Mladic's victims still suffer from his awful legacy
Author: Zlata Filipovic
Uploaded: Thursday, 09 June, 2011
The author of 'Zlata's Diary' explains why the arrest of Ratko Mladic brings no closure in itself
The arrest of General Ratko Mladic (and I feel uncomfortable calling him a general, as it presumes an element of respect and recognition of his status in society) suggests a moment of elation, proposes celebration, invokes an ending of something.
Milan Kundera starts his novel Ignorance with a scene of conversation between Irena, a Czech ‘refugee’ living in France, and her French friend who, upon finding out about political changes in Irena’s native country, exclaims how exciting it must be for Irena – what wonderful things are going on in her country, and how she can now finally go ‘home’. There is certainly an echo of this in the suggested and perceived reactions from the ‘outsiders’ who are less acquainted with the war in former Yugoslavia. The line of thinking is: you wanted this, you got it, let us put a bow on this conflict, let us finish this chapter, let us put this episode in the filing cabinet.
Closure – that word often falls from the lips of those who ask for my reaction. An expectant smile is stretched across their face and I feel bad about disappointing with my somewhat flat response.
I need to explain myself. It is good news that Mladic was caught. However, I wish I had leapt from a chair when I heard the news, or I wish this arrest would represent some sort of a ‘closure’ for me. All I can say is that the effect of Mladic’s bloody and warped military ‘successes’ is something that remains and defines my life, and the lives of so many. I lived in Sarajevo for almost two years of the siege which lasted 44 months; the darkest, most hopeless, broken, dangerous, deprived period of my life.
I was the 11-year-old girl that some 18,000 of Mladic’s soldiers with snipers on the hills around Sarajevo could see running across the bridge in front of my house. My father was the one carrying plastic containers from the pump that was providing drinking water for a city of half a million and my mother is the one who was on her way to stand and wait in the bread queue to which soldiers from the hills sent a bomb that killed 19 and wounded 157 civilians.
I was lucky not to be included in the statistic of 1,500 murdered children from a total of 10,000 who died of bombs, mortars, snipers and lack of food, water and medication in Sarajevo.
We lived through apocalyptic times, where we were shelled heavily, daily and indiscriminately because of our nationalities and ethnic identities, we were being killed because we were civilians in a city which Mladic and his henchmen hated – for everything multiethnic and multicultured that it represented.
Mladic is one of those who gives Serbs a bad name, all Serbs, including those who stayed in the city, like our friends and neighbours, and who shared every dark reality of the Sarajevo siege.
While he is now in The Hague for all the crimes he is indicted for, for me personally, his responsibility lies in the fact that he and his soldiers killed my 11 -year-old friend Nina in a park in front of our house, that my mother’s cousin is dead, and that my city and all the lives in it were broken and still suffer the consequences of his bloodthirsty hate and madness. I could have died, I should have died, the 18,000 troops around the hills of Sarajevo wanted me to die.
Justice, whatever the outcome, will never be fully satisfied. I always use the analogy of a minor crime: if someone steals your handbag, they are found, and tried. Of course this should happen. Responsibility should be investigated and reprisal delivered. However the handbag that your boyfriend gave you for your birthday; that only picture of your family from a holiday that was inside the wallet will never be found. Some things are lost forever, and law and courts will never reverse that.
He may appear in the court today. I will look into his face, feel sadness at all the losses we have had, but a feeling of vengeance and satisfaction won’t be there, just a hollow, numb reality of all the pain that lies in so many of us.
So let us not give too much to the fact that he was caught, as though this will mean the former Yugoslavia is finally healed. There is so much work yet to be done – including institution building, easing of the rising nationalist tensions, reconciliation and economic recovery.
While the trial proceeds, the process of recuperation and absorption of the events of the last two decades – both on a personal and on a societal level – continues, and will certainly continue for generations to come.
What can be said about Mladic? His deeds speak for him. All that I and the citizens of Sarajevo and Bosnia who needlessly and unjustly suffered can do now is watch international law and justice being carried out.
He may survive or pass away, he may fight in the international court or stir nationalist sentiment on the ground in former Yugoslavia. But whatever happens, may he and people like him never feature in our lives again.