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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July 2005, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Serbs' hero worship sours
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Belgrade

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic
Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic have evaded capture for years

A recent Serbian survey suggested only half the population believed the 1995 Srebrenica massacre by Serb forces of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys had happened.

A further two-thirds in the survey released last month believed those most wanted in connection - Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military counterpart, Ratko Mladic - were innocent men.

And a majority believed that Serbs were the greatest victims of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Less than a week later those convictions were shaken with the broadcast on Serbian television and across the former Yugoslavia of a gruesome video.

They showed members of a Serbian police unit executing Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica.

The tape was shot by a member of the police unit - the Scorpions - and came into the possession of Natasa Kandic, a human rights activist and longtime bete noire of Serbian nationalists.

She passed it to the Hague war crimes tribunal, and prosecutors in Serbia itself.

By the time she had given it to local broadcasters, the arrest of several former members of the Scorpions was already under way.

'Victims'

Reaction from political leaders was swift, spurred on by a visit to Belgrade by UN Chief War Crimes Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. She has consistently berated the Serbian authorities for their failure to arrest Gen Mladic or Mr Karadzic.

If Mladic were arrested tomorrow, there would be a huge outpouring of national outrage - from a handful of people
Serbian journalist

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica described the pictures as "shocking and terrible".

Serbian President Boris Tadic attended the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre on 11 July, saying he wanted "to pay tribute to the innocent victims of the crime committed there". He had not attended the ceremonies before.

He said he hoped that Gen Mladic would be arrested within a few days.

Liljana Smajlovic, a journalist working for the Belgrade political weekly Nin, said the video challenged the way many Serbs see themselves.

"Serbs think of themselves as the victims, the people standing meekly in line in 1941 waiting for the Ustase (Croatian fascists) to kill them during World War II," she said.

"And here is a video showing exactly the same thing happening to Muslims at the hands of Serbs."

The reaction was not quite so uniform on the streets of Belgrade.

One woman told the BBC she had felt ashamed to be a Serb when she saw the killings on TV.

"Those stories the Western media told were true after all," she said.

Others needed more convincing - one man said the killers could only be mercenaries working for Western agencies like the CIA.

This is a country where you can buy lapel badges depicting Mr Karadzic and Gen Mladic in shops run by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Penalties

However, the first few months of 2005 the Serbian authorities surrendered more than a dozen war crimes accused.

Carla del Ponte hands with Munira Subasic, president of association of Srebrenica 1995 survivors.
Del Ponte insisted Karadzic and Mladic must be arrested

The Serbian media carried rumours of Gen Mladic being sheltered at a military base on the outskirts of Belgrade.

Government ministers became more outspoken in their criticism of shadowy elements in the security services that they accused of sheltering suspects.

Despite the support for Mr Karadzic and Gen Mladic expressed by many Serbs, the heavy price for it had long been wearing them down.

The average monthly wage is less than $300. The country's failure to fulfil completely its obligations to the Hague war crimes tribunal are in part to blame for the economic stagnation.

The US has twice frozen aid to the country. Serbia and Montenegro's accession to Nato's Partnership for Peace programme is explicitly dependent on it handing over Gen Mladic. The EU has made it clear that the country has no chance of joining as long as he remains on the run.

Serbs bemoan the fact that neighbouring countries which used to lag behind Yugoslavia - such as Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary - are now ahead of them.

And one of the former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia, is already a fully-fledged EU member.

This means the love affair with The Hague's two most wanted has been strained.

"If Mladic were arrested tomorrow, there would be a huge outpouring of national outrage - from a handful of people," joked one Serbian journalist.


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