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Mladic found

mladic_arrestedWhile Yuri Gagarin was my heroic rocket into Russia, General Ratko Mladic was my runaway genocidal horse cart into Serbia. I would never compare the two men. I’m just saying it’s sometimes handy to have a focus when entering new territory. And actually my original entry into Serbia in the late 1990s was via the crazy kinetic music of gypsy brass bands. Guca! But I soon got confused by the discovery that this music – developed and played by Rromani musicians – had evolved into becoming the nationalist soundtrack to the idea of a ‘greater Serbia’. How did that happen? Yes, the war in former Yugoslavia proved to be very confusing. For a while I retreated into being a tourist: enjoying the food, the drink, the dance, the people and the non-war stories. I also enjoyed being asked: ‘Um, you do know that lately we don’t actually get a lot of tourists around here?’ Regardless, ignorance was bliss and I even ended up discovering some lovely and largely forgotten wine regions in Bosnia and Croatia… Yes, it’s vital to remember what happened in Vukovar, but it’s also important to visit a place like nearby Ilok. People are people – and the nice ones are often best enjoyed with a glass of fine wine.  

Later, almost 10 years ago, I spent a few months living in Belgrade with my ex-Yugo ex-girlfriend who was working on NIOD’s Srebrenica Report. She was there for Mladic and I was along for the ride. Milosevic had just been arrested two months earlier and so it was hoped that Mladic was soon to follow – or at least that he would want to tell his side of the story of what happened in Srebrenica when the Bosnian Serb troops under his command rounded up and methodically massacred 8000 Moslem men and boys. We ended up staying in Belgrade through 11 September 2001 – witnessing the dawn of the emerging apocalypse in a post-apocalyptic city. It made a deep impression.

My ex-Yugo Ex never did get to talk to Mladic even though he was still being spotted enjoying football matches and restaurants around town (and apparently living – bizarrely – on Yuri Gagarin Boulevard). But we did get to share mixed grill with one of Mladic’s best friends. And while I don’t have the balls to name him by name, I can say with all confidence that this general was a scary little shit – a true mini Mladic, but one who had cut a deal with the International War Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to cover his ass.

Sadly, there is no justice for all. But at least today I can finally update the introduction to my Welcome to Yugoville archive which asked ‘Where’s Mladic?’ The runaway genocidal horse cart is now behind bars a few kilometres up the road in The Hague. Perhaps his presence there will help remind many of the governments of Europe – in particular the Dutch one – that flirting with nationalism/populism is as a dangerous game as it’s always been. Sorry to preach in clichés, but it can really still happen anywhere. That’s what I learned in Serbia – and the rest of former Yugoslavia. People are people. Politicians are politicians. And the damaged are damaged and often dangerous – Mladic being the perfect example. There are always those who are willing to turn the rhetoric of politicians into something bloody. But meanwhile I think I might finally plan a return trip for some crazy ass brass at Guca. Hopefully the people are closer to completely liberating the music back from the politicians. Then we can really eat, drink and dance.

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Posted in Uncategorized 6 years, 3 months ago at 12:57 pm.

1 comment

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  1. Great piece, Steve. And clichés are useful.


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