If You Think Eugene Was Worked Up over the Tenth Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

Monday, July 11, 2005

If You Think Eugene Was Worked Up over the Tenth Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

You should see the public soul-searching, recriminations, and general bitterness in the Netherlands surrounding the 10th anniversary of the overruning of the Srebrenica "save haven." In case you've forgotten, UN blue helmets were supposed to be protecting an enclave where Bosnian Muslims could take refuge from Ratko Mladic's thugs, but when the Serbs said, "Out of the way," the peacekeepers more or less responded, "Yes, sir." The Serbs proceeded to separate the Muslim men from the women and children. You can guess what happened next. And if you were really paying attention at the time, you might remember that the peacekeepers who were supposed to prevent the massacre of 8,000 men and boys--the worst in Europe since WWII--were Dutch.

The confusing mixture of emotions in the Netherlands over this anniversary is made only more confusing by some additional elements, including particularly the presence on Dutch territory of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the ongoing trial there of Slobodan Milosevic, and the fact that both Mladic and Bosnian Serb strongman Radovan Karadzic are still at large.

Turn on Nederland 1, the Dutch version of BBC 1, this week and you'll see nightly debates on Srebrenica and a different documentary film on the former Yugoslavia every night for the next 8 days. I saw an impassioned moment from another debate the other evening when the then-Defense Minister was confronted by a woman who said he ought to go to the commemorations in Bosnia, not necessarily to express guilt or take responsibility, but simply to show that Dutch officials who were involved are actually aware of people's suffering (the current Foreign Minister did go to Bosnia). The degree, if any, to which the government should take the blame for what happened is very controversial. Grim photography from the massacre is on display in the Dutch Parliament through October. Meanwhile, taking the American approach, survivors have sued the Dutch government.

Turning to the international front, journalists could pretty much recycle the articles they wrote about recognition of the Rwanda anniversary. See if any of these sounds familiar:

Richard Holbrooke: "Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping and of the United Nations. It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again."

Kofi Annan: A message from U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan repeated that Srebrenica would haunt the world body forever.

Then-NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana (now EU foreign policy chief): "The victims had put their trust in international protection. But we, the international community, let them down. This was a colossal, collective and shameful failure."

And the facts on the ground reaffirm that "never again" doesn't mean that "ethnic cleansing" won't be allowed to work:

Srebrenica, once a bustling Muslim-majority town, today is a dismal shell in the Serb Republic half of Bosnia. From a pre-war population of 36,000 only 9,000 live there now, most of them Serbs. The only visitors are those who tend to the graves.

Yet the evidence of massacre has little influence on those Serbs who insist any killing was simply a hard fact of war or who deny the massacre even happened -- despite a Bosnian Serb report last year acknowledging the mass killings.

Although Bosnia declared Monday a day of national mourning, its Serb Republic said it was "not informed" and largely failed to observe it. In Serbia, only a few private channels offered live television coverage of the ceremony....

The massacre, in the final months of a 43-month war that claimed 200,000 lives, aimed to ensure there were no Muslims to fight back or reclaim Serb-occupied land or homes in the future.

Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and his political master Radovan Karadzic are indicted for genocide for the atrocity. Both remain at large.

"The failure to arrest them is a great failure which we all regret. They must be caught," said Holbrooke.

Don't hold your breath.

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