The Banality of Evil

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 knew him very slightly in my Banja Luka days. In early 1997, at the start of my mission to make contact with and strengthen opposition political forces, his political party was more or less the last on my list to meet; I found them in a basement room under the municipal art gallery (once the terminus of Bosnia’s first railway line). Brdjanin explained to me how he had once been a high-ranking politician but had been expelled by Radovan Karadzic from the ruling party when he protested against corruption. His colleagues had chosen him as leader of their new dissident party “because I was the shortest”, and they had lots of support. However the wicked manipulation of the elections which the international community had allowed meant that they had got fewer votes than they had members. His colleague Milan Trbojevic noticed my sceptical wince at this last point, but Brdjanin was too full of himself to stop; by the end of the conversation I was regretting my investment of time – I did go back to the basement a couple of times, but basically to use the rather decent restaurant next door.

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.

One thought on “The Banality of Evil

  1. I’ve checked my LJ friends and there’s been no influx of Russian accounts. In your shoes I’d say keeping work out of LJ is a good idea.

Comments are closed.