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Mladic behind lock and turn, but the Balkans still on the bare ground

The Trial of Ratko Mladic
Regissør: Robert Miller,Henry Singer

The Trial of Ratko Mladic is an informative documentary that lays the controversy of the war crimes tribunal.


Ratko Mladic, general and commander-in-chief of the Bosnian-Serbian army during the war in former Yugoslavia, is considered by many to be one of the main responsible for the heinous crimes that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.

After fleeing 16 for years, Serbian police finally arrested Mladic in Serbia in May 2011. The trial in the International Court of Justice and the War Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, ICTY, started the same month the following year – almost 20 years after the outbreak of the war.

The court found Mladic guilty of 10 of the 11 charges, which included both genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Many people have been waiting for Mladic to get his sentence, and at the age of 73 he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2017.

The Trial of Ratko Mladic appears in connection with Oslo's largest documentary film festival – Human, from 25. February to 3. March – and invites us into the courtroom and offices in The Hague, where they prepare the case against Mladic. The film serves as a historical glance where we see the video material from the war in Bosnia, but also how the excavation of the mass graves takes place. We witness several moving scenes, including the moment when Elvira Karagic receives a phone confirming that her father and uncle's bodies were found in a mass grave in the village of Prijedor, north of Bosnia – the entire 22 years after they disappeared during the war.


For sure

Ahead of the show, I have been preparing for this to be a heavy film. The Trial of Ratko Mladic is also not a merry sight. But given the cruel history of the war, and Mladic's role in it, it is nevertheless interesting to see this elaborate and informative documentary of 99 minutes.

The general belief in Serbia that the International Court of Justice in The Hague is biased and has no particular legitimacy.

This is a descriptive documentation of testimony, trial and retrospect of the war in Bosnia. When asked what the director's real goal is, I think the answer is as straight forward as their movie: documenting the trial of one of Europe's most wanted war criminals in modern times.

Still, there should be plenty of material to take away when first filming the greatest war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg, with its lifetime of the entire 24 years (1993 – 2017). The court has been widely criticized – for being too biased and too slow – in addition, the courtroom has contained a multitude of bizarre scenes and plays. Most dramatically, it was when Croatian-Bosnian general Slobodan Praljak committed suicide on the direct by pouring poison after receiving his sentence in November 2017. But when it comes to the trial against Mladic, the directors can be said to be on relatively safe ground.

Unlike the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, who led his own defense and died before receiving his verdict, or the trial of Radovan Karadzic, which lasted for eight years, the case for Mladic "only" took five years. Since he was general and commander, there is a lot of film material and many documents that can link him to the scene, which has made the evidence against him relatively simple.

A fair movie?

When asked what the viewer can expect from the film, one of the directors even in an interview with Frontline in 2017 replies that it is a "fair movie". "We film both the prosecution and the defense and explore both sides of these stories of the war," says Robert Miller. But despite witnessing intimate scenes with both Mladic's own family and Mladic sympathizers who tell how he defended the village and their lives, these scenes do not elicit any particular understanding or sympathy with the film's protagonist. Again, the Serbs appear to be the worst villains – now profiled by the greatest villain of all: Ratko Mladic. The Trial of Ratko Mladic therefore contributes yet another nail in the Serbian coffin.

If you ask a Serbian about the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, many people still want to wrinkle their noses. Not because they are particularly supportive of Mladic, as in the film we get the impression that the Bosnian-born Serbs in Bosnia are celebrating Mladic on what has become a day of remembrance in his honor. Today, most Serbs are most concerned about the problems their neighboring countries are also facing: corruption, poverty and unemployment. But few will probably agree with statements from some Bosnian survivors, in which they nod in affirmative to the question of whether justice has been fully accomplished now that Mladic has been convicted. The general view is that the court has been biased and generally has little legitimacy. The trial in The Hague got off to a head start right from the start, when Croatian commander Ante Gotovina, who led Operation Storm, where hundreds of Serbs died and hundreds of thousands had to flee, was acquitted. In addition, the majority of those convicted in The Hague are Serbs, while Kosovo-Albanian criminals have been released and later held senior roles in the Kosovo state apparatus. One can therefore wonder whether the war crimes tribunal has in practice served as a just guideline in the wake of the war. As Mladic's defender says, "It's as if justice is seeking its answer in Mladic, but that's not where it is."

At the age of 73, General and Commander-in-Chief of the Bosnian Serb Army during the war in Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic, in November 2017 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, given the heinous events and the overwhelming evidence in the case against Mladic, there is nothing that should imply that we should take pity on him. But it is a cross of thought that the court has so little legitimacy among the Serbs, which has not helped to improve the reconciliation process after the war.

It is certain that after the ravages of the war, there are now abandoned ghost towns where millions have emigrated to seek jobs and security elsewhere. Current politicians in all the former Yugoslav republics have ties to the war in the 90 century, and rhetoric is largely the same.

The Trial of Ratko Mladic er available at from 1. April.
Freelance writer.

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