Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

A Toast to Fratricide: Mladic (left) drinks with Karremans (middle)

I have previously covered the events leading to Srebrenica Massacre. This post continues the discussion.

In the days following the massacre, American spy planes flew over Srebrenica, and took photos showing the ground in vast areas around the town had been removed — a sign of mass burials. Early reports of massacres appeared here and there as the first survivors of the long march from Srebrenica began to arrive in Muslim-held areas a few days later.

The international community was horrified, but the Dutch — who previously enjoyed high reputation as peacekeepers — were almost unperturbed; when the Karremans Garrison which left Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his band of butchers returned to Zagreb, they were welcomed back by the Dutch crown prince and prime minister. As the news of the massacre became widespread, the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf featured a photograph of twelve cheerful Dutch soldiers in Novi Sad, enjoying a post-hostage meal provided by the Serb government on 24th July. “A toast to freedom” read the headline, and the article now ironically reads, “Their dedication shows once again how well-equipped for its task the Dutch military is, when it comes right down to it”.

In the late 1995 — this after Miguel Gil Moreno, Dusko Tubic and David Rhode had covered and photographed the killing fields of Srebrenica — Karremans was promoted to the rank of colonel. More shockingly was the fate of a roll of film shot by a Dutch soldier, with photographs of the events in Srebrenica, which was destroyed in a darkroom in an action the Dutch parliament deemed as a “cover-up” by the Defense Ministry.

On 13th July, just before the massacre, a girl fetching water for her family in Potocari found nine bodies in a stream across the street from the UN base. A Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen was approached by a young local, who led him and another soldier towards the bodies. The Dutch soldiers both videotaped and photographed the bodies. However, the videotape was later destroyed by Dutch soldiers under orders from an officer because it also had video of top-secret Dutch air defense equipment. The photographs were “accidentally destroyed” during their development in a military film-processing lab.

Considering all this, the Netherlands’ fight to make Serbia’s EU accession dependent on the capture of Ratko Mladic seems pompous and ironic. Mladic, who was finally caught yesterday, was mainly responsible for Srebrenica (and many other atrocities during that excessive and brutal war), but the Dutch garrison, which wanted to go home; the UN high command, which wanted to end enclave problems in eastern Bosnia; and the Bosnian army which saw no value in protecting strategically unimportant Srebrenica must also share some of the blame. Srebrenica was a sad episode; it is a dark stain of Europe’s history, made all more tragic because it could have been averted.

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0 thoughts on “Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

  1. If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

    Or go Dutch. At the moment of truth, these men chose dishonour, all the sophistry of dishonour – and that shame stains the Netherlands till the end of days.

    How long can a nation survive without soldiers, with soldiers like these?

  2. Who is to blame for the Srebrenica massacre is an important question (though there is little doubt about who actually carried it out), but let’s get back to the photograph itself. It’s a great example of the use of imagery in wartime. As the Dutch colonel recalled, Mladic overwhelmed him with an angry speech, after which drinks were ushered in and a photographer pooped out from somewhere as soon as the glass was in his hand – enabling the Serbs to score a huge PR victory, in framing the shot of the Dutch as their accomplices.
    The naivite and stupidity of this partiular colonel, Karremans, can hardly be overstated. But if his account of how the photograph was made is correct, and I tend to believe he is, it shows how the Serbs mastered the art of visual PR, which the Bosnians and Croats (with more than a little help from their Madison Avenue friends) had put to use so effectively at the start of the war, and whose importance the Serbs learned to their detriment.

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