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Recent Hague Verdicts are a New Chance to Examine U.S.-Balkan Relations

Recently there have been two major verdicts in the International Criminal Court, located in The Hague. This brings back memories of the wars in the Balkans of the 90s, conflicts where the United States also played a significant role. Serbia has long felt that this tribunal holds an anti-Serbian bias, evidenced by the much larger number of Serbs who have been tried for alleged war crimes, while a “split decision” regarding crimes against Serbs have also created controversy.

For instance, Croatian General Ante Gotovina had his conviction overturned in a 3-2 decision after originally being convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity with a 24-year prison sentence. Serbia firmly believes he committed ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia. In fact, its current president, Tomislav Nikolić, even stated, “if we had reasons to believe that the tribunal is neutral, fair and more than a court only for Serbia and its people, these reasons are now annulled with the acquittal of war criminals.”

Serbia’s frustration can be emphasized with, given that they handed over Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, who have prominently been accused of roles in the Srebrenica massacre. Karadzic was just recently convicted on March 24 and given a 40-year sentence, accounting for time served and early release, he will be nearly age 90 before eligible for release. This was also a matter of some controversy given there was virtually no evidence linking him to any direct involvement to any sort of crime.

Conversely, on March 31, Vojislav Šešelj, former deputy prime minister of Serbia was acquitted on all charges for his alleged involvement with war crimes during the Yugoslav wars. Unlike the Bosnian Serb leaders who were arrested, he voluntarily turned himself in and spent 11 years incarcerated before being released on humanitarian grounds in 2014. The fact that it took 13 years to find a man not guilty is pretty disturbing. While some of his views are regarded as extreme or nationalistic, this does not necessarily make someone guilty of war crimes.

During the Yugoslav wars, there were certainly atrocities committed by Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslims, but the United States’ involvement should not be understated, and I for one do not understand why. There was a long history of friendly relations between the United States and various nations in the region, with Serbia at the top of that list. They were our trusted allies in both World Wars and took some of the most horrendous losses facing overwhelming odds. President Ronald Reagan even once stated when referring to the leader of the Serbian Royalists, (who eventually lost the country to their socialist foes at the end of World War II, partially due to an abandonment of Western support) “the fate of General Mihailovich is not simply of historic significance-it teaches us something today as well. No Western nation, including the United States, can hope to win its own battle for freedom and survival by sacrificing brave comrades to the politics of international expediency.” This same faction was responsible for saving approximately 500 downed U.S. airmen, yet the United States abandoned our long-term allies.

It is no wonder today that while many Serbs wish to join the European Union, there is still a natural pull towards Russia and a remembrance of broken trust from the past. No one even dares mention the fact that the Clinton administration’s ruthless bombing campaign resulted in the deaths of more than 5,000 Serbian civilians, as well as massive damage to infrastructure. I find it disgusting that not a single Republican will use this as an attack against the Democratic Party’s front-runner due to her husband’s involvement. If that is not a war crime, then I question what would qualify.

People generally treated with respect and admiration in the United States, such as former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and General Wesley Clark are some of those who played a prominent role in this. There were many war crimes committed by Muslim Albanians in Kosovo as well, yet they are overshadowed by the fact that United States policy is adamant that our once dear allies be denied a treasured piece of their homeland which they held for some 1,200 years until the demographics were forcefully altered in modern times. There are not enough people willing to speak important truths, and I for one will never be among them. U.S.-Balkan relations, and more specifically U.S.-Serbian relations, are a matter deserving of much more attention and focus.

Photo by @BalkanNewsbeat

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