Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Serbia Tires of War Crimes Fugitives Saga

Limited media coverage of Goran Hadzic arrest reflected his “small fish” status and public fatigue over tribunal’s pursuit of remaining indictees.
By Aleksandar Roknić

Unlike the media frenzy that greeted the arrests of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, Serbian press reporting last week of the detention of ex-Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic was markedly low key, mainly reflecting fact that he did not enjoy the hero status accorded the former Bosnian Serb leaders, analysts say.

The apparent lack of media interest in the arrest of the last remaining Hague tribunal indictee, the commentators add, also suggests that the public have grown tired of the whole war crimes fugitive saga and are eager to put it behind them.

Last week, the Serbian broadcast and print media reported on the arrest of Hadzic in a rather routine manner, focusing not so much on the details of his capture than the charges against him.

Hadzic, the former leader of Serb-held regions of Croatia in the early Nineties, was arrested in Serbia on July 20, after seven years on the run.

He is charged with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the non-Serb population of Croatia, including persecutions, extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, deportation, wanton destruction and plunder.

When Karadzic and Mladic, onetime Bosnian Serb political and military leaders respectively, were arrested, the Belgrade media were heavily criticised for putting too much emphasis on trivial details of their life on the run, their changed appearances and health issues and paying very little attention to the crimes they were charged with.

However, that seems to have changed in the wake of Hadzic’s arrest. In the first hours and days following his capture, much of the Serbian press reported extensively on the allegations against him and didn’t dwell much on his false identity and the fact that he managed to evade justice for so long.

Once the dust had settled, some outlets, mostly tabloids, reported on Hadzic’s alleged extramarital affair and illegitimate daughter.

However, compared to the media frenzy following Karadzic’s and Mladic’s arrest, Hadzic’s case received much les media attention because he was never regarded as a Serbian hero and defender of the Serbian nation - a reputation enjoyed by Karadzic and Mladic – but instead was seen as something of a “small fish”.

News editor at Radio Television Serbia, Nenad Stefanovic, told IWPR that Hadzic was only of interest to the Serbian public and media because he was the last Hague fugitive to be arrested and not because he was important for either Serbia or the tribunal.

“He was a ‘small fish’, which does not mean his deeds were less evil. However, he was not as significant as the fugitives arrested before him, such as Mladic and Karadzic,” Stefanovic pointed out.

Jovanka Matic from the Institute of Social Sciences, said that prior to his arrest many people did not even know who Hadzic was nor what he looked like, because he was not often mentioned in public.

“Therefore, relatively limited media interest in the transfer of the last fugitive [to the Hague tribunal] was to be expected,” she said.

According to Ljubica Gojgic, TV B92 journalist and a long-time reporter based at the Hague tribunal, the coverage of Hadzic’s detention shows that people in Serbia have become tired of the whole issue of war crimes fugitives.

“I am not surprised that capturing Hadzic has not attracted more media interest because even Mladic’s arrest was not covered as much as one would expect,” Gojgic said.

“As Hadzic himself said, he was only a puppet during the war, doing what he was ordered to do.”

Djordje Vlajic, editor-in-chief of the Programme I of Radio Belgrade, told IWPR that the Serbian media reported Hadzic’s arrest much more professionally than the capture of Karadzic and Mladic.

“This time more information was available on why he was sought by the Hague tribunal. However, there were still quite a lot of bizarre details from Hadzic’s life in the media, such as his [alleged] affair and extramarital relationship,” Vlajic said.

Milos Vasic, a journalist with the Belgrade weekly magazine Vreme, told IWPR that both media and the state seemed to have gotten tired of the whole issue of Hague fugitives, particularly because Hadzic was apprehended so soon after Mladic, who was captured in May this year.

“The state authorities did everything they could to get rid of Hadzic quickly and transfer him to the Hague tribunal, even before the seven-day extradition process was over. Hadzic’s lawyer probably realised it was in everybody’s best interest that his client was sent to The Hague as soon as possible,” Vasic said.

“There are still a lot of people in this country who believe Mladic is a hero, but I have not noticed anyone calling Hadzic that. He was not seen off to The Hague by a tearful crowd.”

Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Belgrade.