Collaborative Leadership to Counter Extremism

Filip Vojvodic-Medic
Megan Doherty
3 min read
Photo Credit: Velveteye / Shutterstock
Recent headlines have ensured that transatlantic leaders do not forget the most recent conflict to take place on European soil: the war in former Yugoslavia. 

Recent headlines have ensured that transatlantic leaders do not forget the most recent conflict to take place on European soil: the war in former Yugoslavia. 

Last month, the Hague International Criminal Tribunal rendered a guilty verdict against leaders in the Balkans conflict, including former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladić, and six former Bosnian Croat leaders. One of these leaders, convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak, drank a vial of poisonous cyanide on December 1, leading to a death that was televised around the world. 

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This recent spate of convictions, including Praljak’s suicide — its spectacular theatricality perhaps topped only by the horror of the crimes he was convicted of — has prompted a wave of international commentary and reflection. International press reported mixed responses in the Balkans that suggest lingering echoes of the ethnic divisions that fueled the conflict: outrage in Croatia, approval in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and gloating in Serbia. David Rohde in the New Yorker, exploring why Ratko Mladić committed genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims, invoked the decision as a cautionary lesson to be recalled as nationalism and xenophobia are again on the rise across Europe and some parts of the United States.

Rodhe is right — and he points to a lesson GMF has drawn out through its leadership programming. While the rise of populism, the continued reverberations of economic crisis, and anti-immigrant and exclusionary rhetoric dominate our headlines, it is imperative to remember the horrific extremes such sentiments can ultimately to lead to — and to ensure they do not recur.

With precisely this aim, GMF has devoted efforts to highlight the leadership lessons gained from the Balkans conflict. GMF’s inaugural Transatlantic Leadership Seminar took 20 U.S. and European leaders to the region for on-the-ground learning. Participant and journalist Ricardo Sausa (MMF ’07) produced the radio show Srebrenica, 18 Years After, which featured exclusive audio from the memorial at Srebrenica. “We never learn,” reflected fellow seminar participant Koert Debeuf — until we are forced to, as he provocatively suggests with a comparison of lessons learned from Bosnia that apply to the present-day conflict in Syria. 

Yet, many leaders, especially young and diverse leaders, are indeed approaching pluralism and intergroup relations with fresh perspectives. Muslim elected leaders in GMF’s leadership network like Ufuk Kâhya (TILN ’14), party leader of City Counsel of Hertogenbosch, and Sam Rasoul (TILN ’16), counselmember for the 11th District of the Virginia General Assembly,  are taking leading roles to ensure diverse and collaborative participation in legislatures, as GMF’s recent Leadership Perspectives podcast with elected Muslim leaders suggests.

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Many were astounded that genocide could take place in modern Europe, and reacted slowly to the Balkans conflict as it emerged in the 1990s. Informed commentators today affirm the leadership insight GMF has repeatedly underscored: Rising extremism must be encountered and addressed as soon as it emerges. Play your part and become part of a movement with GMF.