Twenty years after Ratko Mladic’s forces began raining artillery fire on Sarajevo, the former Serb general looked down again on the Bosnian capital’s main square from a giant screen showing the start of his genocide trial live from The Hague.
Those who had survived a siege in which 10,000 died cursed his name.
But in the cafes of his wartime stronghold of Pale, just 16km away, his every appearance on the television screens set off applause.
“They accused an honourable man,” said Serb student Mladen Mancic. “Crimes were committed by all sides. This is just an honourable man who defended the Serb people. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be here today.”
The scars of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, in which 100,000 people died, are far from healed, anger and hatred kept alive by nationalist leaders and a partisan media frozen in a cycle of accusation and recrimination.
Even in Sarajevo, few seemed to believe a trial could bring healing, or even justice.
“They shouldn’t have tried him. They should have liquidated him immediately,” said Hasna Hadzic, who survived the 43-month siege of what was once a multi-ethnic city.
Mladic, now 70, could be jailed for life if convicted of a list of 11 charges including genocide, murder, acts of terror and crimes against humanity.
Perhaps mercifully, the television pictures did not show him making a throat-slitting gesture in court towards a Muslim woman who lost her husband, son and brothers in the Srebrenica massacre, for which Mladic is also indicted.
Many of those who stopped to watch the screens were angry at the courtesy afforded in court to a man accused of having thousands of corpses bulldozed into pits.
“They let him walk free for 16 years; the whole world let him kill us for years, and now they address him as ‘Mr’ Mladic, ‘General’ Mladic! What ‘Mr’? He’s a killer! It’s so shameful,” said pensioner Asim Dzemat.
However, in Mladic’s native village of Kalinovik in east Bosnia, the view of the tribunal was as clear as it was in Pale. “Nobody has had a fair trial there, and he won’t either,” said Ljubo Mandic. “He was just a career man. He never killed, never slaughtered anyone.”
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