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CBC News Interview, Bosniak Concentration Camp Survivor on the Arrest of Ratko Mladic

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: May 28, 2011  

CBC News Interview, Bosniak Concentration Camp Survivor on the Arrest of Ratko Mladic

With the capture of Ratko Mladic, Bosniak concentration camp survivor Fadil Kulasic gave an interview to CBC News. Watch Justice After Genocide with “Connect with Mark Kelley.”

Serbs must recognize aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina

May 27, 2021

Haris Alibasic, MPA, President of CNAB Board of Directors, took part in NTN24 program Zoom a la Noticia, on May 26, 2021 at 10:45 pm EST. NTN24 viewers benefited from the information he provided on the issue of the arrest of the war criminal Ratko Mladic.

On the question of the EU accession for Serbia, and whether the arrest of Ratko Mladic should enable Serbia to get closer to entry to Serbia, Mr. Alibasic reaffirmed the position of the Congress of North American Bosniaks, that:

It is important that the arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic is not used for political gain by Serbian and Bosnian Serb politicians to obtain concessions from the international community, particularly the European Union. These arrests are only a long overdue obligation by the Serbian government but the process of accountability and long term stability must not stop here. We demand that the following steps be taken to further peace and long term stability in the region

Serbia needs to unequivocally recognize the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 – 1995 under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who died while on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

- Serbia must continue to cooperate with the war crimes extradition requests and arrest all suspected war criminals

- Serbia must revoke all extradition requests of Bosnian citizens, which are baseless extraditions which aim to spread equate aggressors and civilian victims. There can be no peace or reconciliation in the region until Serbia accepts full accountability for its actions without passing the blame to others.

- Serbia must stop all transgressions of sovereignty against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbian government continues to support Serb nationalist rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina, indicating that its long term aspirations toward Bosnian territories are still part of the national agenda.

We believe that Mladic has been hiding in Serbia for 16 years which would be impossible without knowledge of Serbia government or without direct support. While the arrest of Mladic is the positive step, it is just one step, and it does not absolve Serbia and Republika Srpska  of the sole responsibility for the aggression and genocide.

Just as Germany accepted responsibility for the Holocaust, Serbia must accept its responsibility for its role in the genocide and aggression against the sovereign nation of Bosnia. Unfortunately we see with protests in Serbia supporting Ratko Mladic that the hateful nationalistic rhetoric which caused four wars in the Balkans, still exists and causes pain and suffering. Peace and reconciliation cannot be accomplished without the acceptance of responsibility, not only by the Serbian government and the politicians in Republika Srpska, but also by the Serb people themselves.

On the question how the Bosniaks in our community received the news of the arrest of the war criminal, Ratko Mladic, Mr. Alibasic stated the following.

Bosniaks in the United States and Canada welcome the news of the arrest of the war criminal, Ratko Mladic. As Radovan Karadzic’s right hand man he commanded the Bosnian Serb army in conducting systematic campaigns of genocide, crimes against humanity and indiscriminate destruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina, against all non-Serbs. These war crimes resulted in genocide against the Bosniak people and the mass murder of innocent civilians, including children, women and elderly on a scale not seen since the Holocaust in Europe, with over 100,000 dead civilians, 50,000 raped women, thousands of sacred and historic monuments destroyed, and more than a million displaced from their homes. Gen. Mladic, who has been hiding for 16 years, directly commanded, as the general of the Main Staff, the Bosnian Serb army during the invasion of UN “safe area” Srebrenica in July 1995, resulting in the genocide and murder of more than 8,000 Bosniak civilians and expulsion of more than 30,000 others. Radovan Karadzic, currently on trial at the Hague war crimes tribunal authorized the attack on Srebrenica. The arrest and trial of both will hopefully give some peace to the families of those who were killed and whose lives have been destroyed.

I witnessed the destruction of my homeland by Serbian and Bosnian Serb paramilitaries. I saw my home burn, my grandparents’ homes, my entire hometown was destroyed, and 50 civilians killed in a single day. My father spent 20 months in Serbian run concentration camps. I spent 4 years as a refugee before being able to visit my destroyed home. The arrest will hopefully bring closer to those who were affected

However, this will be only be possible if Ratko Mladic is swiftly extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and swiftly prosecuted and convicted so that justice will be served and truth preserved regarding the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina and the genocide against the Bosniak people. So again, while this is the welcome news, we must be encouraged that the justice and conviction will be swift, after all Mladic was hiding for 16 years. We must not allow the mockery of the Court as was the case

On the attempt by a guest journalist in studio, Mr. Ricardo Angoso to equilize the blame on all sides during the war and aggression in Bosnia, Mr. Alibasic responded with the statement that:

The evidence of Serbian war crimes and atrocities is overwhelming. It is clear who the aggressor and who the victim was, the Serbian Army and its paramilitary forces were the aggressors. During the war, Bosniak controlled cities were under siege. Serbs committed at least 95 per cent of all war crimes in the Bosnian war, according to extensively documented evidence. Presently, there are four legal judgments in which genocide was proven to have happened in Bosnia, other than Srebrenica.

On the question about the effectiveness of no-fly zones, Mr. Alibasic stated the following:

No fly zones in Bosnia and Herzegovina were too narrowly defined and too restrictive, and came too late for over 100,000 civilian casualties. No fly zones should have been followed by a direct force against the aggressors on the ground, which happened at the very end of the war in 1995, when NATO forces destroyed the military installations of the Serb Army. And even that would have not been accomplished without the orchestrated efforts of the ground forces, in this case the Bosnian Army which liberated back those territories occupied by Serb forces from 1992. We should remember that Bosnia and Herzegovina had an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations, even though it was a sovereign nation fighting against the aggression.

For his closing statement, Mr. Alibasic stated the following:

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a direct cause of the nationalistic policies of Slobodan Milosevic. He caused four wars in the Balkans. It was a human tragedy. Unfortunately there are still those who deny what happened in Bosnia and try to dismiss any responsibility. Calling the war in Bosnia anything but aggression and genocide is a shameful attempt to rewrite history and recreate facts.

Bosnia’s war victims find relief at Mladic’s capture

Atlanta (CNN) — Robert Samija can’t forget the date: April 16, 1993.

As fighting raged between Croatians and Muslims in the central Bosnian town of Vitez, he saw the execution of a Muslim police chief — the father of a classmate.

“I saw him get on his knees, begging for his life, and they shot him point blank,” he said. “Some people were cheering. But it was horrible.”

Now, another date will burn bright in Samija’s mind: May 26, 2011, the day Serbian army commander Ratko Mladic was arrested after eluding capture for more than 15 years.

Mladic, the highest-ranking war crimes suspect who was still at large from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, is wanted on charges including genocide, extermination and murder by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

For the Bosnian victims of that war, Mladic’s arrest provided some sense of closure, just as many of the loved ones of those who perished in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sighed in relief at the news of Osama bin Laden’s death.

But the television repeats of images of Mladic and of events that took place during the war could also act as a trigger and make people relive their trauma, said psychologist Steven Bruce, director of the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, which has a large Bosnian refugee community.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Bruce said. “But in the long term, it’s good news. I do think it does relieve some anxieties that he would never be found.”

Samija, 32, who fled the war with his family to restart life in Atlanta, was elated by the news of Mladic’s arrest.

“Until we clear our history, we cannot move,” he said.

In another part of Atlanta, Nazifa Garib was hard at work at her bakery, churning out dough for tandoori naan. She had gone to work before sunrise and had not heard the news.

“Oh, my God,” she said, pausing for a few seconds.

“I have chills right now. This is very good news.”

Before the Gulf War, Garib worked in Baghdad but returned to her native Bosnia in the early 1990s. She was reluctant to speak of the brutality she witnessed, of the family she lost. She said she felt relief that Mladic, whom she blamed for much of what she had suffered, was finally caught.

She hopes he will be hanged like Saddam Hussein, but in public, where his victims can watch.

Sanja Starcevic says, “You can’t bring back all the people they killed, from all sides.”

Sanja Starcevic, whose family runs Neretva, a Bosnian eatery in suburban Atlanta, said the conflict was indescribable.

Like the victims of the tornado this week in Missouri who were at a loss for words, the 55-year-old Starcevic said it was impossible to speak about what she had seen, especially in English, a second language.

“You have to be there and see how it is,” she said.

She was glad Mladic will finally face justice but said things will never be the same in Bosnia.

“You can’t bring back all the people they killed, from all sides,” she said.

Edin Prozorac, 33, a Bosnian Muslim from Kennesaw, Georgia, sipped coffee outside Nerevta and described a life of “slave labor” under Serbian rule during his teen years, performing dirty jobs like cleaning streets, loading trucks, cutting trees and digging channels at the whim of the ruling forces.

One haunting memory typifies the humiliation: A Serbian soldier made him repeatedly get up on and jump down from a trailer and put a gun to his head.

“It was hell,” he said, “Seven days a week.”

Senad Cajic says the arrest was “too late” and Mladic should not have been able to enjoy his life for 15 years.

Another Bosnian Muslim — Senad Cajic, 49, of Kennesaw, Georgia — said he lived about 45 days under Serbian rule before he escaped to a Bosnian-controlled region.

He remembers stiff curfews and the killing of one man who broke them. Also, he recalls the scarce availability of food.

“We were really scared,” he said.

Eventually, he joined the Bosnian military — more of a militia than an army — thwarted persistent Serbian assaults and found a safe place for his family in Bosnian territory.

Cajic said many Bosnians returned home after the warfare, but he couldn’t go back to his house because it burned. Eventually, he and his family made their way to the United States.

As for Mladic, Cajic said, the arrest was “too late.”

Unlike his countrymen who fought, fled for their lives, nursed war injuries and died, Mladic “enjoyed his life for 15 years.”

Mladic’s arrest cannot erase the mistrust embedded deeply in Bosnian hearts, said Hamdija Custovic, who was only 12 when he witnessed war’s horrors. The men in his hometown of Gacko were rounded up to be taken to concentration camps. His father escaped to the mountains, where he hid for four months.

Custovic, 31, used to have Serb friends in school, but he was segregated from them before the war started. Later, they brought guns and knives to school, intending to turn them on their former buddies.

Now, the Charlotte, North Carolina, resident sometimes hears from those former classmates on Facebook. But he can’t bring himself to accept their offer to be friends. He doesn’t trust them.

Reconciliation was one of the themes sounded by Serbian President Boris Tadic as he announced Mladic’s arrest. But Custovic, the spokesman for the Congress of North American Bosniaks, was skeptical.

“I think it is one of the steps,” he said. “But we have to keep in mind that this cannot end here. Just because they arrested (former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan) Karadzic and Mladic, it does not absolve Serbs of responsibility for the campaign that was led by thousands of soldiers.”

The Germans, said Custovic, accepted responsibility for the Holocaust. There are many Serbs, he said, who will still deny that ethnic cleansing took place in Bosnia.

The 1992-95 Bosnian war was the longest of the conflicts that erupted after the disintegration of communist Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Backed by the government of Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serb forces seized control of more than half the country and launched a bloody campaign against the Muslim and Croat populations.

Mladic stands accused of leading the two-year siege of the city of Sarajevo that killed thousands and later, the systematic extermination of about 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, now remembered as the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

Muhamed Mehmedovic’s father and brother were killed by Mladic’s soldiers. Their bodies were found in mass graves. He traveled for seven days and nights with his mother and surviving brother to escape Srebrenica’s atrocities, and he, like Custovic, made a new life in Charlotte.

He has waited many years for the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre to come to justice.

“They need to get every one of them,” he said.

Mladic’s arrest was huge for Mehmedovic, 32. The entire world was watching the arrest of the man who destroyed his family.

Rusmin Lilic, 40, a Bosnian Muslim from Stone Mountain, Georgia, lived through the worst of days in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital besieged by Serbian forces.

A member of Bosnia’s fledgling armed forces, he was wounded twice and said “you had to defend your home. If not, you’d probably be killed.”

He recalls two particularly horrid events in Sarajevo: snipers killing a group of kids on a cherry tree and a market bombing that killed about 70 people.

The violence hardened him, and he mourned deeply when his good friend in the army died, but as more deaths piled up, he stopped crying. The violence and the incremental “psychological killing” ground down a dispirited populace.

“No food, no water, no shampoo, limited everything,” he said. “It’s the worst thing for everybody.”

“I don’t think the people will ever forget. I’ll not forget that war.”

Sitting outside the Neretva coffee shop and grocery store during his lunch break, Lilic sported national pride on his T-shirt, which commemorates a soccer game last decade between a Sarajevan and a Turkish team.

“I never gave up on my country,” said Lilic.

Lilic has paid visits to Bosnia since he moved away but said he’d be an “enemy” to his children if he chose to take his family back to live in the homeland. Perhaps, he said, he’ll go back “to be buried.”

Prozorac said he’s debating whether to discuss the past with his American children. He has never returned home.

For Prozorac and many other Bosnians, the scars will never go away.

How Ratko Mladic’s Evil Dream Lives On: Aleksandar Hemon

By Aleksandar Hemon May 30, 2021

In the spring of 1992, at the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, an exchange between General Ratko Mladic and a Serb artillery colonel commanding positions above the city was intercepted and recorded. “Fire on Velesici and Pofalici,” General Mladic ordered, referring to two Sarajevo neighborhoods. “There aren’t many Serbs there.” A certain glee in his voice is audible as he refines his order: “Don’t let them sleep. Make them lose their minds.”

Later on, he’d claim that the conversation was faked, that the order was given by “a skillful imitator” of his voice. Had he ever existed, the imitator would have been deservedly praised for capturing perfectly a ruthlessness worthy of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. For General Mladic, handpicked by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, to command the destruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the price of a few dead fellow Serbs wasn’t too high if he could make Sarajevans lose their minds, before they lost their lives.

But the man who proudly addressed a TV camera on July 11, 1995, the day the “safe” enclave of Srebrenica fell to the Serb forces, wasn’t a skillful imitator, but General Mladic himself. He offered the conquered city as “a gift to the Serb people,” adding that “finally the time has arrived to take revenge upon the Turks, after the uprising against the Dahi.” Apart from putting himself, out of evident patriotic vanity, on the scene of a war crime, General Mladic precisely formulated the racist pathology of Serbian nationalism: The uprising against the Dahi — the local Ottoman overlords — took place in the early 19th century. By “the Turks” he now meant Bosnian Muslims. Invested in an uprising from 200 years earlier, he fought imaginary enemies.

Srebrenica Massacre

His victims were far too real. In Srebrenica, General Mladic directly oversaw the killing of almost 8,000 men, a feat now known as the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. He was all over the place, and a camera faithfully followed him: Walking the streets of the ravaged city, he issued orders off the cuff. To the desperate women and children, he promised passage to safety, suggesting that the men would follow later. He bullied Colonel Thomas Karremans, the commander of the Dutch United Nations battalion, who then meekly delivered to their death the men seeking protection in the UN camp. At a meeting with the hapless Karremans that included Nesib Mandzic, a local high-school teacher, Mladic claimed that if the Muslim men in the UN camp chose to lay their arms down (they had none, as that had been the condition of their entering the camp) he would “guarantee” their lives; to the terrified teacher he entrusted the task of convincing them, and told him that “the fate of his people (was) in his hands.”

Absolute Power

The fate of the people of Srebrenica was, of course, in General Mladic’s hands. From a position of absolute power over life and death, he made his victims believe he had no reason to lie, precisely because his power was absolute. He clearly enjoyed offering false choices to the men he was about to exterminate, offering candy to their children, offering eternal expulsion to their wives and mothers, his power increasing by a pleasant notch: it was now so great that he could choose not to wield it. The whole world knows he did.

A career officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, he’d commanded a provincial garrison in the Macedonian town of Stip in the late ’80s. After his sociopathic talents had been recognized by Milosevic, Mladic was promoted and transferred in 1991 to the Knin garrison in Croatia, where he quickly carved out a large chunk of territory, which the Serbs lost only in 1995. In 1992, he was sent to Bosnia to continue establishing Greater Serbia. When Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb civilian leader, tried to remove him from his supreme commanding post in 1995, General Mladic simply ignored him, as did Mladic’s loyal Bosnian Serb Army. All over the Serb lands, songs were sung about him and his heroic feats.

Home Movies

None of his heroic ruthlessness, however, was visible in the footage broadcast on Bosnian television in 2009, in which Mladic was featured in a series of home movies. Apart from an occasional thick-necked bodyguard stumbling into the frame, nothing suggests the war, let alone a genocidal exercise of power in Srebrenica. Instead, Mladic is seen at parties and weddings, singing loudly out of tune; he’s visited by other suspected war criminals in civilian suits, carrying flowers for his wife; he enjoys downtime in the idyllic surroundings of military barracks somewhere in Serbia — accompanied by a singing bird, he pensively says: “Peace. Quiet.” If it weren’t for the images from his suicide daughter’s funeral, where he kisses the morbid little window on her coffin, and then, ever a neat soldier, wipes it with a handkerchief, the footage would be practically a commercial for comfortable retirement.

For years after the war ended in 1995, he moved freely between the Bosnian Serb territories and Serbia proper. Only after the fall of Milosevic in 2000 did he go into what is very generously called hiding, as the Serbian security forces seemed to have known where he was all along. He continued receiving Serbian military pension until 2005.

Burning for Revenge

The 69-year-old man who emerged from a house in Lazarevo, in northeastern Serbia, looks nothing like the Mladic of Srebrenica, who was burning, his sleeves rolled up, to get to the business of revenge. Now a spent man, Mladic has outlived Milosevic, his project of Greater Serbia and the fanatical loyalty of many Serbs, fed from the fertile ground of mass murder. And there is a happy consensus in Serbia and Europe that it is time to drop the stinking weight of Yugoslav wars and proceed to Greater Europe, where free-trade oblivion will soon ensue.

But the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina today ought to be part of Mladic’s indictment: Srebrenica is still under Serb control; the families of the murdered men dare not return. The politicians of “Republika Srpska,” a Serb state-let built by Mladic and his killers, but nominally part of Bosnia, participate in Bosnian political institutions only to block their functioning. Europe, for which Mladic is the Serbian ticket, is closed to Bosnia, partly because there aren’t Bosnian war criminals that could be traded in for prosperity. General Mladic’s project of Greater Serbia has failed, but his project of destroying Bosnia still has a good chance of succeeding.

(Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian-American writer, is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Lazarus Project” and “Love and Obstacles,” a collection of short stories. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Mladic arrest: Scars of Sarajevo siege still linger

Among the charges levelled at General Ratko Mladic, the former head of the Bosnian Serb army awaiting extradition to The Hague, are those relating to the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo. Zlata Filipovic, who was growing up in the city at the time, gives her reaction to his arrest.

The overwhelming view on the detention of Ratko Mladic - finally caught 16 years after he was indicted - was that those who had suffered through his battles must be elated, celebrating the end of something.

For those less acquainted with the war in former Yugoslavia, the line of thinking is: You wanted this, you got it, now let’s finish this chapter and turn the page.

“Start Quote

I was that 11-year-old girl that some of Gen Mladic’s 18,000 soldiers and snipers could see running across the bridge in front of my house ”

“Closure” is a word that trips off the tongues of those who ask what I think.

I wish I had leapt from a chair when I heard the news, or that this arrest would represent some sort of closure for me.

But at the risk of disappointing people, while I consider the arrest good news, the effect of the bloody and warped military campaigns waged by Gen Mladic (and I feel uncomfortable calling him a general, as it indicates an element of respect) is something that remains and defines my life, and the lives of so many.

‘Hopeless and broken’

Darko Mladic, the general’s son, has said that the siege of Sarajevo was a legitimate military operation.

But I lived in Sarajevo for almost two years of a siege that lasted 44 months. It was the darkest, most hopeless, broken, dangerous, deprived period of my life.

I was that 11-year-old girl that some of Gen Mladic’s 18,000 soldiers and snipers on the hills around Sarajevo could see running across the bridge in front of my house.

My father was the one carrying plastic containers from the pump that was providing drinking water for a city of half a million. My mother is the one who was on her way to stand and wait in a bread queue that soldiers bombed from the hills, killing 19 civilians and wounding more than 150.

I was also one of the lucky ones who survived, and avoided becoming part of the grim statistic of 10,000 dead - including 1,500 children - victims of bombs, mortars, snipers and the lack of food, water and medication.

We lived through apocalyptic times, shelled heavily on a daily basis regardless of our nationality or ethnicity.

We were being killed because we were civilians in a city that Gen Mladic and his henchmen hated - for everything multi-ethnic and multicultural that it represented.

Gen Mladic is one of those who has given Serbs a bad name, even those like our friends and neighbours who stayed in the city and shared every dark reality of Sarajevo siege along with everyone else.

He will hopefully be extradited and tried in The Hague for all the crimes for which he is indicted.

But for me personally, his responsibility lies in the fact that his soldiers killed my 11-year-old friend Nina in a park in front of our house, that my mother’s cousin is dead, that my uncle almost lost his leg and that my city and all the lives in it were broken and still suffer the consequences of the bloodthirsty hate and madness of the siege.

‘Lost forever’

A trial, whatever the outcome, will never provide full satisfaction.

I always use the analogy of a minor crime. If someone steals your handbag, and they are found, and tried, this is correct and proper.

But the handbag your boyfriend gave you for your birthday, and the only picture of your family from a holiday that was hidden in the wallet, will never be found.

Some things are lost forever, and law and the courts will, alas, never be able to reverse that.

What can be said about Gen Mladic? His deeds speak for themselves.

All that I and the other citizens of Sarajevo and Bosnia who needlessly and unjustly suffered can do now is watch international justice be carried out.

He may survive or pass away, he may fight in the court or stir nationalist sentiment on the ground in the former Yugoslavia.

But whatever happens, may he and people like him never feature in our lives again.

Zlata Filipovic is the author of Zlata’s Diary, her account of the siege of Sarajevo.

Guest commentary: The ghosts of Srebrenica

Sixteen years after his indictment for genocide and other crimes against humanity, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic’s arrest has special resonance in St. Louis. The uprooted lives of the more than 70,000 Bosnians here are the human cost of Mladic’s alleged crimes and the direct consequence of the world’s indefensible failure to stop the man called the “Butcher of Bosnia.”

The catalog of atrocities allegedly committed by Mladic is extensive. In 1991, after Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, Mladic was sent to Knin, the self-declared capital of the breakaway “Serb Republic” of Croatia. There, Mladic is said to have proved his brutal skills in the violent uprooting of civilians — a process that came to be known as “ethnic cleansing.” Promoted to the rank of general, Mladic allegedly then moved on to oversee the destruction of multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina and the genocidal massacre of civilians there.

In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Mladic allegedly provided detailed instructions to Serbian military forces manning the heavy weapons in the mountains above the encircled, besieged city below. “Shell them,” Mladic commanded, “until they are on the edge of madness.” Mortar fire and deliberate targeting of civilians by snipers reduced the once-vibrant, cosmopolitan city to what aid workers called the world’s largest concentration camp.

I traveled to wartime Sarajevo in 1994. Transiting on foot in and out of the blockaded city by way of a tunnel dug under the Sarajevo airport, I saw firsthand the results of Mladic’s alleged handiwork: water, gas, electricity and food supplies cut off to the city’s 300,000 inhabitants. During the three-and-a-half-year siege, 12,000 Sarajevans of every background were killed, including 2,500 children. The heartbreaking spectacle of Sarajevo’s demise was broadcast live on CNN, while outside policy makers dithered and intentionally mislabeled the obvious military aggression a “humanitarian problem.”

In the summer of 1995, General Mladic allegedly personally supervised the genocide in Srebrenica. As his forces overran with impunity the United Nations-declared ‘safe area,” Mladic went to the U.N. base in Potocari and reassured the huddled mass of humanity that they had nothing to fear: “Do not be frightened. You will be taken by bus to safety.” As the terrified refugees made their way to waiting buses, Srebrenica’s men and boys — ranging in age from 80 down to 12 — were separated from their loved ones.

From her home in St. Louis, Hatida Salihovic recalled the horrifying events. She was seven months pregnant at the time. “When I was leaving, there was a woman who had a 12-year-old son and as they got on the bus, the Serbs took the boy. The woman was screaming ‘Let him go! Let him go! I don’t have anyone else left.’ She told them, ‘If you are going to take him, then take me, too.’ But they said, ‘We don’t need you, we only need him.’ A Serbian soldier kicked the woman with his foot and she hit the bus. And her son was taken away.”

Dutch U.N. peacekeepers did nothing to intervene. Srebrenica’s male population was rounded up and taken to execution sites where they were killed and bulldozed into mass graves. Meanwhile, a large column of men, including Hatida’s husband, Dzemail, went into the woods in a desperate attempt to escape. Hatida never saw Dzemail again. She gave birth to their daughter, Dzenana, 12 days later in the city of Tuzla, where Srebrenica’s desolate survivors had assembled in shock and disbelief.

The long-awaited arrest of Ratko Mladic has brought a welcome measure of relief but no true satisfaction to Bosnians in St. Louis. For more than a decade and a half, they watched as Mladic, who is alleged to be responsible for the greatest war crimes in Europe since the end of the World War II, remained free, reportedly attending family weddings and public soccer matches in Belgrade, Serbia, where he still is regarded by ultranationalists as a hero.

While important for international justice and accountability, Mladic’s apprehension offers cold consolation for the families who continue to mourn their loved ones slaughtered and dumped nameless into mass graves. For them, 16 years later, the disquieting ghosts of the past still mostly bring memories of betrayal, sorrow and loss.

Patrick McCarthy has worked with the Bosnian community in St. Louis since 1993. He is the author with photographer Tom Maday of the book “After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis.” McCarthy is director of the Medical Center Library at Saint Louis University.

St. Louis Beacon, News that Matters

By Ryan Schuessler, Beacon intern

It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon in late May as Murat Muratovic walks through the front door of WEW Radio’s station near the Hill. As the Polka Plus program wraps up, Muratovic sits at a desk flipping through a thick binder of CDs to pick music for the 5 p.m. broadcast of Radio Behar — a weekly Bosnian radio program broadcasted on 770 AM in St. Louis.

A half-hour into the program, Muratovic makes a call on his cell phone. On the other end of the line is a journalist in Bosnia (see map) who gives St. Louis’ Bosnian community news from their homeland on Radio Behar. And tonight, Muratovic expects the half-hour segment to be about one thing: Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general responsible for the massacre of Srebrenica.


After 16 years as an international fugitive wanted for war crimes during the Bosnian war, Mladic’s arrest last week made headlines across the world as the closing of a bloody chapter in the Balkans. Serbian authorities captured Mladic, the last of three men considered to be the ringleaders of the genocide during the Bosnian war, May 26 in Serbia.

Within hours of the arrest, President Barack Obama said in a release, “Today is an important day for the families of Mladic’s many victims.” He expressed hope “the families of Mladic’s victims find some solace in today’s arrest.”

U.S Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, whose district encompasses much of St. Louis’ Bosnian community, also released a statement: “Mladic has avoided arrest and prosecution for far too long, and it is time he answer for his crimes.”

However, many Bosnians in St. Louis, like Muratovic, remain reluctant to celebrate the arrest.

Murat Muratovic says the capture of Mladic is big news, but so much more is needed for Bosnia.

“It’s really nice that he is captured,” Muratovic said. “Because, with him, we see the symbol of the evil of the crime, or the murder, killing, rape — everything.”

Muratovic, founder of the St. Louis-based Bosnian Media Group, lived in Bosnia during the war. He immigrated to St. Louis in 1996 after the death of his brother at the hands of Serbs and the ethnic cleansing of his hometown of Zvornik. Like many Bosnians, he sees the arrest as too little, too late.

“It’s definitely big news,” Muratovic said. “But you know, we’ve been through the war. Since 1992 we’ve been killed, raped, murdered. We were waiting for the international community to come in and say, ‘Wait, stop it.’ But after two years, we realized, nobody is going to stop. Everybody has betrayed you — just go and fight for yourself.”

Mladic is responsible for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, which killed an estimated 10,000 civilians as well as the massacre of nearly 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in the United Nations “safe haven” of Srebrenica in 1995.

“You feel kind of disappointed that [there were] all those victims, and we still don’t have a functioning government or freedom inside Bosnia,” Muratovic, who returns to Bosnia every summer, said. “I go back and I see a split country. If I go to Sarajevo, it’s fine. If I go to Tuzla, it’s fine. If I go to the city where I was born, it’s not fine. I don’t see my old friends. They will be gone, or they will be killed or God knows where. I don’t even see my old Serb friends.”


Imam Muhamed Hasic, president and CEO of the Islamic Community Center in South City, believes that Mladic’s arrest, while significant news for the Bosnian community, does not bring closure to the victims of his crimes or their families.

Imam Muhamed Hasic knows that many of the refugees who settled here cannot go back to Bosnia.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Hasic said. “Many people do not know where the bones of their loved ones are.”

Hasic, who hails from the village of Orahovica in northern Bosnia, was “blessed by God” that he left Bosnia before the war. He was in Canada when the war broke out and was unable to return home. He did, however, plan to return to Bosnia once the war had ended, but he was asked by St. Louis’ Muslim leaders to relocate to St. Louis to be an imam for Bosnian refugees, most of whom could not speak English. Hasic settled in St. Louis in 1997. About 85 percent of the Islamic Community Center’s congregation is Bosnian.

“Most [refugees] are settling here and are happy and grateful to be in a free country, no matter what your race or religion or background,” Hasic said. “Many cannot go freely back from where they are from. They will find burned or destroyed houses or find that their property has been taken.”

Muratovic agrees, saying, “That country is not functional. You don’t feel freedom in some parts of it. You don’t feel safe, still.”

During the Bosnian war, Bosnians fled the country by the thousands, and many refugees came to St. Louis, where more than an estimated 50,000 now live. St. Louis has earned the unofficial title of the “capital city of the Bosnian diaspora.”


While Mladic’s arrest comes as good news to most Bosnians living in St. Louis, many are quick to point out that the genocide during the war was not confined to just one region.

“You need to know it wasn’t only Srebrenica,” Muratovic said.

One such individual is Amir Karadzic (no relation to another indicted war criminal, former Serbian President Radovan Karadzic), who came to St. Louis in 1993 from Prijedor — the Bosnian city that saw some of the first bloodshed of the three-year conflict.

In 1992, Serb forces were responsible for the death of around 5,200 Bosnians and Croatians in Prejidor and around 14,000 in the region surrounding the city. Tens of thousands were also expelled from their homes. Several concentration camps were established outside the city to detain Bosnians, other non-Serbs and non-compliant Serbs. What became known as the Prejidor massacre was the second largest massacre after the Srebrenica Genocide.

“Nobody had a uniform. Nobody had a weapon. They were civilians,” Karadzic said.

Karadzic is founder and president of the Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor and, four years ago, worked with the Jewish Holocaust Museum to create an exhibit to “explore the genocide happening in Bosnia” and bring international awareness to the crimes against his people. The exhibit has traveled around the region and country.

“We don’t have a place to put the exhibit in the Bosnian community,” Karadzic said. “We don’t have a museum.”


Karadzic, along with Muratovic and other St. Louis Bosnians, said they wonder whether Mladic will see justice. It was only five years ago that Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president and instigator of the Balkan wars, died during his five-year trial. Radovan Karadzic is still on trial after his 2008 capture.

“It’s a joke,” Muratovic said.

Since the war, Muratovic and Karadzic say that Serbian leaders have yet to stand up and denounce the atrocities Mladic and others committed during the war. Karadzic also referenced several videos on the internet several years ago in which Mladic casually appeared in public places in Serbia.

“They’re not recognizing who he is,” Karadzic said. “They’re selling his face on T-shirts, on key chains. Serbs say he is a national hero. The government never stood up to the people and said, ‘They are criminals. They are bad people.’”

In the days following Mladic’s arrest, thousands of Serbian nationalists protested in Serbia’s capital of Belgrade, other cities in the Balkan nation along with towns in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian political entity inside Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On Tuesday, Mladic was extradited to the Hague, but Bosnians here in St. Louis remain skeptical that justice will come at all.

“In reality, he’s almost a dead body,” Karadzic said. “It’s too late. I guess, he’s going to die and he’s never going to be accused of genocide. We’re asking ourselves why it took so long to capture him.”

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada