The Likes of Me

The Suitcase
in English, French
A couple of days ago, the two former members of the Croatian military won a “not guilty” sentence in the Hague international war crime tribunal.

I was not present in the general headquarters of the Croatian army while they were deciding on their “Operation Storm” action of 1995. I don’t know if the telephone rang there. I also don’t know if President Bill Clinton personally told them to go ahead with the largest land offensive since World War II, because the CIA would help. That is what certain Serbian newspapers published recently.

I have a remarkable lack of knowledge about world paramilitary conspiracies, secret chambers in the Vatican, mysterious double-agents doing their jobs badly… Generally, the things I know are in the public domain, because people said these things publicly and I took notes, or because I was just personally standing there.

Consider those days in August 1995, when that “Operation Storm” took place. I stood at the border between Croatia and Serbia, watching the endless caravan of people fleeing on truckbeds, in their cars, on foot, in nightgowns, in torn Serbian uniforms, with guns and babies. I talked to those people. I took photos: I personally saw newborn refugees carried in shoe boxes, babies who were born during the exodus of ethnic Serbs fleeing the Croatian army.

I saw angry Serbian soldiers tearing off their military insignia because they were given orders by their military to abandon the region without fighting. I also saw people being given food and shelter by the local Serbian population. I heard the refugee stumbling towards an unknown destiny, since they had lost everything.

Operation Storm put a swift and sudden end in to four years of fighting for Serbian autonomy inside Croatia. The plans for a Greater Serbia torn from the fabric of Yugoslavia had been crushed by 150,000 Croatian Army troops. I heard the fleeing Serbs saying how rich and happy they had been in their rural homes. They had Croatian accents — if you ask me, that is, a woman with a Belgrade accent. They’d been born in Croatia of a people established there for centuries, but they were keenly aware of being Serbian Orthodox non-Catholic non-Croats.

They rejected a Croatian identity and passport, preferring their own rules and ideas. Their most important aspiration was to live within the Greater Serbia promised to them by Milosevic and his generals. Some were kissing the Serbian flag and the picture of Milosevic. Most of them were tearing the flag and swearing at the broken promises and the reeling military defeat of their beloved leader.

Later, I saw the endless caravan of Krajina refugees being routed by the Serbian police outside Belgrade. Only those Serbs who had relatives in the capital were allowed enter the city. Naturally scarcely any of them could prove that. People within Belgrade did not see or hear the refugees, except for what the official Milosevic tv or radio allowed. Of course that was a thoroughly censored version of events.

I don’t know where those people ended up. Their exact number is vague, it varies in the telling, from two hundred thousand to half a million displaced ethnic refugees.
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Mladic’s Trial Begins in the Hague

prison4

photos by Bruce Sterling
http://www.flickr.com/photos/brucesterling/808155154/in/photostream/

Boing Boing

In English, Spanish
This morning, The Hague tribunal commenced the trial of Ratko Mladic, ex commander of the army of the Serbian republic in Bosnia. Mothers of the slain gathered in front of the court.

Twenty years ago, Mladic started his criminal activities, while still an officer of the army of disintegrating Yugoslavia. A year ago, Mladic was arrested, after years of concealment, mostly within Belgrade. Today Mladic, aged 70, is sitting in the court neatly dressed as a civilian, without his legendary military cap.

As the judge reads the indictment, Mladic cheerily waving to the audience and even applauds certain parts of the recitation. “The wolf loses his hair but not his character,” as the Serbian proverb puts it.

The indictment precisely proceeds as a short elementary lesson of the bloody fall of Yugoslavia.

Ratko Mladic is facing 11 charges: ethnic cleansing, genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, sexual violence, the wanton destruction of the urban fabric of Sarajevo, and so forth.

The maps of the indictment are a trail of blood. The borders of these maps were the major outcome of the Dayton peace treaty of 1995, signed a couple of months after the genocide of Srebrenica.

A witness appears to describe the concentration camp where she was systematically raped. I didn’t even look at their faces when they would enter the room or go out. They had killed my whole family: I was the only survivor. I was just asking the same question day after day: why?

These people lived together for centuries, and then, in a burst of bloody disaster, some became criminal nationalists when their neighbors, now demonized as Others, had to be annihilated at their hands. There is little going in the Hague courtroom that wasn’t described by Hannah Arendt during Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1963.

It outdoes Hollywood, though. Angelina Jolie’s recent movie, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” is a pale replica of this horror reality-show, live from the Hague.
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