Bosnian Journal

By Joe Rubin

Saska Rankovic Reporter Saska Rankovic

A Cloud Hangs Over Belgrade

We catch a 6 a.m. flight to Belgrade, and very quickly we get a window into why it might be so difficult for Serbia to deliver General Mladic to The Hague Tribunal. It turns out that Serbia is teetering on a fundamental shift back to a kind of nationalism that is even more extreme than that of Milosevic and the Radicals. The Radicals were a party essentially created by Milosevic back in the 1990s as a tool to show the outside world that a political group more anti-Western, more hateful toward Muslims, aspired to an even more crazy and grandiose vision of greater Serbia than Milosevic had. The Radicals’ official leader, Vojislav Seselj, is today at The Hague Tribunal awaiting trial for charges of committing war crimes. In the Radicals’ office, which I visited two years ago, there are messianic posters of Seselj everywhere.

Today the Radicals are the biggest party in Serbia, and in an interview Jennifer and I conduct with Saska Rankovic, a reporter I’ve known since her days as a gutsy independent journalist battling Milosevic with a pen, we learn that the only thing keeping the Radicals from coming to power is the fact that they prefer to be an angry opposition, playing on the economic problems that beset the country. The government is a hodgepodge coalition, and power hangs on such a thread that it’s the support of three members of parliament from Milosevic’s old party, the Socialists, that is keeping it from falling to the Radicals.

Saska points out that until just recently, Serbia’s powerful prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, was against cooperation with The Hague and that he bitterly opposed the extradition of Milosevic by then Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The Zemun gang, a feared organized crime unit that was also tied to war crimes in Bosnia, assassinated Djindjic in 2003. Saska says she believes that a small band of military officers and secret military police know where Mladic is and are protecting him.

Saska also says it is believed that there are negotiations going on between Kostunica and Mladic involving a very large sum of money that would go to his family should he surrender. It’s hard to put a price tag on Mladic’s surrender. His remaining at large is the trump card that is keeping Serbia from moving toward the European Union, and membership in the European Union is, as they say in those credit card ads, priceless -- certainly worth billions of dollars. You can see why someone would want to pay Mladic a few million to turn himself in.

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“Bosnia: The Men Who Got Away” is Joe Rubin’s third broadcast story for FRONTLINE/World. He has produced and reported for ABC’s Nightline, including his 2000 documentary on an emerging resistance movement against Slobodan Milosevic, which got him hooked on the Balkans. He also produced the Rough Cut “Dark Shadows,” which covers the rise of nationalism in Serbia. An unbridled enthusiast for the possibilities of video journalism, Rubin spent time in Latin America as a Knight Fellow, where he taught digital journalism in Panama, El Salvador and Ecuador. Recently, Rubin’s been working on the Pitch Room, a program in development with HBO. He lives in San Francisco.