Bosnians Unmoved by Milosevic Extradition

The extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague has left many Bosnians feeling cheated.

Bosnians Unmoved by Milosevic Extradition

The extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague has left many Bosnians feeling cheated.

The excitement ignited across Europe and the US by news that Slobodan Milosevic had flown to The Hague was not shared by those who fell victim to his murderous policies in Bosnia.

The survivors of the Bosnian war have little more than disgust for this and all the other acts of international bargaining that they've had to put up with in the past. What happened last week happened far too late in the day - and is simply the latest example of Western cynicism towards the people of Bosnia.

When the country needed salvation, it was withheld. But help was available when everyone outside Bosnia needed salvation. When jets were needed to defend Sarajevo and Srebrenica, there weren't any. But when the owners of those planes needed them, they mysteriously arrived.

No punishment meted out in The Hague will alter the fate of his victims who would not have suffered at all if Milosevic had been stopped when he should have been - and when it was possible to stop him.

Bosnia used to be a country of tolerant people. Some of them still are. They were never particularly inclined to vengeance, nor to gloat over someone else's misery. But when Milosevic is sold to the war crimes tribunal to pay for 'starving' Serbia, it's hard to imagine anyone here feeling triumphant.

Public opinion in Bosnia is responding to this fresh injustice with silence. When the first report came that "Slobo-Sloboda" (the popular pun on Milosevic's first name, which derives from the word for "freedom") was finally in The Hague, the sense of being cheated again hung bitterly in the air.

Put simply, Bosnia never wanted revenge. What it did want, so much more than that, was justice. The people of this country sincerely believed in all the grand words and resolutions the UN uttered and wrote down about human rights, truth, law and justice. They were brutally deceived at the beginning of the last decade and the price of that deception was vast, almost immeasurable.

Then came a time came when our native optimism was rekindled. We believed that evil would be recognised and tackled. No one demanded collective responsibility. But people believed that there could be a collective understanding in Serbia of what had happened.

It did not happen. On the contrary, Milosevic turns out only to be the price that Serbians had to pay. Bosnians feel cheated again, individually, personally and viscerally. All of a sudden Milosevic is finished, irrelevant and unimportant. But, for Bosnians, it's as if this eternal cheat is still smirking at us from somewhere in Serbia.

Clearly, Milosevic had to end up in The Hague because without him everything else would be a farce. It was beyond the bounds of possibility to expect international justice - whatever that might be - to round up and try all the war criminals who passed through the Balkans over the past decade. But for Milosevic to escape? No, The Hague had to have Milosevic. And, now, everyone can conclude that the tribunal's underlying message - that war criminals cannot remain unpunished - has finally been vindicated.

But it is equally impossible to expect his victims to feel satisfaction now that the ideologue of the crimes against them is facing justice. Perhaps the restraint with which ordinary people in Bosnia are following the fate of The Hague's new inmate derives from some human imperfection. No one should ask Bosnians how they feel today for it casts upon them the burden of decency and tolerance that is always expected of them in responding to actions which were never decent or tolerant.

Instead, ask those who sold their former leader, believing that they could salvage themselves. Much more is required of them.

Zlatko Dizdarevic is senior columnist at Sarajevo's weekly Dani.

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