This paper explores the digital rhetoric and historical comparisons triggered by a media and ‘memory event’ – the May 26, 2011 arrest of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić, a fugitive convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY) for war crimes in Bosnia. Surveying the verbal and visual rhetoric used across online genres and platforms to describe Mladić after his arrest, the authors focus on the most oppositional and historically fraught viewpoints: a dominant anti-Mladić narrative and the fierce, if fringe, pro-Mladić narrative that emerged in response.
Our inquiry into the digital cultural production inspired and provoked by the arrest of Mladić (born 1942) uncovers the traces of multiple historical models on both sides of the Mladić ‘memory war’ – Srebrenica and the Bosnian wars, comparisons with Nazi war criminals, the collapse of international communism, World War I, nineteenth-century struggles for national independence, to cultural memories of Ottoman rule or even to mythic times, stressing ancient ethnic or tribal hatreds as the motivation for the most recent and incomprehensible bloodshed in the Balkans.
Our primary goal is to examine a memory event captured and created by digital culture, and to map the emergent rhetorical models across an overview of digital genres by tracing cultural associations. The second level of research is comparative, as we find that the depiction and perhaps even understanding of Mladić’s arrest shifts according to genre, medium and platform. As we are studying an open system, perpetually shifting digital terrain, very new platforms and genres with imperfect and limited tools, our methods are experimental and heuristic; we hope our overview may suggest new directions for research to other scholars of digital rhetoric, historical memory models and the rise of twenty-first century nationalism.
Language of contribution: English