July 23, 2008
After two indecisive elections, post-war Serbia seems to turn to a new direction. Under the governance of the surprising coalition of the pro European bloc and the Socialists, the most wanted war criminal suspect, Radovan Karadzic was arrested in a raid by Serbian security forces. He had been working at a private clinic in Belgrade specialising in alternative medicine and psychology.
The Serbian society has been living through two extremely difficult decades: the economic and social transition from one-party rule and planned economy to a democracy and market-economy was set back with the involvement in wars against Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and allegedly state-organized involvement in the ethnic conflicts of Macedonia and Kosovo. In the past two elections, the Serbian electorate, which votes in a perfectly proportionate election, has given almost identical support to two coalitions. The pro European coalition would like to enter the EU and reorganize the countries economic, cultural and political links towards North-Northwest. The other bloc believes that the EU and NATO (where many EU members are involved) was balanced against the Serbs in their wars and proposes a neutral Serbia with strong links to Russia. None of the blocs is very keen on analyzing the lost wars, their causes and consequences. Given that the EU was originally founded to promote and maintain stable peace in Europe, the pro European bloc is always hard pressed to co-opereate with the former Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in the Hague. The opposition, which claims that this tribunal is a new tool of the supposed anti-Serbian sentiment in the West treats its suspects as war heroes. The extradition of suspects to the court is an all-time important domestic political issue in Serbia.
The arrest of Mr Karadzic seems to highlight a slight move in the former stallmate. The new, European oriented government is a strange coalition of the Mr Tadic’s (right) Pro Europe Bloc that had won the last elections but did not receive a majority and the Socialists, who had been the war party in 1990s. Mr Milosevic, the most wanted war crime suspect before Mr Karadzic has died in March 2006 during his trial in the Hague – he had been the long-time boss of the Socialist party. This party had previously belonged, and even governed with the nationalist and populist parties who are opposed to Serbia’s European integration.
This is a short reminder of Karadzic’s role in Balkans politics from the great Transitions Online profile:
“25 May 1993: The United Nations Security Council passes an initiative to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, in order to prosecute war crimes committed during the wars of the former Yugoslavia. Since its inception, the tribunal has indicted a total of 161 individuals and has completed proceedings for 100 of them.
July 1995: According to the UN, Bosnian Serb forces select and kill approximately 7,500 Muslim men and boys in the territory of Srebrenica, a UN safe area, as part of an ethnic cleansing initiative. The massacre is considered the worst in Europe since World War II. Later that month, on 24 July, the UN tribunal files and confirms the first indictment against Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader, for alleged crimes they committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian War. The indictment charges Karadzic with multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws of war”.
The indictment charges Karadzic on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility and superior criminal responsibility with:
- Five counts of crimes against humanity (Article 5 of the Statute – extermination, murder, persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds, persecutions, inhumane acts (forcible transfer);
- Three counts of violations of the laws of war (Article 3 of the Statute – murder, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, taking hostages);
- One count of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (Article 2 of the Statute – willful killing).
- “Unlawful” transfer of civilians because of religious or national identity.
In Belgrade many believed that the turn of the Socialists was due to bribery and this coalition of former enemies will not last. I have a different opinion. I think that some supporters of the old regime might have just realized that they will be much better off within the European society. The economic and democratic transition can take place within a generation only if some supporters of the former regime switches sides. The former Communist/Socialist parties have a mixed record in the new European democracies, a very few of them sank to the bottom, but some of them have even transformed to be motor of economic or social change. Serbia is surrounded by the EU (former post on EU-Serbia relations) and NATO (NATO-Serbia relations) and the countries has deep roots with a European alliance with an unpredictable Russian one.
The capture of Radovan Karadzic is a very important milestone. He had been living and practicing alternative medicine in Belgrade, which proves the former allegations that he was not on the run, but protected by the Serbian state and a large number of ordinary Serbs. If he will be sent to the Hague dock, some voters of the new coalition may be unhappy, but Serbia will leave behind a very unproductive debate on if they should send war-crime suspects to the court. This will let the new majority to focus on the future and see if they can maintain a viable majority behind Serbia’s European integration.
Remember, this is not a domestic Serbian issue. This is the EU interest at stake in the larger European continent.
- According to the FT the US and the UK helped the new Serbian government with intelligence, because Mr Karadzic was protected by ‘people in high places’;
- According to a report by Reuters, Karadzic can expect good conditions and company in the Hague prison;
- Michael Berendt’s blog claims that Serbia is commits to its European destiny;
- AirRusila laments on the street protests against Karadzic’s extradition in his BalkanPerspective blog;
- Karadzic is taken to the Hague prison;
- Previous posts on Serbia and Kosovo.