AIM: start

SAT, 07 APR 2001 01:12:46 GMT

Reactions in B&H to the Arrest of Slobodan Milosevic

Symbol Behind Bars

AIM Sarajevo, April 3, 2001

The arrest of Slobodan Milosevic gave pleasure to the Bosniaks, and did not grieve Bosnian Serbs, which is the living evidence of evanescence of myths. Alija Izetbegovic whose destiny was to be one of the six republican presidents in the days of dissolution of Yugoslavia, heard the news on the arrest of former Serbian president in London and he judged it as "one of the most important events in this space". Izetbegovic did not elaborate this assessment, but it is implied: with Milosevic’s arrest an era has ended which has marked the last decade of last century - an avalanche of nationalism, dissolution of Yugoslavia and four wars he had started and lost, an era which shall eternally be marked in Bosnia & Herzegovina by tens of thousands of graves, towns and cities in ruins and two million displaced persons. The officials in Sarajevo agree in the estimates that this arrest is "the beginning of the end of the project of Greater Serbia (Karlo Filipovic, president of B&H Federation) "which started in Belgrade but will end in The Hague" (Alija Behmen, Prime Minister).

In the collective consciousness of the Bosniaks and the Croats Milosevic is the personification of evil; for the majority of compatriots to the West of the Drina he was the uniter of the Serbs. Milosevic had won the favour of the Serbs with a vague platform which has never been made public in writing, and which he adapted according to momentary need and his own judgement regardless of the cost. At a gathering of a million people to observe the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1989 he called to war. At first he advocated a centralist single-party state, then he conceived "rump Yugoslavia" without Slovenia, and later without amputated Croatia. In the end he settled down to the state concept "all the Serbs in one state" for the sake of which much blood was shed.

Before the war in B&H broke out, he agreed with Croatian president Franjo Tudjman about division of B&H at a meeting in Karadjordjevo on March 25 1991. After that everything else was a game. Milosevic has never spoken in public about this meeting. Everything that could be heard about that "historic meeting" at which Bosnia & Herzegovina was sentenced to death was from Tudjman's associates. Tudjman's advisor Hrvoje Sarinic quoted the words of Milosevic's right-hand man Borisav Jovic: "We are not interested in the Serbs in B&H but in 66 per cent of B&H and that is what we shall conquer". "We must not allow unitarian B&H" was the slogan of Belgrade from the time before the war.

And then while the whole world was looking on, armed militant groups were committing the first massacres in Bosnia (Arkan's followers in April 1992 in Bijeljina and Zvornik), Milosevic was telling American ambassador Zimmerman that "not a single Serb from here is fighting in Bosnia" and that he had "never heard of Arkan". Milosevic's sentence: "I shall repeat this a hundred times, I am in favour of peace, Serbia is not at war" will become the subject of mockery even in Serbia, but he has never let himself be confused. The book written by general Veljko Kadijevic ("My View of the Dissolution") and memoirs of Borisav Jovic are the biggest indictment against Milosevic and they testify about direct involvement of Serbia in the wars in Croatia and B&H, and of the transformation of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) into a Serb army the real master of which was the Serbian president. Milosevic pulled all the strings, but did not leave written traces about it convinced that he would outlive the wars and remain intact.

That is how in the consciousness of the victims Milosevic has become the symbol of evil of all the misfortune that has befallen this country. That is why reactions of Sarajevo are permeated by discontent because he was not indicted for war crimes committed in B&H in the name of the policy he had created. Milosevic and his punishment are not important any more. It is important that he be extradited to the Hague. "Anything less than that would be a failure", it is stated in the reaction of the office of B&H foreign minister Zlatko Lagumdzija. President of the Federation Karlo Filipovic is convinced that he will end up in the Hague, and Alija Izetbegovic believes that the trial in Belgrade will serve as preparation of the public for his extradition. Insisting on the Hague has a higher cause. It is motivated not so much by the punishment, as by the need to unveil the platform of creation of "Greater Serbia", expansion of its territory which was founded on genocide the method of which was based on the coined word "ethnic cleansing". Although in the decision in the "Tadic case" the Hague Tribunal refuted the thesis on a civil war and defined the war in B&H as aggression of the neighbouring state, it is necessary that the whole project in the Hague acquire a punitive, historical and political evaluation. It is believed that without it there can be no lasting peace in the region nor stabilisation in B&H (W. Petritsch).

There was fear that Milosevic’s arrest would cause disturbance among Bosnian Serbs, but it turned out that such fear was not justified. None of the officials in Republika Srpska publicly opposed the arrest of the man who was until just recently the idol of Serbs. Serb member of the Presidency Zivko Radisic who was known as a loyal Milosevic’s ally in B&H, diplomatically declared that “nobody can be pardoned for war crimes”. President of RS Mirko Sarovic, who is close to Kostunica, declared that “everybody should be within reach of justice, be it even the former president of FRY”. According to the estimate of prime minister Mladen Ivanic, the whole region is changing and stability of RS and B&H has already been ensured. Milosevic is not a favourite person in RS for a long time, especially among the supporters of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) after his split with Radovan Karadzic in 1994 and introduction of the sanctions on the Drina. However, this arrest does not mean that the war policy of SDS will automatically be changed and that cooperation with the Hague Tribunal will be accepted. But changes will creep in gradually and imperceptibly.

Milosevic’s arrest, but especially his extradition to the War Crimes Tribunal will have a deep impact on the policy of Bosnian Serbs, but also that of whole of B&H. Such Milosevic’s end will shorten the way to Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, two main implementators of his war policy in B&H who are claimed to still have a great influence on political life in RS. After April 1, the territory of Serbia is not safe for them any more, and Eastern Bosnia where their hideout most probably is has become increasingly cramped for them. The game with Milosevic – who has in the eyes of Western diplomats passed the road from being the “Balkan butcher” to “the man devoted to peace” at the time of Dayton, and finally to the “most wanted war criminal”, shows the strategy of the West. Great powers have not even attempted to arrest former Serbian president, but forced local authorities to do it. A similar recipe will be applied in case of Karadzic and Mladic whose hideout is certainly not a mystery for foreign intelligence services, but they demand that they be arrested by President of RS Sarovic or Prime Minister Ivanic.

The most important are political consequences. With the Hague Tribunal the moment of truth has come in the sublime sense of the word. It is important that those who symbolise crime be taken to court, those who identified themselves with the whole people just in order to save their own necks. The Hague marks the end of this story and only after that will it be possible to say in Bosnia: the war is mentally over, let us live in peace!


(AIM Sarajevo)