The Serbian war criminal and former general was arrested on Thursday, but the scars he left some 15 years ago have not yet healed
A Muslim woman mourns by the coffins of 775 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Marko Djurica/Reuters
The shadow of Ratko Mladic and the crimes he committed has hung heavy over the Balkans for more than 15 years. I was a child when the Bosnian war broke out -- only nine when Mladic and his troops of Serbs massacred more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys and forcibly removed some 25,000 women and children from Srebrenica in 1995. But, upon visiting Bosnia as a young journalist 13 years later, the wounds left by Mladic and the war in which he fought seemed barely mended; some still gaped open. And now, while Mladic's arrest might pave the way for a stronger Serbia -- certainly one more welcome in the international community -- Bosnia remains in a precarious state, with much reconciliation yet to be achieved.
At the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia was formally divided into two political entities: Republika Srpska in the north, which is majority Serb, and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the south, which is home to many more Bosniaks and Croats. My first stop in Bosnia was in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, a region where the legend of Ratko Mladic looms particularly large. In the book They Would Never Hurt a Fly, a series of profiles of Balkans war criminals, author Slavenka Drakulić writes that, in the mid-1990s, "Serbs from Republika Srpska ... saw in [Mladic] a father figure, somebody who protected and sheltered them." She describes Mladic as "brutal and arrogant, convinced of his own military genius" -- and, at the height of his career, as "the most popular person in Republika Srpska."