Yesterday Ratko Mladic appeared in The Hague Tribunal, a month after he was arrested in Belgrade, following sixteen years of successful concealment. He was supposed to plead guilty or not to the 11 points of accusations for war crimes in Bosnia. He had claimed that his appointed lawyer would answer the charges, but he appeared at the last minute as a war criminal star.
Mladic wore a gray civilian suit with an elegant tie, but also his military billed cap, which he refused to remove when asked to do so by the presiding judge. He stared defiantly at the audience, where the world press and the families of his numerous victims awaited this historical moment of truth. He ignored the admonitions of the judges speaking to him, and at a certain point he threw away his translator’s earphones with a gesture of contempt.
Mladic hasn’t changed much; he hasn’t forgotten those years of genocide when he was the absolute judge of life-and-death over thousands of others. Mladic was a Balkan warlord, not some creature of petty international legality, and his body-language showed that. When I followed the trial in Belgrade of some of his men, who had obeyed his orders in the genocide in Srebrenica July 1995, they mirrored this kind of swagger. They called it manhood, a just war of Christianity against the Muslim invasion, brotherhood and patriotism. It came from the barrel of a gun, not from a Geneva convention war codex, or the tender emotions of a shocked world community.
The leader of the paramilitary Scorpions looked at us straight from his witness box and said proudly:
I have three values in my life and in this order; The Cunt, The Gun and the State.
Mladic in his first court appearance a month ago demanded to be addressed as a military general; like the rest of his marauders, he wanted the respect and the pageantry without the accountability. Not just an outlaw, but an outlaw with Balkan attitude.
So much for the carnivore; now for the herbivore.
Novak Djokovic was born in 1987, the year when the criminal regime in Serbia came into power under Slobodan Milosevic, with Ratko Mladic as an ethnic warlord general. And yesterday Novak Djokovic became the most famous Serb in the world.
The Serbian press is ecstatic about this young star’s tennis victory. He’s become the number one player in the world, and, unlike the gaunt, ghastly, eroded Mladic, he’s handsome, funny and charming.
The Serbian press is agog about the charismatic “Djoker” and his welcome back ceremony in front of the Parliament.
No Serbian major press is reporting about the antics of Mladic in The Hague. Even B92 site, once the synonym of an oppositional free press in Serbia these days has a new owner and policy.
And Novak Djokovic didn’t merely defeat his opponent. No, he fell to his knees after the match, made the sign of the cross on his chest and plucked up and ate some grass of the Wimbledon turf.
He then wryly explained that his boyhood dream had come true, and he couldn’t believe he was living it in reality,
Boris Tadic, the pro european Serbian president watched Novak fulfill his long dream. Not only Novak’s dream — some 24 year old jock and his fame fortune and global preeminence — but the dream of the president and 100.000 people in front of the serbian parliament where Novak addressed and thanked Serbia family and friends.
Modern Serbia means young sportsmen jumping out of limos instead of young marauders jumping out of trucks. It means tennis rackets instead of AK-47s.
But this bloodthirsty old monster, tossing his hat and shoving aside microphones when finally turned at bay — and this one-man charm offensive, this grass-nibbling guy who brilliantly mimics rival players on camera — they are the same place at two different times.
That nightmare was one we activists and pacifists from Serbia will never forget. Only by paying due respect to the dead, by recognizing the crimes committed in our name, will Serbia’s new world stars outshine the darkness that hung over their cradles.
I always disliked the word brand when it came to people. We are not cattle, people have no price or owners.
The brand of justice is the only one I trust and accept.