Memories of the cruel Balkan Wars of 1992-1995 are already slipping away. But the sentence to life in prison for Serb general Ratko Mladic by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing last week shows that justice occasionally prevails.
These crimes in the Balkans were of epic proportion, sadistic, and profoundly sickening, even to a hardened war correspondent like me.
Serbia’s banker-turned demagogue, Slobodan Milosevic, and Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, formulated a strategy to create an ethnically pure Greater Serbia, purged of Catholics and Muslims, that would recreate the glory of the medieval Serb kingdom. They rose to power on calls to ‘send the Turks (i.e. Muslims) back to Turkey.’ Ironically, Bosnia’s Muslims were mainly descendants of medieval Christian Bogomil heretics who had been savagely persecuted by Orthodox Christians and converted to Islam for protection.
Mladic led the Bosnian Serb army (along with units from Serbia’s Army) in a multi-year campaign to uproot, expel or kill the Catholic Croat and Muslim population of the ex-Yugoslav republic of Bosnia. The Serb Army then turned its murderous rage to the former Yugoslav region of Kosovo that was 95-98% ethnic Albanian. The world learned the term, ‘ethnic cleansing.’
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Gen. Mladic was convicted of engineering the massacre of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, and the bloody siege of Bosnia’s capitol, Sarajevo. Srebrenica was the worst war crime in Europe since World War II. To these atrocities add ethnic massacres across Bosnia and Kosovo, rape camps where Muslim women were routinely violated, and concentration camps where Muslim and Croat prisoners were starved and tortured.
As sadistic Serb paramilitary thugs and the Serb Army rampaged through Bosnia and Kosovo, the world largely averted its eyes, blaming the massacres, rapes, and looting on ‘centuries of hatreds.’ Not true. Modern-day power-thirsty demagogues and the Orthodox Church played the key role.
In truth, the orgy of killing and ethnic uprooting was even quietly welcomed by certain governments, like Greece, France (traditional ally of Serbia), Britain’s Conservatives, Russia, Hungary and Romania.
Britain and France managed to thwart, then delay, multi-national efforts to end the massacres while shedding crocodile tears and secretly aiding Serbia.
Equally contemptible was the reaction of the Muslim world, which averted its eyes while offering bromides and platitudes. The Saudis, self-styled ‘Defenders of Islam,’ were too busy in Europe’s casinos and brothels to care about tortured Bosnia. The Turks, with 600,000 soldiers, were too fearful of angering Europe to do anything. The only peoples to help the Balkan Muslims were some Afghan mujahidin and Iran, which supplied arms to the Bosnians with tacit CIA approval.
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As a keynote speaker at a major Islamic Conference, I could not resist telling the delegates from around the globe: ‘if Jews were being persecuted in Bosnia they way Muslims are, I’m sure the Israeli defense forces would have landed and put Mladic and his Serbs in a cage.’ I was never again invited to speak at an Islamic conference.
In the end, the United States, which had no strategic interests in the Balkans, finally took military action to end the Balkan horrors. American Jewish groups, who knew genocide when they saw it, demanded the Clinton administration take action to end the massacres of the Balkan Muslims. Serbia’s crimes became too egregious to ignore. Clinton ordered military intervention in alliance with Croatia. Serbia finally sued for peace and ended ethnic cleansing. Large numbers of Serbs, Muslims and Croats were left refugees.
This was one of America’s proudest moments since WWII. America became a hero to the entire Muslim world – until the dimwitted George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. American critics who still decry the Balkan intervention simply don’t understand the region or the issues involved.
Today, little Bosnia remains a shattered country, its people still dazed with horror over the evils that have befallen them. Albanian Kosovo also remains walking wounded. Mladic and Karadzic are in prison; Milosevic died of a heart attack during his trial. Many Serbs insist on their innocence and still claim to be victims of plots by Germany and Muslim nations. They won’t accept guilt and move into the 21st Century. Forward-thinking Serbs have embraced Europe.
But just as the world lays to rest the ghosts of Bosnia and Kosovo, a new genocidal horror emerged in Asia as Myanmar (formerly Burma) used murder and rape to terrorize into flight over 600,000 brown-skinned Muslim Rohingyas. Once again, the world watched passively. While Rohingya children starved, the Saudis were busy building new palaces. And once again it may fall to the United States to end these crimes against humanity.