It’s a cliche, I know, but Hannah Arendt’s phrase about Eichmann was the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard that Radoslav Brdjanin had been sentenced to a 32 year jail sentence by the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
I also began to hear rumours of precisely what Brdjanin had been up to before he fell out with Karadzic over the division of the spoils. Even among the remaining population of Banja Luka, he was pretty unpopular; people remembered how the electricty had mysteriously stayed on in his house even during the power cuts and the NATO air strikes. But most visible of all was the devastated landscape of Kozarac, just before you get to Prijedor driving from Banja Luka, where for ten kilometers along the road the landscape was nothing but bombed out houses of what had once been a prosperous town. The famous camps so memorably filmed by ITN in 1992 were here. Brdjanin had been the head of the Crisis Committee of the Krajina, responsible for setting the whole thing up.
Over the next few months the political situation in Banja Luka turned upside down as the local leader, Biljana Plavsic, broke definitively with Karadzic and assembled a grand coalition of all the opposition forces to take power. Brdjanin got back into the parliament but didn’t get an executive position. His friend Trbojevic became minister of justice. A few months after I moved to Brussels in 1999, Brdjanin was arrested by NATO soldiers while walking down the street in Banja Luka on the war crimes charges. Trbojevic’s reaction was, I thought, rather nuanced, as if he didn’t really mind his friend being arrested and facing a long prison term.
Well, if you have the stomach for it, you can read the summary press release, or you can read the full judgement, or you can just take my word for it; in a curiously precise formulation, Brdjanin is found responsible for the murders of “at least 1669” civilians, and of organising a general campaign of terror and deportation against non-Serbs around Banja Luka, who he wanted to see reduced to less than 3% of the population. He does at least get cleared of genocide, mainly because so many people were forcibly displaced from their homes but not killed.
Brdjanin’s co-accused, Momir Talic, won’t be punished by the international court; he died last year, and has I hope been dealt with by a different tribunal.