Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rumors of a major event

His name is Ratko Mladic and, for a decade, he's been the most wanted man in the Balkans. Today, Belgrade television stations are reporting that he's finally in custody.

I had a meeting scheduled with the TV news team for whom I'm consulting, but we had to cancel it. The team members spent last weekend at Mladic's birthplace in Bosnia in anticipation of his arrest. Now they're putting together the whole story. Our meeting will have to wait.

Rumors. There always rumors -- rumors that government officials in Serbia have finally caved in to the pressures and sent police or arrest the man many believe was responsible for the worst case of genocide in the Europe since World War II. Today, journalists here a nearly certain that the arrest took place.

Government officials in Belgrade, many believe, have finally decided that the price the pay for protecting Mladic is too high -- it could prevent Serbia from becoming a member of the European Union.

There have been numerous reports that Mladic recently was living in Belgrade. Until just months ago, reports say, he was actually receiving a military pension from the Serbian government. There's been speculation that his arrest could spark a battle between the police here and the military.

It's all about lustration. That's everyone's concern here. Are there still remnants of the old regime still functioning below the surface of Serbian government? Are there secret military units still carrying out the wishes of ex-officials in hiding or in custody?

If you haven't been paying attention to events here in the Balkans, you should keep an eye on this story -- or possible story. Mladic's involvement in the Bosnian war and the "ethnic cleansing" will astound you. Here's a link that will give you a good, quick background:


When I was first in Bosnia in April of 2000, I was able to sit down and briefly talk with a one of the bravest people I've met. His name is Zeljko Kopanja. He ran a radio station and a newspaper in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serbian portion of the now-divided Bosnia. During the war, it was pure hell for the Muslims. Bosnia's Serbian army destroyed Muslim mosques that were hundreds of years old. They killed. They raped. They pillaged.

Even though Kopanja is Serbian, he wrote about the corruption of the Serbian-controlled government and even wrote about atrocities the Serbs committed against the Muslim minority.
Before long, the death threats started coming -- not just against him, but against his wife and son.

Kopanja refused to censor himself. On October 22, 1999, he got in his car and turned the key.

The explosion was meant to kill him. Somehow -- maybe because he's so tough or stubborn -- he survived. When he emerged, he had no legs.

When I and my fellow trainers met Kopanja, he was beginning to walk on his prosthetic legs. He was still publishing. In fact, as I recall, he didn't miss a single issue.

It reminded me that its easy to take for granted the freedom of the press we enjoy in the United States.

When I meet any journalist -- whether it's in Bosnia, Serbia, Armenia, the Ukraine, El Salvador or Mexico -- I'm humbled.

The people reporting on the possible arrest of Mladic here in Serbia are pioneers. Most of them have had no journalism training and many or them are earning in a year what journalists in the U.S. earn in a week -- that is, if they end up getting paid at all.

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