29 November 2017
Unfinished business in the Balkans: old resentments still fester in the Balkans Premium
As the last major figure to be tried for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war is convicted, the former British ambassador to Belgrade finds that old resentments and hatreds are still festering in the Balkans
The conviction of General Ratko Mladic for genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war in The Hague last week effectively brings to an end the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Mladic’s crimes were truly heinous, culminating in the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, an atrocity he personally directed, which took place under the noses of a UN contingent of Dutch “peacekeepers”.
As international criminal courts go, the ICTY has been a great success: 160 indictees have been brought to justice. The International Criminal Court – to which neither the US, nor China, India nor Russia subscribe – can only look on with envy. At the Nuremberg trials, most of the leading Nazis were convicted, and the Federal Republic of Germany was able to start with a clean slate. An entire political-military establishment had been discredited and largely removed from power. In contrast, the justice of The Hague has not brought a new beginning for the people of the former Yugoslavia, still less reconciliation of communities rent apart amidst great violence a quarter of a century ago.
From the ruins of the civil war seven independent states were born, one of which, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is divided into two statelets (Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation), whose boundaries largely reflect the front lines when the war was finally declared over. Two of the seven, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo – a breakaway state from Serbia in 2008 and yet to be recognised as a member of the UN – are at risk of becoming failed states, with soaring levels of corruption and unemployment, despite the presence of large numbers of international troops and civilian personnel and the injection of huge amounts of money in aid.
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