It was the second week of July 1995. War raged in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic led a powerful Serbian advance. An estimated 30,000 terrified Muslims took welcome refuge in and around the enclave of Srebrenica, which the United Nations had declared a safe area. It was protected by Dutch troops wearing the blue helmets of UN peacekeepers.
But the peacekeepers, hopelessly outnumbered and without the mandate or means to resist, in the end did little to prevent the Serbs from taking away thousands of Muslim men and boys from outside the enclave.
On 11 July, Mladic's forces entered the enclave itself. They methodically sorted the Muslim men and boys from the rest and took them away. The world learned later that Mladic's forces had massacred up to 7,000 people in the incident.
That's the story long accepted by most of the world. But not by many Serbs. The new videotape, however, may change that.
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica seemed to think so yesterday: "I think it is important for our public that we reacted immediately, and that based on this shocking and horrible footage, several of those who were involved in this crime have been arrested and will be brought to justice."
But some ordinary Serbs, like this woman in the Serbian capital Belgrade, expressed resentment at the new development: "I truly doubt that the videotape will help [alter] public opinion. This will cause a further division between the people. I doubt that the film will help the families of the victims. As far as I'm concerned, the film shouldn't be broadcast."
Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, was in Belgrade yesterday. She had unaccustomed words of praise for the Serbian government: "It is a brilliant operation, because in few hours they were able to identify the perpetrators, and of course, I have seen the video and there is no doubt on the perpetration of crimes. So I am very grateful about this reaction, and so I was asking them to react as quickly, this morning, because my fugitive, [Mladic], is still at large."
Del Ponte has charged for years that Serbia's efforts to arrest Mladic have been half-hearted. Serbian authorities now have pledged that Mladic will be hunted down and arrested this month.
The discovery of the tape has prompted other pledges as well. Serbia and Montenegro President Boris Tadic said late yesterday in a television address to the nation: "I'm ready to go to Srebrenica to pay tribute to the innocent people of [another] nationality."
The videotape shows the paramilitary police -- a group called the Scorpions -- being blessed by a Serbian Orthodox priest before they start their mission. It shows six prisoners being pulled from a military truck. Two are taken to a house and tortured. Eventually all six are executed with machine guns at close range.
Belgrade rights activist Natasha Kandic gave the tape to the Serbian government in late May. The government disclosed its existence after prosecutors in The Hague showed the tape at the trial of the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Kandic told RFE/RL today that she first wrote Serb officials about the possibility of such videotape in April but got no reaction.
"In April, I publicized the letter. I sent the letter to the Ministry of Interior and to war crimes prosecutors in Belgrade to tell them that some people in the [province] of Vojvodina, some citizens, are exposed to harassment by members of the former unit Scorpion with suspicion that they have videotape with execution of Srebrenica Muslims," Kandic said.
So on 23 May she mentioned it in a public speech in Belgrade. Once again, no reaction.
"I wanted to be sure," Kandic said. "After three days, on 26 May, I said in public that I gave the videotape to the Ministry of Interior and was expecting that they will react. And also I said that if I see that nothing has happened, then I will show [news] editors."
On 26 May, Kandic gave the videotape to broadcasters and to prosecutors at the UN tribunal. On television and in the courtroom, there has been substantial reaction.
Kandic said public opinion remains strongly nationalist in Serbia. But she said Srebrenica can no longer be denied.
Serbian public opinion has more than ordinary political importance at this time. Fourteen years after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the federation of Serbia and Montenegro continues to struggle economically. The federation is seeking closer ties with the European Union. But EU officials have set cooperation with the war crimes tribunal as a prime criterion for such ties. In the past, Serbian politicians have blamed public opinion for their failure to find Mladic and some other people whom the tribunal has indicted.