War criminals are not our heroes. Let the ICTY judgements serve as a reminder of the horrors of the ‘90s, and let us remember the victims rather than glorify the killers.
The last couple of weeks shook the Balkans again. This time we were waiting for the final verdict from the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the Ratko Mladic case quickly consumed international and regional media.
As we have carefully watched news from the Hague over these past few weeks, we were faced with scenes we never hoped to see, from Mladic yelling that ‘everything was a lie,’ to Slobodan Praljak disrupting the appeal decision by drinking poison.
These events quickly consumed international and regional media. Over these past couple of weeks, many analyses and opinion pieces, taking different sides on the issues, were written and published; in fact, so many pieces were written that one must beg the question if another piece would add anything new to the discussion. Regardless, here is another such piece, this time written by someone who does not remember the ‘90s, but is afraid that the period could be repeated again. A piece that is nothing more than an attempt to give hope to a generation that was born during the time when these terrible crimes happened, a message to a generation that awaiting its future.
I cannot get rid of the impression left on my mind after the Hague verdict. An incredible number of young people my age, born during the ‘90s, understandably took positions, mainly on social networks, about how these trials were supposed to end, who was guilty and who innocent, who was a hero and who was not.
Glorifying Mladic and Praljak and blaming the Hague is not at all proper behavior for someone of my own age, especially because we are speaking about the generation that was born during that period, and which is forming opinions based on media reports and statements made by politicians. It seems that my generation is not even aware of the horrors that happened. I personally started asking everyone I know–acquaintances, friends, family members, all mostly my age, if they knew exactly what happened during the Bosnian War.
No one had an answer for this very current and relevant question. Despite the low level of knowledge, we nonetheless stay adamant at defending our own people, in this case someone who considers themselves a ‘great Serb,’ because they committed horrible crimes in Serbia’s name.
It is here where ICTY has failed. More efforts should have been put towards communication with the public, to inform the citizens about trials and help them learn what actually happened. It is pointless to talk about reconciliation in the Balkans if majority of the population, especially the younger generation, has no idea what exactly happened, and to whom.
I am not saying that I defend the Hague’s work as immaculate. Some verdicts will still raise questions about the court’s potential to foster reconciliation in the Balkans, as well as if the verdicts were just.
But in regards to the verdict for Ratko Mladic, I can say this: a crime is a crime no matter if the perpetrator is Serb, Albanian, Croat, or a Bosnian. To those who argue that you cannot accuse only one side, and that you must judge everyone who was involved, it is important to remember that whether or not someone is judged does not diminish other crimes on any side. A criminal is a criminal.
Fearing that my generation could still be held back by the hate and prejudice leftover from the ‘90s, and that my peers might submit to populist statements from politicians, I want to reiterate: war criminals are not our heroes.
Regardless of nationality, religion, or any other affiliation, whoever was responsible for a death of a human being deserves every punishment they received. Let each crime from our past be our warning, so that it may never happen again, so it may never be repeated again. Let ICTY’s cases serve as a reminder of the horrors, so that the ‘90s are not forgotten; so that we remember the victims rather than glorify the killers. So that in the end we remember that we are just human, no matter our divisions. So we are reminded of empathy. So that we can learn from, rather than celebrate, our greatest mistake in history. So that we are a bit more human, and a bit less Serbs, Albanians, Croats, or Bosnians.
The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.