The general who struck fear into Muslim and Croat hearts

Even now the memory of the sweating, pudgy face has the power to move Bosnian Muslims to fury or tears, the image being one of the most enduring of the Bosnian war.

For most people, that memory is of the television footage of Ratko Mladic, the conquering hero of the Bosnian Serbs, entering the Muslim fastness of Srebrenica in mid-July 1995. In front of the cameras, he looks the personification of magnanimity, patting the heads of nonplussed, mop-headed children and dishing out sweets while their silent, terrified mothers gaped on.

When the cameras switched off, the real - or perhaps just the other - Mladic reasserted itself. Patting of heads ceased. Instead, with ruthless efficiency, he had the men parted from women, the latter shunted speedily from the scene to government-held Tuzla, and the men taken away for mass execution. It was no spur-of-the-moment kind of decision, either, for the Srebrenica massacre took days, thousands of men having fled to the forests to reach Tuzla on foot. Mladic had his men lure them down with loudspeakers, falsely promising mercy.

"They were calling to us by megaphone - they got boys to call their fathers to come down and surrender," one traumatised survivor recalled. "They followed us all the way, whooping and yelling, as though on a hunt for animals. People went mad with fear. Many killed themselves, out of fear of being captured."

Experts have long pondered the berserk, shark-feeding frenzy of the Srebrenica slaughter, and wondered why Mladic did it, for it served no strategic interest, stirring an outcry against the Serbs that haunts them even now.

As Mladic never explained his actions, they have had to delve into history for a rationale, locating it in the traumatic circumstances of his childhood in the Bosnia of the 1940s.

Certainly, Mladic grew up in a rough neighbourhood. Born in mountainous Kalinovik in 1943, two years after the Germans invaded Yugoslavia, his fellow Serbs were then suffering badly at the hands of the Germans and their Croatian Fascist allies, known as the Ustashe, who aimed to empty Bosnia of its Serbs by expulsion and murder. Many in Mladic's family suffered in the bloodbath, which pitched Serb royalists against Communist partisans as well as against the Croats and the Muslims. Nevertheless, if Mladic harboured a vendetta against Croats and Muslims, he kept it well hidden over the next decades when, as the ambitious son of a poor family, he was speedily promoted in the Yugoslav army, spending much of his time in the southern republic of Macedonia.

What pitched him into a key role in Yugoslavia's collapse in the early 1990s was his transfer to Knin, Croatia, in 1991, just as Croatia was seceding from a Yugoslavia under Serbia's nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

The two men bonded fast, Milosevic singling out Mladic as "his man" in an army still dominated by dinosaurs left over from the era of Marshal Josip Tito. Mladic was given the key role in the Croatian conflict, supplying arms to the local Serb rebels and ensuring their success in grabbing as much territory as they could - and with a ruthlessness that should have alerted the world.

For it was here that Mladic stepped into the limelight, slipping off his Yugoslav army uniform and assuming the command of a Bosnian Serb army, which, in theory, had no connection to Belgrade. It was, of course, a fiction, and Mladic retained a hotline to Milosevic that was far more important than his ties to his official commander-in-chief, the Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic.

As military supremo of the Bosnian Serb army in the spring of 1992, Mladic struck terror into the Muslims and Croats, carving out huge areas of territory in north and north-west Bosnia and turning south also, down the Drina river that separates Bosnia from Serbia, with the aim of hemming the Sarajevo government into a small space. The death toll was staggering. So was the phenomenon of the Serbs' prison camps at Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje, names that were to become synonymous with death camps.

Sarajevans had special reason to fear the general, as Mladic's army vainly attempted to blast its way into the city in 1992, raining down shells. His voice was captured on shortwave radio, urging his men to "scorch their brains" with missiles.

The year 1992 was - in his own eyes - his finest hour, with Croats and Bosnians both practically knocked out and the Serbs in possession of vast territories. It was also the start of his decline, as Milosevic began to draw in his horns and abandon his bloodthirsty henchmen to their fate. And, as the Croats and Muslims recovered their nerve, Mladic's gains were steadily rolled back.

After big losses in 1995 culminated in the Dayton peace accord, which ended the Bosnian conflict, he was peremptorily sacked as Bosnian Serb commander and went to ground, now pursued also by The Hague war crimes tribunal. His former patron, Milosevic, of course, is now on trial, having been handed over years ago. If Mladic ends up in a cell beside him in The Hague, it will be a strange reunion.

The author is an expert on the Balkan conflicts and has written, 'Croatia: A nation forged in war'

The charges against Ratko Mladic

Under an indictment last amended in October 2002, the UN war crimes tribunal charged Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 1992 and 1996.

A summary of the charges:

* Two counts of genocide and complicity in genocide (Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia)

* Seven counts of crimes against humanity: persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; extermination; murder; deportation; inhumane acts; inhumane acts of forcible transfer (Srebrenica and 27 other towns and villages); inhumane acts and murder (Sarajevo)

* Six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war: two of murder; unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians; cruel treatment; attacks on civilians; taking hostages (UN and military observers)

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes