The tulips of Srebrenica
Simon Kuper - Financial Times
July 2nd, 2011
The idealistic Netherlands of the 1970s and 1980s died some time after the Bosnian massacre
It is July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia. The Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic is shouting at the Dutch commander Thom Karremans. “Don’t tell me nonsense,” bawls Mladic, through an interpreter. “Answer my questions! Did you give orders to fire at my troops?” The moustachioed Karremans is rubbing his face slowly. He looks like a man trapped in a nightmare. “I gave the order to defend themself,” he said.
In video footage recorded by a Serbian cameraman at the time – the authenticity of which is not disputed – Mladic puffs his cigarette. He leans in. He knows exactly what he is doing. Placing his hand on the wall behind Karremans, he says: “You are here to help the Muslims and the Croats.” Karremans looks exhausted. He rubs his eyes, and mumbles something about a piano. “I’m sorry?” asks the interpreter. Karremans elucidates: “I am a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player.”
Mladic shouts: “You are a poor piano player. Are you a married man, do you have children?” Nobody could miss the implicit threat.
Instead of shooting the piano player, Mladic’s soldiers shot about 8,000 Muslim men whom the Dutch were meant to be protecting. On Monday Mladic’s trial finally gets going in The Hague. His massacre is above all a Bosnian trauma. In time it will presumably become a Serb trauma. However, it’s also a Dutch trauma. Mladic found the country’s eternal weak spot.