Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

A Toast to Fratricide: Mladic (left) drinks with Karremans (middle)

I have previously covered the events leading to Srebrenica Massacre. This post continues the discussion.

In the days following the massacre, American spy planes flew over Srebrenica, and took photos showing the ground in vast areas around the town had been removed — a sign of mass burials. Early reports of massacres appeared here and there as the first survivors of the long march from Srebrenica began to arrive in Muslim-held areas a few days later.

The international community was horrified, but the Dutch — who previously enjoyed high reputation as peacekeepers — were almost unperturbed; when the Karremans Garrison which left Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his band of butchers returned to Zagreb, they were welcomed back by the Dutch crown prince and prime minister. As the news of the massacre became widespread, the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf featured a photograph of twelve cheerful Dutch soldiers in Novi Sad, enjoying a post-hostage meal provided by the Serb government on 24th July. “A toast to freedom” read the headline, and the article now ironically reads, “Their dedication shows once again how well-equipped for its task the Dutch military is, when it comes right down to it”.

In the late 1995 — this after Miguel Gil Moreno, Dusko Tubic and David Rhode had covered and photographed the killing fields of Srebrenica — Karremans was promoted to the rank of colonel. More shockingly was the fate of a roll of film shot by a Dutch soldier, with photographs of the events in Srebrenica, which was destroyed in a darkroom in an action the Dutch parliament deemed as a “cover-up” by the Defense Ministry.

On 13th July, just before the massacre, a girl fetching water for her family in Potocari found nine bodies in a stream across the street from the UN base. A Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen was approached by a young local, who led him and another soldier towards the bodies. The Dutch soldiers both videotaped and photographed the bodies. However, the videotape was later destroyed by Dutch soldiers under orders from an officer because it also had video of top-secret Dutch air defense equipment. The photographs were “accidentally destroyed” during their development in a military film-processing lab.

Considering all this, the Netherlands’ fight to make Serbia’s EU accession dependent on the capture of Ratko Mladic seems pompous and ironic. Mladic, who was finally caught yesterday, was mainly responsible for Srebrenica (and many other atrocities during that excessive and brutal war), but the Dutch garrison, which wanted to go home; the UN high command, which wanted to end enclave problems in eastern Bosnia; and the Bosnian army which saw no value in protecting strategically unimportant Srebrenica must also share some of the blame. Srebrenica was a sad episode; it is a dark stain of Europe’s history, made all more tragic because it could have been averted.

15 thoughts on “Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

    • My recollection of this incident is quite at odds with this account. I think what you are writing about the Dutch is dead wrong. It seems to reflect some of the irresponsible remarks made a couple of years ago by Gen. Sheehan before a Senate panel investigating the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. The debate over this incident tends to show, in my opinion, that the blame for the failure of the Dutch troops in place can be spread around. The contingent of peacekeepers was quite small…around 100 people, suitable for a place the UN had thought was ‘safe’ but perhaps not equipped to deal with the events that unfolded. In a case brought several years ago by Hasan Nuhanovic before a Nethelands court, all these issues were discussed pretty extensively.

  1. It’s a bit odd that you missed the whole thing about Dutchbat not being equiped to fight off the Serbs and being left out in the cold by NATO, even after numerous requests. Dutchbat was equiped for a peacekeeping mission and you’re not going to do much good with a rifle against a tank.
    The picture you show here, is of an attempt by Karremans to negotiate the safety of civilians. If you actually watch video of the ‘toast to fratricide’ as you call it, you’ll find there’s nothing ‘cheerful’ or ‘unperturbed’ about the Dutchbatters at all. In fact, I think it is not unreasonable to label the photograph above Serb propaganda aimed at shaming de facto prisoners of war. Apparantly the propaganda still has some power.
    Reports and inquests over the years have to my knowledge all shown that while Dutchbat had a responsibility for what happened in Srebrenica, it is not guilty of what happened. How could it be otherwise, anyway. It’s NATO as a whole that bungled there, and it’s factually incorrect and unjust to try and pin such a blame on the Dutch.
    This is also why there is nothing ironic about the Netherlands pushing to have people like Mladić brought to justice. Dutchbat not having been able to prevent the massacre, the least that can be done after the fact is ensuring that those guilty of the massacre are held accountable for their crimes.
    I usually love your blog, but this post is sadly a swing and a miss.

    • Actually they had a limited number of anti-tank weapons – and if they got attacked, the French could have no longer sabotaged the airstrikes. What they rather REALLY lacked was the willigness to risk their lives for foreigners.

      In 1994, the 10-men Belgian UN patrol tasked with protecting house of the prime minister also surrendered when the Rwandan soldiers arrived there and then decided to torture and murder them too. Only then he Belgians fought back ( ) but they also fought back just to die hard and not to fulfill their mission. The prime minister was murdered too, of course (along with whole her family).

    • Oh, and there was a ‘cheerful’ scene later, after the men were hauled to be murdered and the women were deported, when the Dutch were departing – with their smiling commander receiving gifts from Mladic, the Dutch and the Serbs saluting each other, and the rank-and-files drinking beer and dancing!

      Look at 6:40:

  2. Like Arethusa and Plurk, my recollection of the incident is at odds with what was written here.
    One correction; Plurk, I think you’ve confused the NATO mission with the UN mission. Srebrenica was a UN Safe haven and the Dutch were UN peacekeepers. NATO peacekeeping forces, myself included, deployed under the Dayton accords a few months later. When I arrived, the UN peacekeeping forces had completely lost credibility with the Bosnian people, in large part due to its failure in Srebrenica, but also because of fumbling elsewhere. I have heard Bosnian Muslims accuse the UN and the Dutch of collusion with the Serbs, but more often they were viewed as simply ineffectual.

    The DutchBat deployed as neutrals with very limiting rules of engagement. They were not large enough or equipped to defend Srebrenica. Their supplies had been cut off for months by the Serbs, who surrounded Sebrenicia. They were nearly out of fuel and completely out of fresh food. They came under Serb rocket attack and sniper fire on a regular basis. In the end, the town was overrun and the Dutch were forced to surrender.

    • But they also sabotaged the defense, in rather good faith but anyway:

      477. Despite the odds against them, the Bosniaks requested UNPROFOR to return to them the weapons they had surrendered under the demilitarization agreements of 1993. They requested those weapons at the beginning of the Serb offensive, but the request was rejected by the UNPROFOR because, as one commander explained, “it was our responsibility to defend the enclave, not theirs.” Given the limited number and poor quality of Bosniak weapons held by UNPROFOR, it seems unlikely that releasing those weapons to the Bosniaks would have made a significant difference to the outcome of the battle; but the Bosniaks were under attack at that time, they wanted to resist with whatever means they could muster, and UNPROFOR denied them access to some of their own weapons. With the benefit of hindsight, this decision seems to be particularly ill-advised, given UNPROFOR’s own unwillingness consistently to advocate force as a means deterring attacks on the enclave.

      478. Many have accused the Bosniak forces of withdrawing from the enclave as the Serb forces advanced on the day of its fall. However, it must be remembered that on the eve of the final Serb assault the Dutchbat commander urged the Bosniaks to withdraw from defensive positions south of Srebrenica town – the direction from which the Serbs were advancing. He did so because he believed that NATO aircraft would soon be launching widespread air strikes against the advancing Serbs.

      (from the 1999 UN report “The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina”)

  3. Damned right!

    I always said those sneaky Dutch were out to conquer the world! Gettin us all addicted to their Hollendaze sauce an liquorice and what not (I purposely omitted their pea soup cz last time I was there ..there wasn’t a bowl to be had in the whole darn city!)

    Then theres the Girls….everywhere you look, Girls-Girls-GirLs…Tall Beautiful girls! All of them secret agents of the world wide Dutch underground!

    Then theres the Sexxx they think they can get to us with their loose moral antics? an free Marry Ju Wana? I should Say not! Were tougher than that, Ill Say!

    Yep, them Dutch an their windmills an wooden shoes an Beautiful Girls an Free Mary-Ju-Wana an Free (well almost free) Sexxx (an Pea soup) are subtly tryin to enslave us all! (An the proof of it is them havin a drink with them there Stinkin Killers!)

    Course, we would never do that…..

    Like you say, Times Man of the Year and all that.. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Ayatullah Khomeini, Mohammed Mossadegh, (Just to name a few…) That was just good business…sellin magazines an what-not is just fluff…an since its US doin it, well, that makes it allright because, well….were US an if we do it theres a good reason behind it…..and thems them: THE EVIL DUTCH-MASTERS! Always up to no good (An never havin enough pea Soup on hand for weary travelers!…)

    So hell no, we would never sleep with the enemy, no sir not US! Why Id rather DIE than side with them Dutch after what they DONE! (But you’ll excuse me if I still try to get me some O’ that Pea SOUP?…cus at my age I can live without the SeXXX an the Mary-Ju-Wana and my cardiologist said no Hollendaze sauce either….But the Pea Soup?….I Hear its To Die For…..)

    Your Obt. Svt.
    Col. Korn,
    Head o’ Mayhem in the Great WW2 an Tha Cold War,
    Now Head O Sanitation an Security an the complaint Dept,
    OXOjamm Studios.

  4. Who is to blame for the Srebrenica massacre is an important question (though there is little doubt about who actually carried it out), but let’s get back to the photograph itself. It’s a great example of the use of imagery in wartime. As the Dutch colonel recalled, Mladic overwhelmed him with an angry speech, after which drinks were ushered in and a photographer pooped out from somewhere as soon as the glass was in his hand – enabling the Serbs to score a huge PR victory, in framing the shot of the Dutch as their accomplices.
    The naivite and stupidity of this partiular colonel, Karremans, can hardly be overstated. But if his account of how the photograph was made is correct, and I tend to believe he is, it shows how the Serbs mastered the art of visual PR, which the Bosnians and Croats (with more than a little help from their Madison Avenue friends) had put to use so effectively at the start of the war, and whose importance the Serbs learned to their detriment.

    • Really? You think it was just one photo, and one officer? So maybe try and explain this – start watching at 6:40:

  5. If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

    Or go Dutch. At the moment of truth, these men chose dishonour, all the sophistry of dishonour – and that shame stains the Netherlands till the end of days.

    How long can a nation survive without soldiers, with soldiers like these?

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