For years, the Serbian general killed and terrorized whole swathes of Southern Europe with impunity. What does his capture mean for those still haunted by his crimes against humanity?
Dzugas Hanifa poses at the graves of her two sons, daughter and husband in Memorial center in Potocari near Srebrenica. Dado Ruvic/Reuters
In many ways, Ratko Mladic puts other war criminals and wanted fugitives - even terrorist masterminds like Osama bin Laden - to shame. The Bosnian Serb general has committed the worst kind of genocide and ethnic cleansing on the continent since the Holocaust, killing thousands and terrorizing a whole segment of southern Europe's population. He represents European and American inability to stop mass murder: it was not his massacre of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica that triggered the eventual NATO intervention, but rather a subsequent market attack in Sarajevo and a car accident that killed three American officials on Mount Igman. Why did the world react to one kind of violence but tolerate another? As the late Richard Holbrooke wrote at the time: "[M]y mind drifted back over the many failures of Western leadership over the last few years and I hoped -- and prayed -- that this time it would be different."
The rest, as they say, is history. Mladic and his co-conspirator Radovan Karadzic evaded capture for well over a decade, a travesty of international justice even as it was widely known they had help from their Serbian backers and lived among the population in disguise -- Karadzic became a mystic healer donning a Rasputin-like beard. The Serbs, in that sense, are the Pakistanis of the Balkans in their hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-like stance towards Western peacekeepers. So what does Mladic's capture mean for the thousands of displaced Bosnian Muslim victims still haunted by his crimes against humanity? To understand Bosnia better, a few years back I volunteered at a summer camp in Brcko, a polyglot city in northern Bosnia. Some analysts called it "Bosnia's Kirkuk," not because of its oil, but because of how disputed it once was between Bosnian Croats and Serbs. Mass graves were found not far from the town's center. The nearly dried-up riverbed that runs through town is rumored to still be pockmarked with unexploded ordnance. And rows of squat brick housing -- makeshift homes for Bosnian families still internally displaced from the war -- still line the city's outskirts.