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Poll Shows Majority in Serbia Oppose Mladic Arrest

Survey also shows most people in the country regard tribunal as illegal, anti-Serb institution.

Sixty-four per cent of Serbia’s citizens oppose the arrest of indicted former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, an opinion poll showed this week.

The poll was commissioned by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, mission in Serbia and the Belgrade Human Rights Centre and was carried out by Ipsos Strategic Puls agency between April and June this year. A total of 1,400 people took part in the survey.

The poll showed only 25 per cent of those questioned supported Mladic’s arrest, while 11 per cent had no opinion.

Mladic, who has been charged with genocide and other crimes committed during the Bosnian war of 1992-95, is on the run from the Hague tribunal. The tribunal prosecutor’s office has long said that he is hiding in Serbia and accused the Belgrade authorities of failing to arrest him.

However, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, recently changed his view and said he was convinced “Serbia is doing all it can” to apprehend two remaining suspects, Mladic and Goran Hadzic, a former Croatian Serb leader.

The poll also showed that more than 70 per cent of respondents had a negative attitude towards the tribunal, seeing it as an “illegal” and “anti-Serb” institution. Only 14 per cent supported its work, while 15 per cent had no opinion.

Svetlana Logar of Ipsos Strategic Puls described the data that her agency gathered as “extremely worrying”, because it showed that a great majority of Serbia’s citizens do not support the Belgrade authorities' efforts to apprehend Mladic and hand him over to the Hague tribunal. Sixty-four per cent of those interviewed opposed his arrest.

“Asked if they knew which crimes Mladic was charged with, around 30 per cent of people surveyed could not come up with a single crime. Fifty-six per cent said Mladic was not responsible for any of the crimes he was charged with,” she said.

“It is particularly alarming that the vast majority of Serbia’s citizens are convinced that the tribunal is an anti-Serb, unfair and biased court.”

The Belgrade authorities believe the findings contain a serious warning. Dusan Ignjatovic, of the Serbian government’s office for cooperation with the Hague tribunal, said, “It seems to me that someone should urgently start a simple project that should be dubbed ‘Transitional Justice for Dummies’.

“The government should explain to its citizens in very simple language every step it’s been taking in order to meet the tribunal’s demands and apprehend Mladic and Hadzic. It’s time for people in Serbia to face up the reality – those responsible for war crimes must face justice.”

Observers in Serbia say the results of the poll are not surprising, considering the general atmosphere of impunity there and the fact that war crimes suspects are still seen as heroes by many of Serbia’s citizens.

Vojin Dimitrijevic, from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, said the media were partly responsible for this distorted view and cited the case of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial for genocide at the Hague tribunal.

“When Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade, there was very little information in the Serbian media about the reasons for his arrest. They mainly focused on bizarre details of Karadzic’s arrest and his new identity as a practitioner of alternative medicine,” he said.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July last year. The latest poll showed that 62 per cent of the people in Serbia opposed his extradition to The Hague and 55 per cent believed he was not guilty of any of the charges against him.

A legal adviser on war crimes with the OSCE mission in Serbia, Ivan Jovanovic, said Belgrade could do a lot to change the way people in Serbia perceive the Hague tribunal and war crimes indictees.

“Only when state authorities begin to assume their responsibility and acknowledge that war crimes took place will ordinary people start accepting that as a reality as well,” he said.

Iva Martinovic is an RFE reporter and IWPR contributor in Belgrade.

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