Ratko Mladic arrest stirs unhappy memories in Sarajevo

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News stand in Sarajevo 27 May 2011
Image caption,
Ratko Mladic's face is emblazoned across news stands in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo

I meet Muki outside the Ferhadija mosque in the heart of the Bascarsija, the old town of Sarajevo. It is 11 at night, on the day they caught Ratko Mladic.

There is a lightness in the air, a mood of celebration among Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) about the arrest. But Muki - short for Muamera - says she can no longer share it.

"First reaction was, right, good news," she says.

"But then, as I turned on the TV and watched all the footage... the scenes from the war... it brought back all the bad memories, stuff that I normally have flashbacks and nightmares about, that I and everybody [else] tries to block out. So it is not a happy day for me."

A 17-year-old student at the beginning of the war, Muki stayed in Sarajevo throughout the siege, attending classes under sniper and mortar fire, and later going out to film with the Bosnian army.

She speaks of her friends and relatives killed or maimed in the war, of those who left the country never to return and of the continuing consequences today.

"I ate grass for four years. I still can't eat meat or butter or anything which is hard to digest 15 years later. One of the memories I have is when I actually saw an egg. In Zenica. I thought - oh my God, they have eggs," she says.

The mood on the Serb side of the city is rather different. Police stop and search cars and check identity papers.

There was a small protest against the arrest in the Bosnian Serb wartime headquarters in Pale, but it only consisted of cars driving through the streets, honking horns and waving Serbian flags.


"People like to see themselves as victims, they create legends of victims," says Mladen Ivanic, a former Bosnian foreign minister regarded as a moderate Bosnian Serb politician and now in opposition.

He makes clear he is talking of all sides in Bosnia, not just the Serbs. He is pessimistic about the near future.

"Nothing will change as long as the current generation of politicians is in power. Only a new generation and time, time, time is the key," he says.

However, he is more optimistic for the long-term future.

"Once Croatia is in the European Union, then Serbia can follow, then Bosnia too. People need to concentrate more on everyday issues. We need to make Bosnia boring again," he says.

In his flat overlooking the main road into the city from the airport, Milorad Batinic is philosophical about his one-time commander, Ratko Mladic.

"Mladic was a good soldier, a brave soldier, not a saloon officer," he says.

His men admired him then and admire him still, because he was with them in the front lines. And Srebrenica?

"Srebrenica was a stupid mistake, Mladic was a lousy politician," he says.

As we speak, the bells ring out from the Serbian Orthodox church across the street, where the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, was blessed by an Orthodox priest on the eve of the war in March 1992. Ratko Mladic may now join him, in detention in The Hague.

I leave Sarajevo for the long drive to Srebrenica through Republika Srpska, the Serbian-controlled half of Bosnia. The plain of Romanija is a scene of peacetime bliss, herds of sheep grazing in green fields littered only with dandelions. Cows with bells walk beside the road as it winds through pine forests.

Ratko Mladic's favourite Jela restaurant, near the village of Han Kram, is in ruins now - the victim not of war but of the privatisation process.

I asked Muki: "Who won the war?"

"The Bosnian Serb goal was: no Bosnia and no Muslims. But there is still a country called Bosnia, whose capital is Sarajevo," she says.

"They have to drive under our licence plates whether they like it or not. There is a Bosnian passport, the army is unified, the taxation authority is unified, the intelligence service, everything is unified and centralised. That is what we have been fighting for, so if you put it that way, we won.

"But the fact is that the war has not been won by either side. The only correct term would be that it is a frozen conflict."