On June 8, a United Nations tribunal upheld the conviction of Bosnian Serb military leader and war criminal Ratko Mladić for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Bosnian war. The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague rejected Mladić’s appeal and thus upheld his life sentence.
World leaders have welcomed the conclusion of the nine-year trial case against Mladić, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying the final trial “shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable” and “reinforces the our common decision to prevent future atrocities from happening anywhere in the world. ”
While many in the West consider this “justice is served” and a time to turn the page, for Bosnia the wounds of war continue to infest. Mladić and a few of his associates may be behind the gifts but their ideas and actions continue to shape Bosnian politics and damage Bosnian life. His greatest legacy – an ethnically clean autonomous entity, Republika Srpska, excavated in Bosnia – still lives under the direction of his ideological descent and continues to be a model for war criminals and terrorists around the world.
The legacy of the young man
Before the war, the territory now falling within the borders of Republika Srpska was ethnically diverse like other parts of Bosnia, with about 30 percent of the population being Bosnian (Muslim). The genocide, however, has led to ethnic homogeneity, with cities such as Banja Luka, Prijedor, Srebrenica and Višegrad losing the vast majority of their Bosnian population.
Today, at the head of Republika Srpska is Milorad Dodik, fierce denier of the genocide and witness of the defense to the trials of both Mladić and the former president of Republika Srpska and war criminal convicted Radovan Karadžić.
Since taking office in 2006, Dodik has systematically implemented policies to make the lives of Bosnians, who have returned home to Republika Srpska or want to do so, as difficult as possible.
He said Bosnian returnees had come to “reoccupy” what he perceived as land belonging to Serbs. To curb such returns, he advocated for laws allowing the confiscation of the lands and properties of Bosnians and Croats, who were forced to flee during the war.
Under his leadership, schools in Republika Srpska continue to deny the constitutional right of Bosnian children to study in the Bosnian language. State institutions also discriminate against non-Serbs on the occasion of employment and in the provision of services.
The majority of Republika Srpska’s political elite rejects genocide and refuses to convict Mladić, Karadžić or any of the other convicted war criminals. Since May this year, the entity’s legislature has rejected a request by UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko to withdraw government honors given to war criminals, such as Karadžić.
Under this political leadership, there has been no repentance or even a debate throughout society about what happened during the war and convicted war criminals continue to be celebrated. Souvenir shops in the capital of Republika Srpska, Banja Luka openly sell posters, T-shirts and mugs with their faces down, while streets and schools in several cities in Republika Srpska bear the names of war criminals.
Needless to say, the post-war generation – having grown up in this environment of hatred – fully embraces the denial of genocide and Mladić’s legacy. The mayor of Banja Luka, Draško Stanivuković, a member of this generation, is a prime example.
The 28-year-old not only constantly refuses to call Mladić, Karadžić and other war criminals as such, but also appears to be a fan of the fascist “Chetniks”, Yugoslav paramilitary forces allied with Nazi Germany during the second world war. Stanivukovic’s radical views and activism have earned him much praise, even from a convicted war criminal and self-described Chetnik Vojislav Šešelj.
The appeasement of war criminals
The power that Mladić’s legacy continues to hold today has a lot to do with Western policies of appeasement.
It seems that Western Europe has not learned its lesson since the late 1930s when it repeatedly accepted Hitler’s demands, hoping that peace would be dragged only into war. Almost 60 years later, he made the same mistake when he tried to calm the warlords of Republika Srpska.
In the fall of 1995, as soon as the Bosnian Army began advancing against Serbian forces, liberating territories that had been ethnically cleansed, the Clinton administration rushed to end the fighting.
He pushed for peace negotiations and implemented an agreement that outlined the creation of Mladić and Karadžić, Republika Srpska, in the Bosnian constitution, thus giving it international recognition. This move legalized and legitimized the Serbian nationalist cause and sent a strong message that the dream of a “Greater Serbia” is still alive and well achievable.
Over the next two decades, the West continued to appease those genocidal ideologies it upheld. When the United States imposed sanctions on Dodik in 2017, the European Union decided not to follow suit, despite the recognition of the dangerous ethnic politics that the Serbian leader plays in Republika Srpska. In the years that followed, EU capitals continued to receive Dodik on official visits, without reprimanding him in any way for his denial of genocide.
Such manifestations of weakness in the face of genocidal ideologues have called into question the integrity of Western values and sent a dangerous signal to the rest of the world that genocidal enterprises will not be confronted and that their leaders will be appeased only.
The sentences handed down to Bosnian Serb war criminals do not seem to have discouraged atrocities. Over the last decade, genocidal acts have continued to be committed around the world, with little reaction from the international community. Aspiring war criminals see Mladić’s case as a model for successfully legalizing brutal bloodshed. Far-right terrorists, such as Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant, also felt inspired by “heroes,” such as Mladić and Karadžić.
In Republika Srpska, this appeasement encouraged Mladić’s supporters and discouraged any challenge to the dominant narrative of genocide denial. This only deepens the dysfunction of the Bosnian state and pushes the country ever closer to political disaster or even another genocidal conflict.
It is said what Rajko Vasić, the architect of Dodik party ideology, said shortly after a demolition of an Orthodox church built illegally on the land of a Bosnian woman in the village of Konjevic Polje. “In a future war, many innocent lives will perish because of this,” he wrote in a tweet.
Appeasement, as we have learned from history, only leads to war.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.