Two faces of Republika Srbija: the hopeful future, the shameful past

Just as Novak Djokovic showed off the best of Serbia with his Wimbledon win yesterday, so today the world saw the worst - war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic at The Hague.

Just as soon as Novak Djokovic showed the world the best Serbia has to offer, the engraving barely cold on his Wimbledon trophy, so the world witnessed the very worst: Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic back at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, defiant, unrepentant, disruptive, unapologetic.


Today Mladic was removed from his hearing after quarrelling with the judge, the court entering a plea of not guilty on his behalf. He faces a total of 11 counts of genocide of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Srebrenica; persecutions; extermination and murder; deportation and inhumane acts; terror and unlawful attacks; and the taking of UN hostages.

He is charged in connection with the Srebrenica massacre – Europe’s single worst atrocity since World War Two – in which 7,500 Muslims were massacred, and is also charged over the 44-month siege of Sarajevo from May 1992 – in which 10,000 people died.

So, how easy will it be for new Serbia to consign Mladic, Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic to the past? And what does the future hold for the Serbia of Djokovic and president Boris Tadic?

The arrest and prosecution of Mladic, and the determination of Tadic to face down the ultra-nationalists who protested his capture, will do much to accelerate Serbia’s rehabilitaion, removing one of the key barriers to accession to the European Union; Djokovic’s advance to the summit of the tennis world rankings, and his imperious dethroning of Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon the icing on the cake.

Certainly, the unreconstructed elements are still there, from the pro-Milosevic graffiti scrawled on walls in central Belgrade and the selling of Mladic t-shirts at Belgrade’s main train station, to the subtle distrust of foreigners – or at least those who obviously look like foreigners.

Yet in Tadic and Djokovic – the man every Serbian boy wants to be, and every Serbian girl wants to be with, whose visage adorns billboard after advert after magazine cover – the future is brighter for Serbia than perhaps it’s ever been, even more than after the fall of Milosevic a decade ago.

As Misha Glenny wrote in The Guardian recently:

“It was fitting that Serbia’s president, Boris Tadić, himself announced the arrest of Ratko Mladić in Belgrade. Nobody has put in a greater effort to run down the indicted war crimes suspect than Tadić… What Boris Tadić has done with Mladić is to take a huge step towards the moral rehabilitation of Serbs and Serbia whose reputation was so catastrophically compromised by the wars of the 1990s.

“He deserves our support and respect.”

Though one can never forget the horrors of Milosevic, Mladic and Karadzic, nor should, Serbia now is a much changed place, its leaders looking outwards, to the future, to Europe, to the world, where its favoured son now sits atop.

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