Sunday, March 12, 2006

Slobo made us whole

Former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, died on Saturday. The general feeling is that his death has denied Yugoslavia justice, a feeling which always follows the death of such a notorious figure. Augusto Pinochet being deemed too ill to stand trial ticked off people who wanted justice, even though the Chilean courts subsequently ruled that he was well enough. Just as Saddam Hussein dying a painless, unjudged death will annoy Kurds and all those who suffered at his hands.

For me, one of the most enduring memories of the Balkans War was the downing and rescue of US Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady (later immortalised in the film Behind Enemy Lines). I remember sitting in the school library, being rivetted by the Newsweek and Time accounts of the story. It was a Rambo film writ large and true, a boyhood adventure story. Those were the days when names like Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic became familiar to me.

What Slobodan Milosevic did however, was humanise Africans. This is a sickening analogy to make but after the Rwandan genocide, only another such atrocity would have humanised Africans. The question on people's minds was: why are these Africans so barbaric? Civilised North Americans and Europeans must have thought that genocide couldn't happen after Hitler's concentration camps and gas chambers during World War II. But Africans would prove them wrong. Africa still had the capacity for such a scale of hate as to try and rid the world of a particular race.

As all the other wars were taking place around Africa - Liberia, Angola, Namibia, Sierra Leone, the world washed its hands off the continent. "It's the African way, what can we do?", they cied. Milosevic changed all that. White Europeans could also hate, and the extremes of human behaviour weren't just confined to the dark continent.

The Rwandan genocide was supposedly unique because of the way neighbour killed neighbour, husband killed wife, priest killed congregation. People used machetes, the slaughter was very intimate and personal, almost medieval. In Slavenka Drakulic's book, They Would Never Hurt a Fly, she talks about the way ordinary citizens become mass murderers, almost on whimsy.

The capacity for evil is just part of the human condition, we're all capable of extreme evil. We just need the right conditions to tip us into maniacal despotism. Recent film depictions of Hitler, notably Downfall, showed the Führer in a human light. Well, he was human. He might have become an artist rather than a mass murderer.

Human beings around the world have equal capacity for tears, for sex, for sweat, for blood. At a time when savagery was being relegated as an African disease, Milosevic came back and claimed it back for humanity. Like I said before, it seems callous to draw such analogies, but human beings are as much characterised by their ability for good as for their affinity for evil. It's a reality we have to live with.

ps. The picture is of Carle del Ponte, prosecutor extraordinaire, straddling Milosevic. Her chance to do so is now gone, as I'm sure Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Marković, wouldn't be too chuffed.


Noella said...

That's a DISGUSTING picture!! Takes away from your article EWWWWWWWW

Nkem said...

The voice of Puritanism speaks again...

Noella said...

The pen of indecency writes again........

tori said...

wow. I never thought of it like that.