Mladic - the making of a butcher
by Bojan al Pinto-Brkic
In case it has been forgotten, Ratko Mladić was on the eve of the war an unimportant JNA officer, a commander of artillery units in Skopje, a man whose name might appear only in short items published in [the Belgrade daily] Politika. A cadre from Kalinovnik, a graduate of the military-industrial school who specialised in logistics in a system in which the JNA was considered the guardian of the constitutional order, he would probably have reached the rank of colonel and ended his military career in a provincial garrison. He would have gained a flat, a pension, and the respect of his neighbours, who would have elected him president for life of their tenants’ association.
The turning-point in his career came during the preparations for war. Someone from the very top of the [Serbian] government, wishing to ingratiate himself with the new Leader who had already produced a war plan and the determination to go all the way, must have asked someone at the top of the military establishment, perhaps the federal secretary for national defence Veljko Kadijević himself, to instruct the personnel commission to find the right person, a mean-spirited senior officer from a rural area, insufficiently educated and with a problematic personality, who took pleasure in human suffering and did not understand much about politics. They must have spent a lot of time poring over the files. It was not an easy choice.
The job description
It is not clear how it came about that Mladić was appointed commander of the JNA 9th corps, with its headquarters at Knin. He had neither the necessary experience nor the right training for that post. He came, in other words, through the political line. At that time the army was only formally under the control of the federal government and the Yugoslav presidency. The generals were openly enamoured of Milošević, while he needed someone who would instil fear on the ground. Mladić’s job description included disarming police, capturing villages, burning houses, deporting population, murdering, threatening civilian authorities. He loved every moment of it. The orders came from the very top, the confidential invitations, the couriers, the messages signed by Him. Mladić became the main executor of a great plan, a man of the utmost confidence. At this time, in mid 1991, he must already have met Milošević. Their relationship marked the end of the 20th century. Together they changed the image of the Balkans, and their evil-doings entered into history textbooks. A multiple killer and his enraged mentor.
According to the laws of the former Yugoslavia, Mladić’s activities against the civilian population should have brought him before a military court. Instead he was promoted three times within a year, an advance without precedent in the history of the Serbian army, inclusive of the wars of national liberation. Ask Borisav Jović, Branko Kostić and Jugoslav Kostić on what basis. The forces against which he fought in Croatia had hardly any artillery, and the enemy air force consisted of agricultural and sports aircraft armed with boilers primed to explode.
In April 1992, on the eve of the referendum on the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mladić was appointed - in equally mysterious circumstances - chief of staff of the 2nd military district, with its headquarters in Sarajevo. The army, now under Milošević’s full control, did not wonder what was the point of filling a command post that was planned to disappear following evacuation, nor how it was possible for the choice to fall on an officer lacking sufficient strategic education and formative experience. Mladić held the rank of deputy-colonel-general and war laurels. Everyone knew, after all, who his master was. This is why he was appointed chief of staff of the Bosnian Serb forces. Radovan Karadžić promptly pinned a third star on his epaulets, in order to prevent - God forbid! - the presence of a higher-ranking officer in the newly created army. Milošević’s favourite had to command with unquestioned authority.
As for Mladić’s warring in Bosnia, we have the indirect testimony of two men whose names Serbian history will likewise remember. General Jovan Divjak, deputy chief of staff of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and chevalier of the French Legion of Honour, recalls that at the start of the three-year siege of Sarajevo he, as commander of its defence, had at his disposal three tanks (which were soon destroyed); that only one third of his men had any weapon (usually of the hunting variety); and that some of his brigade commanders lacked basic military training. And Dobrica Ćosić, the president of FRY, made a lengthy speech at a session of parliament - which, on the initiative of the Radicals, was debating his dismissal for allegedly planning a coup d’état - in which he defended his patriotic credentials by providing the details of how many hundreds and thousands of items of weaponry and equipment had been sent to the Bosnian Serbs. Since Ćosić would hardly have lied about such matters, we can assume that Mladić’s army did not lack weapons or ammunition.
Years of rampage
On the ground Milošević’s favourite won fame as the commander of forces which renewed the memory of concentration camps, turned rape practically into a form of sport, and held cities under siege. These were the years of rampage by barbarian groups (the Serbian public learned of individual cases only after they were brought before a court), when Biljana Plavšić was justifying ‘scientifically’ the campaign to cleanse the genetic structure of the Bosnian population. European states would have continued to this day to send their incompetent generals to drink šljivovica and eat gibanica with Mladić but for Srebrenica, that supreme crime. Milošević had envisaged the removal of the Bosniaks from the enclaves in eastern Bosnia. The plan was that Mladić would cleanse the area, while Belgrade would constructively contribute to the peace efforts (who should get the municipalities from which thousands of Bosniaks had disappeared as if by a miracle?).
Following Dayton, Milošević rewarded his favourite with the rank of colonel-general, a special status at the 30th Cadre Centre, and a villa in Blagoje Parović Street close to the Košutnjak [park], doubtless in order to remind him of those days spent in the Bosnian forests. The market value of this property amounts to several people’s lifetime earnings. What Mladić had done for him, however, could not be expressed in money terms: Milošević would never have been able so successfully to damage the state, destroy society, or impose upon the nation a historic burden, without Mladić as chief subcontractor.
In order to understand the hesitation on the part of the authorities which replaced Milošević on 5 October 2000 to bring Mladić to justice - whether then or now - one must understand the whole complexity of what his story stands for. He was not only Milošević’s favourite and the hero of nationalist circles, but also an all-rounder in the Serbian expansionist adventure that knew no limits. He is our guarantee against stability and advance in Bosnia. He is the barrier to the establishment of credible institutions in Serbia. He is a challenge to the sense of justice everywhere in the world.
Translated from Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade), nos 91-92, January-February 2006