The photograph above shows me outside Ratko Mladic's house in Bozanovici. Standing there made me realize the distance that Mladic traveled to become a general in the Yugoslav army and arguably the most powerful Serb in the world. But how exactly did he leave the village, while his cousins got left behind?
Undoubtedly, Mladic proved to be a very capable military officer, with a peasant-like cunning that noticed everything that was happening around him. But key to his promotion through the ranks of the "Yugoslav People's Army" was his impeccable political pedigree. His father Nedo was a member of Tito's communist partisans, who was killed in a raid on the home village of the Croatian quisling dictator, Ante Pavelic.
The first page of Mladic's official military biography, which you can see here, includes the annotation, "Father killed in NOR," an acronym for "People's Liberation War." Implicit in the formula is that Nedo was on the right side.
Being on the "right" side opened a lot of doors in Tito's Yugoslavia. Members of the Mladic family who fought with the Partisans during the war were given land in the rich agricultural region of Vojvodina that had been confiscated from Schwabian Germans in the ethnic cleansing that followed World War II. Many Mladices moved to the village of Lazarevo, north of Belgrade, and it was here that Ratko himself was finally captured in May 2011.
Left behind in the inhospitable mountain environment of Bozanovici were various Mladic relatives who had fought with the Chetniks-Serbian royalists opposed to the communists. Ratko and his immediate family were also left behind, as the father-less family now lacked someone capable of farming the land in Vojvodina. Nevertheless, Ratko himself was looked after by wartime comrades, sent first to high school in Sarajevo at the age of fifteen, and then to military academy in 1961. I have plotted all these locations on the map below. (Click icons for further information.)
View The Mladic migration in a larger map
Which side you ended up on in World War II was frequently a matter of luck and circumstance, rather than a conscious political decision. Some clans hedged their bets by having some family members join the Partisans while others joined the Chetniks. That way, the family would be protected, whichever side won. (This reminds me a little of the celebrated Chamorro family in Nicaragua, which was represented on both sides of the country's political divide.)
That is what happened in the case of the Mladices. The two branches of the Mladic family -- the Bozanovici branch and the Lazarevo branch -- kept in close touch with each other after the war. They visited each other regularly and exchanged favors. I will describe my visit to the Lazarevo branch of the Mladic clan in a subsequent post.
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.