When it comes to genocide and similar grave “political” crimes, one can always recognize three key and essential roles: The Ideologue, The Politician and The General. The Ideologue is always seeking for his Politician, The Politician for his General. Only after they recognize each other, the moment is ripe for action.
Even while they are still looking for each other, an ambience is being created in which The Ideologue’s ideas or ideology, or The Politician’s politics do not have to be fully spelled out; they work even if reduced to more or less subtle hints, which receive their true meaning due to the created ambience which turns them into self-evident orders and finally into action.
Of course, this is a symbolically simplified image. For The Ideologue has his followers among the intellectual elite and the media through which he dissipates his ideas and influence, at the same time creating the ambience; The Politician uses his party and his voters to win the state apparatus and power; and The General has his army ready to follow his orders (all due respect to deserters). This enables them to claim that they only execute the “people’s will”. Even Hitler said: “We will invoke public opinion once we have created it.” But the fact remains that these three represent the main dramatis personae: The Ideologue, The Politician, and The General.
Post factum, the first will argue “that it’s not what he really meant”, the second “that it’s not what he really ordered” and the third “that he was only an instrument of the prevailing policy and zeitgeist” (e.g. the assassin of Zoran Djindjic put it most clearly: “I’m just a bullet, I fly to where I’m aimed at, it’s others that pull the trigger “).
Two days after his arrest, according to a Belgrade daily, general Mladic was quoted with a big headline as saying: “I am not to blame, YOU VOTED FOR MILOSEVIC.” In the following article this headline is explained further: “During his hearing, at times, Mladic was in the mood for jokes (?!) at the expense of those present, as well as politicians: ‘Don’t blame anybody else, it’s your fault, you elected Milosevic, not I.'”
There is nothing remotely funny in this Mladic’s statement. It’s an essence of his defense, the classic defense of the executioner, which could be broken down and summarized as follows: (1) I didn’t choose Milosevic, he chose me; (2) Milosevic has been chosen by Serbian people; (3) I was just executing his policy; (4) Therefore, I was a meagre instrument of the popular will, and finally (5) in whose name are you now calling me responsible?
Fundamentally, there is no fault to this logic. Except, of course, that Mladic allowed himself to be instrumentalized, displaying an enormous excess of enthusiasm along the way.
It has been often noticed that the main perpetrators of crimes committed in our name, while advocating the idea of collective guilt, are in fact trying to dilute their own, the individual one. The “collective” is too often ready to oblige: “We Are All Mladic”, “We Are All Gotovina”, “Milosevic’s trial is a trial of Serbian people”, “The Hague is the result of Serbophobia”.
The “collective” plays along since it’s ruled by tribal consciousness, an organic connection between all members of the tribe – if you harm one of us, you are harming each one of us, individually! Our individual lives have value and meaning only as long as we are part of the tribe. As once put by The Ideologue: “To be a Serb, and to be a man, is one and the same.”
For all these reasons, Mladic’s arrest and trial could be anticlimactic. Instead of the desired cathartic effect, depression, apathy and further drowning into nationalism of resent may set in, at least for 71% of those who, according to the polls, would not report Mladic’s place of hiding, or 51% of those who think that he should not be extradited to the Hague Tribunal.
This lends even more power to Mladic’s question: in whose name are you now extraditing me? His extradition, as well as Milosevic’s, to an INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL, was and is happening against the will of the majority. In a country still ruled by populism, in which democracy is exclusively understood as the (even undemocratic) rule of majority, this fact creates special problems. Despite the minority support, the decision by the current authorities to extradite Mladic is deeply democratic; this move, as well as decision to extradite Milosevic, was under the circumstances brave, which also means it was very risky.
It shows, once again, that the problems of this country are not strictly political; the core problem is the destroyed society and its distorted set of values.
On the other hand, even the delayed signs of responsible leadership in the political sphere, which makes decisions, in emergency, against the will of the majority, may in turn have a positive effect on the character of the society and its sense of right and wrong. If the Serbian government’s interpretation of this decision reassures us that it was not just a desperate political move of last resort (a lesser evil enabling us to get the EU membership candidacy, or access to EU funds, etc.), defending the decision exclusively with the arguments of morality and justice and not by utilitarian apologies – there would be hope.
To such an interpretation of Mladic’s arrest, the necessary credibility cannot be granted solely by words, but also by deeds: vigorous prosecution of all those who helped in hiding Mladic, including, beside detected accomplices, current and former members of the Army, police and justice authorities. Only then it could be “crystal clear” (Boris Tadic) that the act of Mladic’s arrest and extradition is the beginning of the final confrontation, not only with The General but also with the remnants of The Politician’s power, and even of The Ideologue himself. Only this would silence those who call this extradition – “trade”.
Translated by Lana Budimlic