The contrasting reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to the arrest of top war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic illustrate the continuing political rift in society.
By Jusuf Ramadanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 23/07/08
Bosnian Muslim men pray for victims of the Srebrenica massacre. The Hague considers Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, the main culprits of the Bosnian 1992-1995 conflict. [Getty Images]
On Monday (July 21st), Serbian police arrested former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, 13 years after the Srebrenica massacre. Many in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) celebrated; however, reactions in Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) diverged starkly.
The Bosniak leadership expressed satisfaction at the belated arrest. The current chairman of the BiH presidency, Haris Silajdzic of the Party for BiH, said on state TV that justice may be slow but eventually arrives; however, he noted that Karadzic's military commander, Ratko Mladic, remains on the run. He said "the genocidal project initiated by those two men should not be left to live" -- referring to RS, which Karadzic led during the BiH conflict.
Sulejman Tihic, president of the Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), echoed that sentiment, saying he hoped that the trial of Karadzic would uncover new evidence and permit review of the merits of RS's existence. He emphasised that RS authorities had never arrested or tried anyone for genocide or mass murder in BiH.
On the other hand, Mladen Bosic, president of Karadzic's Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Banja Luka, described the statements by Silajdzic and other officials in Sarajevo as "political orgies" that indicate a Karadzic trial would turn into a trial of RS.
"The arrest of Karadzic met one of the obligations arising from the Dayton Agreement," RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said. He added that there is no collective guilt that could apply to the Serb ethnic group in BiH or to the whole RS. He also pointed out that suspicions that Karadzic was hiding in RS proved unfounded.
Zeljko Komsic, the Croat member of BiH's tripartite presidency, wrote to Serbian President Boris Tadic, saying that in arresting Karadzic, "Serbia has made a major step both in normalisation of bilateral relations between the two countries, and in stabilisation of the overall situation in the region".
The top international envoy in BiH, Miroslav Lajcak, predicted the capture "would help the citizens of [BiH] turn away from the past and look into the future".
Public response in each of the entities differed too. In Banja Luka, where Karadzic once ruled RS, public behavior was restrained and authorities enforced heavy security.
However, in Sarajevo, which had endured a 44-month-long siege by Karadzic's Bosnian Serb forces, several thousand people came out to the streets to celebrate.
Another such day of divergent reactions may come with the arrest of Mladic.