Jasmina Tesanovic: Less Than Human

(Ed. Note: The following guest essay was written by Jasmina Tešanović. Full text of essay continues after the jump, along with links to previous works by her shared on Boing Boing.)

Less than Human

(Video Link) Last week the Bosnian TV screened a set of private videos of the most wanted war criminal in the world, the Bosnian Serb Ratko Mladic. The video scandalized the world, and even us, those few in Serbia who don't live in denial.

We are those who believe their eyes more than their officials, who believe in facts more than in ideology, who believe that peace can come only through justice. And when I say us few, I refer to the activists, human rights lawyers, the families of Mladic's victims, and those people who, unwillingly, in one way or another, crossed the hidden path of the hidden General.

I remember, some years ago, a young human rights activist whose daily job was to hunt for war criminals. He met Mladic regularly while Mladic shopped in a bakery. My young friend gave up his job. The impotence of the law and the nonsense of politics made his life senseless.

The war criminal was frequently quoted as a hero of the Serbian people. Political rallies featured T-shirts with Mladic' s face. He was a a mythical figure, the Serbian hero sworn to kill himself rather than surrender to the Hague tribunal.

Was he hiding in the mountains, was he hiding in his Bosnian woods and caves, was he hiding in the dungeons of the Serbian army in Belgrade? Was he hiding at all?

A couple of years ago two soldiers on duty close to these secret military dungeons were found dead. The official explanation was dubious: they either killed each other in a fight or committed suicide. What came out soon after was that they were allegedly witnesses of Mladic's hideout. This case is still a very suspicious mystery, since the parents and human rights activists are pursuing it relentlessly. Some time ago, the indicted private persons who supposedly helped Mladic in his hiding in Belgrade were let off the hook in a Serbian court, officially because of lack of evidence. I saw them leave the courtroom, boisterous and loud, while the witnesses were intimated and threatened. And now these home videos appear: Mladic is elderly, yet obviously not in hiding. He is our contemporary, living a normal life in recognizable neighborhood of Belgrade. He doesn't not seem hunted but protected.

Less than a year ago another war criminal Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade: disguised as a mystic alternative medicine guru Dragan Dabic. After his arrest many photos and clues circled in Belgrade: that Mladic might be disguised as a street seller, as a simple retired person in the park, even as a woman. But these videos disperse these rumors: the very last video shows Mladic with a cane, playing joyfully with snowballs. This shot confirms the rumors that he had a recent stroke, and that the footage is as recent as winter 2008.

Looking at this home movies, as boring and innocent as all family private movies are, something felt deeply wrong about them. We are looking at the world's most wanted war criminal, who executed in cold blood, in three days, 8000 people just because they were ethnic Muslims in the wrong place: cattle, less than human, as his soldiers called them.

In the gaze of the camera, he behaves as if nothing has happened. He is a simple family man. Mladic cuddles his newborn grandson with words of endearment. He hugs his always present loving wife and his devoted son. He weeps over the coffin of his daughter, who shot herself dead with his favorite gun. The horror of the vast crime he committed becomes even more gigantic. This man with emotions and ideas had no doubts about liquidating populations, without explanation, without hesitation. Mladic was considered a hero for that. From the home videos, you see this faith about his heroic deeds. He is surrounded by family friends, and even some politicians of his regime.

These people speak my language, they have the body language of my relatives from Herzegovina, but they don't speak my mind. Sincerely, they seem crazy to me. But in the real everyday politics, their presence is a shadow over Serbia. It makes everyday Serbian life seem insane.

These days, the European Community is strongly promising Serbia a new visa regime. One of the main conditions for Serbia's integration into te European Community was the arrest of Ratko Mladic. The public screening of these videos coincides with these new policy talks. It's hard to believe that timing is an accident.

Maybe we are closing in, maybe there is no other way to tell the Serbian people that Mladic is not a a superhuman hero of Serbian people, but a tottering old man, a character whose banality is classically evil.

Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

- Earthquake in Italy
- 10 years after NATO bombings of Serbia
- Made in Catalunya / Lou and Laurie
- Dragan Dabic Defeats Radovan Karadzic
- Who was Dragan David Dabic?
- My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
- The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
- Kosovo
- Christmas in Serbia
- Neonazism in Serbia
- Korea - South, not North.
- "I heard they are making a movie on her life."
- Serbia and the Flames
- Return to Srebenica
- Sagmeister in Belgrade
- What About the Russians?
- Milan Martic sentenced in Hague
- Mothers of Mass Graves
- Hope for Serbia
- Stelarc in Ritopek
- Sarajevo Mon Amour
- MBOs
- Killing Journalists
- Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral


  1. Perhaps the title should be, Only Too Human.
    Although I find the atrocities committed by him to be horrifying, I feel it is important to recognize that he is not a “monster” and I see no contradiction between his good father image and his desire to systematically eliminate and entire race of people. They are mutually complementary goals.

    Genocide is a very common collective behavior amongst our kind. It’s part of our genetic and cultural heritage to over populate and compete for limited resources and land.
    Furthermore, approximately 80% of the readers here are capable of killing someone if a guy in a white lab coat tells them that “the experiment must continue.”

    Perhaps, it would be better to frame this in terms of what is it in “our” nature that enables this. And not how horrible “these” people are.

    Think about it. Less than human… Isn’t that basically the reasoning he used to justify killing all those people.

    Choosing which side of “humanity” your on is the first step to becoming just like Ratko.

  2. Monsters look so normal, even cute. It is maddening to think we all could become like him and his enablers. For he might be a monster, but the potential is in all of us, it is part of our nature.

    I wonder, how long will it take for them to clean all this mess and turn that bastard into a very unpopular guy? At least most Germans are remorseful. But we shall not forget that many of the supporters of the Nazis (and later, of the Communists) were important of post-war (post-reunification) industrial commercial and politic system. Is this unavoidable?

  3. We have a similar though less extreme, problem here in the US. We have war criminals walking the street, appearing on TV, and no one will lift a finger against them.

  4. Interesting coincidence: David Rhode, the New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban and recently escaped, won a Pulitzer Prize for documenting the massacre at Srebrenica.

    An important difference between Serbia and Nazi Germany is that Germany was occupied and its leaders were tried for the atrocities they committed. By and large, Serbs have continued to see themselves as victims, and to deny the atrocities committed in their name by their fellow citizens.

    Mladic, Milosevic and their ilk exploited this false sense of victimhood, but this myth preceded them and will outlive them. How else can one explain all the people surrounding Mladic in these videos. Those 100,000 dead Bosnians, the rape camps, the displaced – ah, who cares? Have another drink and let’s sing together.

  5. to #1: Think about it. Less than human… Isn’t that basically the reasoning he used to justify killing all those people.

    well, am I wrong or there’s no place in the text in which the author uses the phrase ‘less than human’ referred to mladic? the only place in which it appears, is a quote from mladic soldiers referred to the victims.

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