At times they mixed the chants of soccer hooligans with crude attacks on President Boris Tadic, who made Mladic’s capture a top political priority. Most had to have been children in 1995, when Mladic is accused of masterminding the slaughter of some 7,500 men and boys in Srebenica.
On this night in Belgrade, they viewed the ugliest moment of the Bosnian civil war and post-World War II Europe through the lens of hooliganism tinted with fringe ultranationalism.
Their man, Mladic, had been dealt a red card, and they were mad as hell.
“Go to Kosovo!” the young men sniped at the riot police, who closed in. Serbia’s former southern province is another largely lost cause for the holdout extremists who reject their country’s increasingly European Union orientation.
The police got closer.
“You call this democracy?” one man yelled to an approaching officer at the rowdy but essentially peaceful assembly.
“Hey, reporter, no pictures,” the same man warned in Serbian, pointing to me as I shot photos from the perch of a bench. Apparently he did not count freedom of the press among his democratic values.
And then they scattered, and the lines of police officers split and gave chase. Some were arrested.
Only hours earlier, it was a typical lazy afternoon at Republic Square. Mladic’s arrest might as well have happened on another planet. Western tourists donning matching headsets streamed through the city’s nucleus on guided tours as Belgraders sipped beer and coffee at the numerous outdoor cafes.
That is the image Serbia wants the world to see: A mainstream, cosmopolitan European state, with a crown jewel of a capital. People here say that it’s a place that’s moved on from the dark days of Slobodan Milosevic and the brutal ethnic conflicts he fomented as Yugoslavia collapsed. And it has.
But just as men like Mladic lurk in the shadows, a marginalized but vocal fringe remains committed to kicking and screaming along every inch of their country’s progress.