Ratko Mladic Capture a Huge Relief for People of the Balkans

Mladic was the last big target, the most wanted war criminal in Europe.

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It seemed, in our instant-gratification, rapid-response world, that it took forever (actually a little under a decade) to finally get Osama bin Laden, whose death hopefully brings some closure to the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks.

Imagine, then, how it must be today for those victimized by Ratko Mladic.

[See photos of reactions to Osama bin Laden's death.]

Mladic, he of the eponymous first name, stands accused of war crimes stemming from the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebenica during the Balkan wars of 1992-95. Mladic and his generals in 1992 engineered the devastating Siege of Sarajevo, subjecting the citizens of that beautiful Bosnian city to years of random shootings and bombings that made it nearly impossible for people to leave their homes. The central road in Sarajevo was called "sniper alley" for a reason, and journalists who stayed at the Holiday Inn were forewarned to secure a room that did not face the deadly route. With former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic dead (he committed suicide while under arrest for war crimes) and Radovan Karadzic captured (he managed to elude prosecutors for many years, even working as a psychologist under an assumed name while on the lam), Mladic was the last big target, the most wanted war criminal in Europe.

Authorities caught up with Mladic Thursday, long after the Balkan wars were over, long after the former Yugoslavia has splintered, and long after the world had moved onto other crises. B-92 Radio—whose awesomely brave and tenacious reporters continued to investigate Milosevic and report on human rights abuses despite threats during the wars—reported that Mladic had been caught in a village close to the northern Serbian town of Zrenjanin. Notably, the formal announcement was made by Serbian president Boris Tadic, underscoring how much the relationship has changed between once-shunned Serbia and the rest of the civilized world.

The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia was painful on so many levels. While many Americans following the conflicts from home viewed the region as perpetually in conflict, the reality was more nuanced. True, the region had longstanding, internal historical gripes, such as the status of Kosovo, but those tensions tended only to be a problem when someone like Milosevic fanned the flames for political purposes. In neighborhoods, I found during my travels and reporting there, people got along pretty well. Intermarriage was not uncommon. In the Serbian town of Prizren, an Orthodox Christian church and a mosque were in softball-throwing distance of each other. What is remarkable about the former Yugoslavia is its richness of culture and its diversity. They had periodic wars driven by self-interested leaders, but Yugoslavia to me will always represent the promise of a peaceful ideal. It was one of the few places in the world that tried to do what we try to do here—live together in a multi-religious, multicultural nation. People like Mladic tried to upset that ideal, and succeeded in breaking Yugoslavia apart. Let’s hope his capture, at least, brings some closure for the people of the Balkans.

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