Tadic, a former cafe owner and police reservist, stood with a strained smile on his face as sentence was passed. He waved to his supporters in the public gallery as he was led away.
The sentence brought an angry response from Bosnian Serb leaders, with complaints about a "political sentence". Elsewhere, too, his supporters were ready to suggest that Tadic was a misunderstood man. In London, the Serb-born organiser of an exhibition of Tadic's paintings argued: "A person who paints like this can't possibly be the person they have made him out to be ... Personally, I've never come across a violent artist." (The example of the Austrian landscape painter who ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945 presumably did not come to mind.)
Above all, Bosnian Serb leaders are now worried that tougher action may follow against the string-pullers of the Bosnian war, including Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, generally seen as main instigators of the murderous policy of ethnic cleansing.
When Tadic was first put on trial in 1995, after his arrest in Germany the previous year, there was little obvious enthusiasm at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague. One of the judges involved with the tribunal said: "He is not the level of person I would like to see at The Hague. I think they should have aimed higher up."
The US presiding judge, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, spoke yesterday of Tadic's "sadistic brutality". But, although Tadic practised his cruelty at the notorious Omarska camp, few would tag him as a national ringleader. The court talked of the "virulent propaganda" of Serb nationalist leaders. But Ms McDonald noted that Tadic must take responsibility for his own actions. "To condone your actions even when committed in this context is to give effect to a base view of morality."
If the sentencing of Tadic came in a void, it would have seemed almost to be petty revenge. But the seizing last week of one war crimes suspect, and the killing of Simo Drljaca, a former police chief who opened fire on British troops in order to resist arrest, suggests that times have changed. Tadic is therefore to be the last war criminal to be jailed. His lawyer yesterday complained: "What the court does is place him at the top of the ladder ... The fact is he was a very small player." There is a grain of truth in those words. But Tadic may not stay at the top of the ladder for long.
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