Belfast Telegraph

Bosnia showed us all the evil that lingers in Europe’s soul

By Kevin Myers

Two of the moral turning-points in 20th century history occurred in the Balkans. The first was in 1914, with the assassinations in Sarajevo, upon which iceberg the Europe of the empires tore out its hull of common values, commonsense and common civilisation.

From the ruins emerged the genocidal monsters of communism and Nazism. Another, though lesser, turning point came some 80 years later, at Srebrenica, where all the short-lived delusions of post-totalitarian optimism came to a brutal end.

The European man who laid waste to Louvain and slaughtered thousands of civilians in France and Belgium in 1914 was still there, now slaying thousands of Muslims in Bosnia.

How little we knew, we who were shocked by those events in the Balkans and by the utter failure of Europe to do anything about them.

The point is that we Europeans simply didn't know back then what Euroman was still capable of: we thought genocide was a thing of the past; a thing of totalitarians.

This was why anyone who went to Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 came back a changed person. We saw things that we were confident had been consigned to history and heard bizarre things that we thought we would never hear.

Like the mother and daughter in Belgrade, who fervently told me that if Muslim women had been raped in Bosnia, they had almost certainly deserved it.

Or like the bullet-holes fired through the door of a neighbouring house after the woman there refused to admit the strangers outside.

She was barefoot — look, see the bloodied footprints, her belly cascading blood — as she raced back through the house, up the stairs, step by step and sticky footprint by sticky footprint, escaping to the safety of her bedroom.

Ah, but now see the cartridge cases on the bedroom balcony, for her killer had already climbed up a ladder and was awaiting her arrival in this, her place of safety.

See the pool of her blood on the bedroom floor.

And now, see her bloodied soles beside the waxy toes of the octogenarian, common cadavers under a common blanket.

To be sure, Srebrenica, with its 8,000 victims, was of a different order: but morally it was just the same and done with breathtaking cynicism, for the Bosnian Serbs — rightly — believed that Europe would do nothing in reply.

It was left to the US to go to the military assistance of the Bosnian Muslims: and even in a world steeped in ingratitude, surely little compares with the lack of thanks with which Americans have since been rewarded for their efforts.

Six years after Srebrenica came 9/11 and 10 years after it came the invasion of Iraq, precipitating a civil war with many other Srebrenicas to follow.

And now we have Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Yemen: civil war, with civilians as the primary target, is a worldwide norm again.

So Ratko Mladic is not what we thought at the time — a temporary departure from an emerging worldwide norm of respect and tolerance.

No, he was the prototype of a new kind of warrior, who saw honour in the killing of the helpless and glory in brutal ethnic-cleansing.

But back then, this was really unusual, even by the depraved standards of the 20th century, for the earlier totalitarianisms, communism and Nazism, usually had the decency to hide their crimes. Mladic, though, flaunted his atrocities.

It was curiously apposite that the careers of Mladic and Osama bin Laden should have ended so proximately.

One a pseudo-Christian terrorist, the other a pseudo-Muslim terrorist, both cut from the same murderous cloth.

That very cloth is now being woven on looms in many different countries across the world and is why the capture of Mladic is so important — though frankly, I would have preferred it if the SEALs had sealed his fate in their own very sealish manner: the only way to do justice for the slain men and boys of Srebrenica.

It would also have reassured the millions of Muslims who desperately want to live in peace that there are not two rules for war criminals, one for pseudo-Christians and another for pseudo-Muslims.

We who were in Bosnia saw darkness there: we did not know it would spread across the world.

How stupid we were — for is that not the Balkan way?

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph