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22 July 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 2:30am

Karadzic and Srebrenica

Teach British school children the lessons of the July 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in a UN "safe

By Martin Bright

The arrest of Radovan Karadzic could not have been more timely. Just as international institutions needed a boost, international public enemy number one is delivered to the Hague tribunal. Received wisdom had it that the Serbs would never hand over their most prized war criminal and Karadzic would end his days in a monastery somewhere in the mountains of eastern Bosnia. But sometimes good things really do happen. What’s more, Karadzic was working in alternative therapy. What a perfect profession for a mass murdering psychopath.

I am not a great one for making moral equivalences: wars and the atrocities they engender tend to be historically specific. The holocaust was uniquely evil. The IRA is not the same as al-Qaeda. Israel is not the same as apartheid-era South Africa.

But I have always believed that all British school children should be taught about the unique horror of the Srebrenica massacre in the same way that they are all taught about Auschwitz. The failure of the international community to come to the aid of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men massacred in the safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995. The massacre had a huge influence on Tony Blair’s policy of humanitarian intervention, which he relied on as justification for intervention in Kosovo and, to some extent Afghanistan and Iraq.

When I heard about the arrest, I went back to the brilliant book “Safe Area” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Rohde who had these words to say in 1997 on Karadzic and his partner in war crime Ratko Mladic:

“Both men appear to have been driven by a classic deep-rooteed racism that lay at the core of their nationalism. The Muslim prisoners around Bratunac [a town next to Srebrenica] that night [July 13 1995] were things that “bred” too quickly. the prisoners were also an opportuninty for Mladic and KAradzic to make a dramatic hitorical statement.
For them, the fall of Srebrenica was part of the Serb people’s centuries-old struggle against Islam and the Turks, It was an opportunity to avenge the Serbs killed in the Srebrenica area during World War II and an opportunity to wipe out several thousand soldiers whom the manpower-short Bosnian Serb army would face again if they were exchanged.”

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Rohde continues:

“It would be comforting to think that the executions were a strategic mistake; that the massive manhunt Mladic launched to capture Srebrenica’s men diverted his troops and allowed the Croatian Army to advance unchecked on the other side of the country. But the Bosnian Serbs still control 49 per cent of Bosnia. Both Karadzic and Mladic have gotten away with Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
American, French and British policy in Bosnia has created twin cancers. Serb nationalist were taught that ‘ethnic cleansing’ could succeed; Muslims learned that their lives didn’t matter.”

Writing in the New York Times today Rohde says that the arrest gives new credibility to the war crimes tribunal. I hope he’s right.

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