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Defiant Mladic sets stage for contentious war crimes trial

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Mladic’s blunt denial of charges, as well as his further exchanges with the judge, appear to set up a closely contested trial of signal importance for international justice, and for Balkan memory and historical accounting, as the Serbian nation sets its sights on joining the European Union.

“For Serbia to completely turn the corner, to learn the lessons of the past, the tribunal has to discredit Mladic in a trial,” says war crimes expert Michael Scharf, a former US State Department legal official who regards Mladic’s trial as the most important so far for the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up in 1993.

“Mladic is a hero in Serbia. He is seen as a military hero. For Mladic to be proved guilty, for history, for Serbia, that is what will rehabilitate Serbia and help it truly join Europe. This case has implications that go far past [former Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic and [Bosnian Serb president Radovan] Karadzic.”

Mr. Milosevic, who died at The Hague in 2005, is seen as the mastermind of the “Greater Serbia” project of ethnic cleansing at the heart of the Balkan crisis that attempted to destroy and remove non-Serbs from territories in Croatia and Bosnia. Mr. Karadzic, now on trial, was the flamboyant articulator of a then-resurgent Serbian nationalism that described that nation and its people as more deserving than others.

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