Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was convicted and sentenced today by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. The U.N judges found him guilty of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and of nine other war crimes charges.
Karadžić is the most senior political figure to be convicted in the tribunal — but in some ways this is only another chapter in the larger sage of the Balkans conflicts. There are dozens of accused from the former Yugoslavia, some convicted, others whose cases are winding their way through the tribunal.
“The justice process is not yet finished,” noted a statement from the prosecutor’s office. “Too many victims in the former Yugoslavia are still waiting for justice. And too many families still do not know the fate of their loved ones.”
No one, I wager, can legitimately claim to understand the Balkans; novelist and diplomat Ivo Andrić perhaps came close. The lands — some as rugged as any on earth — have been contested for as long as humans have inhabited them, and the communities are complicated by religion, rivalry and bitter history.
The so-called Balkans Conflicts of the ’90s, as the eastern communist bloc crumbled and the former Yugoslavia disintegrated, was horrific. We see the evidence of that in the documents and testimony before the tribunal, but also in the shattered walls, ravaged earth, and traumatized people.
Everywhere through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska to the north lie tombstones. Buildings are still hollowed out from the war. Almost nothing is free of damage left by weapons.
“It was a village war,” said the owner of the bed and breakfast where I stayed in Mostar in the winter of 2011. He was a 20-something Muslim who called himself “The Turkman,” and he talked about roaming freely through the whole village as a kid, pointing across the river at the new part of town. His family sent him to safety in Germany throughout the conflict. When I met him, he had just recently returned to help them start a tourist business.
His hostelry was a sign that Mostar, and the region, was showing signs of economic life.
Yet, still, he said, no one of the different religious communities in tiny Mostar dared cross the borders of the other communities, though until the conflict they had been friendly.
Gravestones filled all of the yards along the street in the Muslim area, bombed-out buildings dotted the town.
“A village war is the worst,” he said.
Reconstruction, paid for by international donors, was well underway when I was there. Yellow buses with the flag of Japan, which paid for them, provided public transit in towns. Heavy equipment was at work throughout the countryside building roads. The famous bridge of Mostar, the Starry Most, was a tourist draw after being refurbished by money from the United Kingdom. Even ancient roadside villages, such as Počitelj in Bosnia, right, housed little cafes and signage in multiple languages for the tourists they hoped would eventually come.
Rebuilding the physical structures might be the least challenging remedy to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Fixing people is harder. Will the justice now being meted out at the Hague, along with time, repair the extreme social damage?
Here’s some recommended reading, for history and context:
Non-fiction: Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History, by Robert D. Kaplan. Also his Reader’s Guide to the Balkans, New York Times, 1993
Fiction, The Bridge on the Drina, by Nobel-winning author Ivo Andrić, 1945. From Wikipedia: The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the town of Višegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge over the Drina river. The story spans about four centuries during the Ottoman and subsequently Austro-Hungarian administrations of the region and describes the lives, destinies and relations of the local inhabitants, with a particular focus on Muslims and Orthodox Christians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Fiction, The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht, 2010. From Wikipedia: “It’s a family saga that takes place in a fictionalized province of the Balkans. It’s about a female narrator and her relationship to her grandfather, who’s a doctor. It’s a saga about doctors and their relationships to death throughout all these wars in the Balkans.”
Fiction: The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, 2008. From Wikipedia: “The novel is set during the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s and explores the dilemmas of ordinary people caught in the crisis.”
UN Court Finds Karadžić Guilty in Bosnia Genocide Trial, by Thomas Escritt and Toby Sterling.
Tribunal convicts Radovan Karadžić for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, press release, United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
The Cases, United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Karadžić is one of dozens of accused from the former Yugoslavia, some convicted, others transferred, others whose cases are winding their way through the tribunal.
Watch the March 24 verdict:
Related works on Facts and Opinions:
Bosnia divided two decades after peace deal, by Daria Sito-Sucic, November 21, 2015 Report
SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A metal capsule containing over 20,000 wishes for the future was stored away in a Sarajevo museum on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the peace deal that ended the Bosnian war but left the country deeply divided and dysfunctional.
In Srebrenica, digging for the dead and fighting denial 20 years later, By Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela, Reuters July, 2015.
POTOCARI, Bosnia ( Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people will gather at a cemetery near Srebrenica …
Ruling on Srebrenica may affect UN peacekeeping By Regina E Rauxloh, University of Southampton, The Conversation,August 1, 2014
A Dutch civil court in the Hague ruled that the relatives of some 300 men and boys killed after being evicted by Dutch peacekeepers from the Potočari compound could receive compensation from the Dutch state.
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