“You know there are protests in Serbia today because of Mladic, ” I said to a Serbian student at the seminary over lunch.
“Yes, I know…a couple of days ago as well. ” She shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing will happen. Maybe a couple of broken windows…it’s all political.”
I do not know how extensively non-Europeans are following the historic news of Ratko Mladic’s recent arrest, but here in Eastern Europe it features prominently in the media. Mladic faces 15 counts of crimes against humanity (read the charges), most notoriously for his alleged role in the horrific Srebrenica massacre: around 7500 Bosnian Muslims, men and boys who had fled to the town for safety, were systematically killed and piled into graves. Some Muslim women lost their entire male families: husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. Such absolute loss is difficult to comprehend, and consequently the impact of Mladic’s arrest hard to foresee. Will it bring some measure of peace to those who have lost so much? Will it merely stir up bitter, painful memories? (Watch some of the conflicting reactions: Srebrenica and Mladic ).
My Serbian friend’s unperturbed attitude was far from a calloused one. Rather, it reflects her belief that the motives and actions of Serbian political power wielders may or may not have anything to do with the best interest of the people and decisions may or may not be what they seem. Did some people in power know of Mladic’s whereabouts in the 16 years he was at large? Does his sudden arrest have more to do with Serbia’s desire to join the EU than justice?
I continue to try to absorb and understand the former Yugoslavia’s complicated history. In the peace of my room, I read about the various tensions, events, and interpretations of events. But when I leave my room, I watch the people strolling casually by the Drava river, the fishermen pushing their boat away from the shore, the teenagers yelling back and forth as they pedal madly up the path. And I feel the incongruity between the people analyzing the currents flowing in and out of the Balkan context….and the people of the Balkans themselves. There is a danger of embedding oneself in the complexity while losing touch with the individual person’s story. Each person’s hopes, desires, pain, and understanding of the world cannot always be captured by loud generalizations or even thoughtful research.
As thousands of hard-line nationalists turned out to protest Mladic’s arrest, this Serbian minority was overshadowed by a further minority—looting mercenaries taking advantage of a peaceful protest. But this snapshot of news cannot begin to encapsulate the Serbian people—in particular the Serbian who lives in a small village eking out a modest living, whose individual voice is forced into a communal public image created by the media, the loudest voices, and the political powers that supposedly represent him or her. These are the stories that I want to hear. These are the people of whom I wonder…what is God doing in their lives? And how does God’s interaction with each person impact the whole picture?