Serbia’s brand of reconciliation: Embracing old war criminals

The New York Times reports: When a general convicted of war crimes gave a lecture last month to cadets at the military academy in Serbia’s capital, he received a warm welcome from the defense minister.

The nation should feel “proud” of veterans like the general, “the bravest of the brave,” the minister said.

So it was no surprise that after another general, Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes this week, President Aleksandar Vucic called the verdict “unjustified.”

He also told reporters, “I would like to call on everyone to start looking to the future and not to drown in tears of the past.”

The conviction of General Mladic, 75, whom the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced to life in prison for a campaign of genocide in the 1990s against Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs, was meant to close a chapter on the brutal Bosnian wars that unleashed Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II.

One of the tribunal’s goals was to foster reconciliation in the Balkans and strike a blow against impunity for the most serious human rights abuses. But Serbia — seen as the aggressor in the wars and accused by international rights organizations of atrocities on a larger and more organized scale than any of its former enemies — has never accepted responsibility for the crimes committed in the name of the Serbian people.

Serbia, political analysts say, is creeping steadily backward politically to the ominous days of the 1990s amid a groundswell of nationalist sentiment. The government in Belgrade is even welcoming convicted war criminals and associates of Slobodan Milosevic, the former dictator and indicted architect of Serbia’s genocidal program who died in 2006, back into the fold.

And as Russia pushes to expand its influence in the Balkans — Europe’s “soft underbelly,” in the words of the political scientist Ivan Krastev — it is finding a receptive ally in Serbia. This comes even as the country is likely to become the next member state of the European Union.

As Serbia pursues a closer relationship with Russia while enacting the difficult reforms demanded by Brussels, European officials have accused the government in Belgrade of playing a strange double game — pursuing both Brussels and Moscow for maximum benefit. [Continue reading…]

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