial can be completed. The conviction of Mladic at the end of a fair and open trial, is important to many people, not least to the relatives of his victims, who will find in his sentence some closure after 17 years of mourning.
Europeans as a whole also need a different sort of closure. They still cannot understand how one their own, a fellow European could order an act of savagery, the like of which had not been seen since Hitler’s Nazi depravities 70 years ago. Worse, what about the troops who obeyed their orders, took their pistols and rifles and fired point blank at helpless men and boys who had done them no harm? How could such wickedness happen in a Europe which at the time was basking in prosperity, peace and contentment the like of which it had never seen before. How in one small corner of the continent could such cold-blooded butchery take place?
The conviction of this frail old man in the dock at The Hague, may not help Europeans to answer this question about themselves. However, economic troubles are strengthening the hand of extremist political parties throughout the continent. This means that everyone should be alert to the return of this evil demon. Far-right parties blame immigrant workers for everything that is wrong with society. In particular their racism focuses on Muslims. They call openly for immigrants to be expelled. They are preaching a new ethnic cleansing. Europeans should now be asking themselves, how many other Ratko Mladics live in their midst ?
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