Signs of a changed Serbia in weakened pro-Mladic protests
Thousands protested the arrest of alleged Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic in Belgrade on Sunday. But indifference or relief has largely outweighed anger over the arrest.
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Familiar Serbian nationalist themes were also revisited, with repeated calls for the creation of a “Greater Serbia” including Kosovo, Montenegro, and parts of Bosnia and Croatia, and appeals to the memory of King Lazar, considered a Serbian martyr after his death at the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, when the Serbian Kingdom fought the invading Ottoman army.Skip to next paragraph
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“All our history from King Lazar will fly away to The Hague with Ratko Mladic,” yelled actress Ivana Zigon, her voice cracking.
Hooligans tip the protest toward violence
Protesters started to drift slowly away after only an hour, and chanting from hooligans associated with Belgrade’s largest soccer clubs – and showing little political interest – grew louder. “Knife, barbed wire, Srebrenica!”
Some let off flares and the riot police began to assemble a ring of steel around the demonstration. Speakers on stage appealed for calm as youths flicked up their hoods and pulled scarves over their faces and attempted to charge the police lines. A hymn praising the SRS leader Vojislav Seselj – himself on trial at The Hague for alleged war crimes – brought the rally to a formal end, by which point riot police were closing off roads around Parliament.
Hooded teenagers shouted “Come on! Come on!” as bottles and rocks were thrown. The rioters were well contained and order was quickly restored, with dozens of detained young men lined up face-down on the pavement outside Belgrade’s historic Hotel Moscow.
The SRS quickly denied responsibility for the violence, and senior party official Dragan Todorovic suggested that the night would have been free of incident “had the state organs acted professionally, instead of in accordance with political interests,” according to Serbian broadcaster B92.
Sitting with a coffee in Kalenic, one of Belgrade’s traditional taverns, Nemanja Kovacevic, a 27-year-old student of political science, suggested that the arrest of Mladic brings welcome closure not just to the postwar period, but to Yugoslavia’s transition from communism, and signals a defeat for its old elite.
“It’s over,” he said. “It’s the end of one of the darkest period in Serbia’s history, and a blow for the lobby of rightwing politicians, war criminals, war profiteers, and academics who oppose a European future. Most of these people aren’t nationalists, they are old communists who have switched sides. The JNA [Yugoslav National Army, of which Mladic was previously a senior officer] was a criminal communist army.”
For Kovacevic, and many like him, Mladic is far from a hero, but a symptom of a country’s sickness that they hope is now banished. “When I first saw his picture after the arrest,” he says. “The first thing I thought of was the wire tying the victims’ wrists in Srebrenica.”
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