Arts & Entertainment

War criminals still hailed as heroes in Serbia

By Snezana Stanojevic

Belgrade, Dec 30 (EFE).- A group of young Serbs in hoodies stand guard to protect a mural painting of war criminal Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander convicted of being behind the killing of thousands of people during the Bosnian war.

This scene shows how scars still persist some 26 years after the end of the war that pitted mainly-Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats against each other.

Nationalism has generated divisions among countries and nations to the point that many still perceive a criminal like Mladic as a national hero.

“We thank your mother for having you,” reads the message written next to the mural, which both human rights activists and the City Council of Belgrade have tried to get removed.

The site has become a symbol of a conflict between those who glorify war criminals and those who detest this glorification.

“The ethnocentric approach of the past is dominant in all the ancient Yugoslav Republics, and both victims and criminals are always ‘our’ and ‘yours’, depending on the ethnicity to which they belong,” Isidora Stakic, a coordinator at the Humanitarian Law Center, tells Efe.

Stakic believes the way out is through deconstructing dominant nationalism, saying to “be able to talk about all victims as ‘ours’ and building solidarity” is a reconciliation vision that does not have the support of the authorities.

The mural portraying Mladic in Belgrade was painted last July, shortly after the former commander who led the Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war had his life sentence upheld the International Court of Justice for the genocide of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia, among other crimes.

According to Stakic, the mural proves historical revisionism and the denial of the facts are alive and well.

The Serbian government argues that removing the mural is the City Council’s responsibility.

In November, a rally against the mural sparked a wave of protests under the slogan “the mural must fall.”

Pictures, which some erase and others protect, and writings such as “Ratko Mladic: Serbian Hero” are also found in other Serbian and Bosnian cities. They are often painted on the walls of NGOs that demand their removal as a threat.

In Bosnia, Muslims, Serbs and Croats adopt three different narratives, in which each side perceives itself as the victim and negates the other’s pain.

Tensions grew in July after Valentin Inzko, the former United Nations high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, outlawed denying the Srebrenica genocide or war crimes during the Bosnian war, something that made the Bosnian Serb authorities threaten to secede.

The Serbs say there will be no justice as long as the vast majority of those convicted are from their ethnic group while Muslims and Croats who are accused of crimes remain at large.

The Serbs dominated the Yugoslav Army and led the way, as aggressors, during much of the war in Bosnia.

For their part, Muslims denounce that the Republika Srpska, which, together with the Muslim-Croat federation, makes up Bosnia and Herzegovina, was created on the foundations of the genocide committed against them.

“When the mural appeared, we felt as if we lived through the years of 1990s again. Then it was erased, but those who painted it were not prosecuted,” says Izet Spahic, Muslim Councilman of the City of Foca, in the Republika Srpska.

Foca was one of the cities that suffered from the crimes of Mladic’s troops. Muslims, who made up more than half of the population before the war, are now a minority. EFE

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