‘I have dreamt three times about him. I dream he returns from somewhere, smartly dressed. I ask him: “Where have you been”, and he replies: “Here I am”. “What has kept you away?”, and he replies: “Well, you know…” This always lasts only briefly, after which I am no wiser than before. I know that I’m alone and that I’m waiting for him. I dreamt once that he was in Zvornik, and that I travelled there on the number ten train. I meet him in the street: “Where have you been?” “I’m here”, he says. “Why not come home?” And he says: “I can’t, not yet”.’
This is what Bosa [Mladic] told the journalists, before joining other wives and mothers who on 11 July will mourn in front of six hundred and thirty-one freshly dug up graves. Next to each grave is a coffin covered with a green cloth, with only the six hundred and thirty-first covered with a red-blue-and-white tricolour. This coffin alone among them is empty, with a wooden cross above it, the only cross among the Muslim gravestones; and Bosa standing beside it is the only Christian woman among hundreds of Muslim women.
After Reis Mustafa Ceric has finished the dženaza over six hundred and thirty gravestones, the requiem for the only Christian buried at Potocari will be said by Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda, who in a moving voice will mention the deceased’s inconsolable widow Bosa – there she stands, next to the only cross in the graveyard – who all these years has harboured the hope that her husband will one morning appear at the front door, silently embrace her and ask her to make him a coffee. Harboured this hope until the First Municipal Court in Belgrade officially declared Ratko Mladic dead, two weeks before the commemoration.
The scene you have just witnessed is not simply tasteless irony on my part. The irony, in fact, is not mine.
Bosa Mladic and her son Darko are planning formally to ask the First Municipal Court in Belgrade to declare her missing husband Ratko, retired officer of the Army of Serbia, last seen in early 2003, dead. If the court receives her request in time, and begins the usual legal procedure, there is a real chance that he might be officially declared dead by the beginning of July, after which there are no formal obstacles to Ratko Mladic being buried at Potocari on 11 July.
Bosa, to be sure, never mentioned this, nor would she ever do so. It is I who is formally requesting, in the name of Mladic’s lawyers, the First Municipal Court and the relevant bodies of Republika Srpska that they should enable the family of Ratko Mladic, retired officer of the Army of Serbia, to bury their husband and father at Potocari on 11 July 2010, because here is the proper place for their defendant, since if he were proclaimed dead Srebrenica would finally have got him, just as it got the eight thousand males who in 1995 disappeared in this vale of horror.
For General Ratko Mladic, fleeing from the charge of genocide at Srebrenica, as a consequence of that flight came to be separated from his family, and has spent years as a vagabond in army barracks, atomic shelters, other people’s apartments, monasteries and caves. And fleeing thus from justice, he fell sick and had a stroke. Srebrenica will thus in the end cost him his life, if only officially. For Ratko Mladic would neither satisfy the conditions – nor would there be reason for him – to be proclaimed dead, were it not for the eight thousand dead at Srebrenica, and the many other thousands of dead in Croatia and elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Nor is it tasteless irony that the hundreds of thousands of people who would love to see him dead are hoping to find him alive; whereas the two people who more than anyone in the world would love to see him alive are hoping that the court will nevertheless declare him dead. One should not question too closely a family’s hope and love. So Bosa’s request that her husband should be declared dead is likewise no tasteless irony, irrespective of her motivation – whether it be the uncertainty and the burden of her destiny; or the real estate, the property and the frozen three and a half million dinars of Mladic’s pension. Nor is it tasteless irony even for the wives and mothers who have spent all these years suspended between the vague belief that their husbands and sons will somehow one day return to say wearily: ‘Here I am’ and the uneasy hope that the telephone will ring, that an official envelope will arrive from Tuzla, and that it will all finally be over.
Like Kada Hotic, for example, whose husband Sead, son Samir, brothers Ekrem and Mustafa, brothers-in law and numerous cousins were taken away by Mladic’s army, never to be seen again. Her story is chosen here at random, out of eight thousand similar such stories.
‘I have dreamt three times about my son. I dream he has returned from somewhere, smartly dressed. I ask him: “Where have you been”, and he replies: “Here I am”. I ask:”What has kept you away?” And he replies:”Well, you know…” This always lasts only briefly, after which I am no wiser than before. I know that I’m alone and that I’m waiting for him. I dreamt once that he was in Zvornik, and that I travelled there on the number ten train. I meet him in the street: “Samir, where have you been?” “I’m here”, he says. “Why not come home?” And he says: “I can’t, not yet”.’
It is not, I repeat, tasteless irony to insert the words of Kada Hotic, or any other of the eight thousand women from Srebrenica, into Bosa Mladic’s hope: Bosa has the right to hope, just as she has the right to ask the court to proclaim her husband dead. It is tasteless irony, however, when Bosa’s hope is shared by her own and her husband’s lawyers; when the hope and the request for the proclamation of General Mladic’s death is shared by the whole of ‘patriotic’ Serbia and Republika Srpska; when they hail the lawyers’ acumen that will finally house Bosa and Darko in the general’s apartment, and give them the general’s accumulated pension, while at the same time freeing Serbia and Republika Srpska from the mortgage of the fugitive, protected war criminal – now officially dead according to some decision or other of some court or other, hence officially un-tried, hence officially un-convicted, hence officially dead and innocent.
This, then, is the tasteless irony. The fact that Mladic’s lawyers and the Serb ‘patriots’ who for the past fifteen years have been arguing that the Srebrenica genocide never happened (and who at regular intervals publish all manner of lists of living Muslims proclaimed dead and buried at Potocari, but discovered alive and well on electoral registers in Australia or Austria) – the fact that they are now burying a living general to be found on the register of the Army of Serbia’s pension fund. The platoon of honour has already held the requiem, dug a hole in the law, and with all military honours lowered into it an empty coffin. After all (if you haven’t had enough tasteless irony), Ratko Mladic, according to them, is not in the country anyway [zemlja = ‘country’, but also ‘ground’].
Inspired by such tasteless irony, on this coming 11 July the Serb ‘patriots’ will be burying Ratko Mladic in Srebrenica, interring the killer among the killed, the executioner among the executed. Mladic’s friends will be digging the eight-thousand-and-first grave at Potocari, a monument to the idea that a Serb grave marks the presence of Serbia, a land-claim marker for Serbia where Serbia has never been before. And you will see them too, on the forthcoming 11 July, there in their black T-shirts bearing the general’s image, those who will be burying Ratko Mladic while shouting: ’Long live Ratko Mladic!’
Translated by Bosnian Institute,
from Nezavisne Novine, Banja Luka, 27 May 2010