I arrived yesterday in Serbia’s capital halfway expecting to see abundant signs of a fascist uprising. After all, the fugitive genocidaire Gen. Ratko Mladic was captured just last Thursday, and I’d read Steven Erlanger’s report in The New York Times, among others, about some 10,000 Serbs who rallied for Mladic in Belgrade Saturday night, some throwing stones and bottles, breaking shop windows, calling President Boris Tadic a “traitor,” chanting that Tadic should “save Serbia and kill himself.” Erlanger cautioned that “the protest was not large by Belgrade standards, and the [sponsoring Radical] party is on the margins, having split into two,” but still, the impression I got was that when I arrived here to give some university lectures, I’d find the city obsessed and deeply, conspicuously divided.
Well, there are pro-Mladic graffiti on the downtown walls (MLADIC HERO, reads one). And a right-wing tabloid today devoted almost every inch of its first five pages to him (though saving space for the bikini shots on the front).
The cover headline reads: “I know who killed Ana”—his 23-year-old daughter who (almost everyone besides Mladic himself and his followers believe) killed herself with her father’s pistol in 1994, at a time when Mladic commanded the Serb army that besieged Sarajevo at the cost of many thousands of lives. Ana therefore did not live to see the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica the following year.
I’m informed that many if not most of Mladic’s Saturday-night supporters were from out of town. I asked one Belgrade informant why it took successive regimes almost 16 years to locate the most famous fugitive in the Balkans. “It’s a bad joke,” he told me. “He was ‘hiding’ in the house of his cousin, whose name was ‘Mladic.’ The name on the door was ‘Mladic.’” Even in Belgrade, it’s not hard to find signs of Serbs unreconciled to human rights, the West, its laws, and its military alliance. Posters announce an anti-NATO conference to be held in two weeks. Still, Serbia has no doubt taken a giant step toward EU membership now that Mladic has landed, under armed guard, by helicopter, to stand trial for war crimes in The Hague.
Belgrade is indeed a cosmopolitan European city in many matters of style, down to the riverside factory converted to a formidable jazz-club restaurant called FWM, for Food Wine Music. Such surfaces can surely be misleading (see under China). But there is cosmopolitanism and then there is cosmopolitanism. A second morning paper carries the report of a 19-year-old named Nikola Vlahovic, who was just designated a candidate for the “Hero of Belgrade” prize—this time not by graffiti but by the mayor’s proclamation. A 20-year-old Roma was attacked by three thugs on a city bus, who kicked him around while one of them proclaimed himself “Hitler Number Two” and said that all Roma should be killed.
All of this happened here—the attack, Vlahovic’s rescue of the victim, and the mayoral honor.