Mladić Trial
Mladić’s final verdict

A chance to move on?
Gravestones in Srebrenica | Potocari Memorial Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Gravestones in Srebrenica | Potocari Memorial Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina © Michael Buker | Creative Commons Legal Code

Lifelong sentence for war crimes for Ratko Mladić, the military commander of the Army of Republika Srpska was confirmed yesterday in courthouse of the International Residual Mechanism for War Crimes in Hague. Five-person panel of judges confirmed Mladić’s verdict for the genocide in Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats, terrorising citizen of Sarajevo and for taking UN soldiers hostage.

With this verdict ends a long and painful legal quest for justice for the victims of his crimes in the bloodiest episode in former Yugoslavia which left behind more than 100.000 dead and over two million displaced and which unfolded before the very eyes of the West. The UN court took upon itself to individualize the responsibility for the crimes committed and to collect the factual evidence which would theoretically allow the reconciliation process to start. Yet, if we judge by reactions to the verdict in Bosnia and Serbia it seems that putting past behind us and pursuing the path of reconciliation remains an unattainable goal. Serbian political elites remain stuck between openly celebrating Mladić and outright genocide denial, as Ivana Žanić from Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade argues. In Republika Srpska, the verdict turned out to be a race to the bottom where the opposition and governing parties raced to prove their nationalist credentials. Among Bosniaks, expectedly the confirmation of the life sentence was received with approval, albeit not as enthusiastically as the first instance verdict in 2017. And whereas these reactions seem to once again prove just how deep the divisions between ethnic communities in Bosnia, they are by no means an inevitability.

Current state of affairs and different narratives are the results of opportunistic politics on the part of Serb political elite led by Milorad Dodik, which is using nationalist and inflammatory rhetoric as an effective shield against various criminal scandals and the utter governance failure. On the other side is the opposition which uses the same and sometimes even more radical rhetoric in an attempt to secure their nationalist legitimacy and deflect any criticism for not being for Republika Srpska enough. If we remove Dodik from this equation, the opposition will not immediately change the tone, but it already proved to much more willing to engage with parties across the entity line in trying to stop the adverse economic trends in the RS and consequently the whole country. Functional cooperation among parties of different ideological backgrounds unified against opportunist nationalists who are abusing ethnic sentiments to reduce public scrutiny of their misgovernance and to protect their clientele in the process, seems to be the right recipe for oppositions in both FBiH and the RS, and ultimately at the state level ahead of parliamentary elections 2022.

Paradoxically, it seems that the path towards better understanding and rebuilding the confidence leads through fights against state capture, rampant corruption, and gross incompetence. After all, it took 60 years since the end of the World War II for France and Germany to write common history books.

See also the interview with German writer and activist Peter Schneider on Bosnia here.