Feature

Serbia: Does arrest of Karadzic mean embrace of Europe?

Serbia's new government arrested Radovan Karadzic after less than a month in power. It may have been motivated more by a desire to join the European Union than by concerns for justice.

Serbia is making a play to rejoin the “civilized world,” said Ireland’s Irish Examiner in an editorial. Some 13 years after Radovan Karadzic became an international pariah, Serbia last week finally arrested him so he could face justice. As head of the breakaway Bosnian Serb republic during the 1992–95 Bosnian war, Karadzic ordered “the worst acts of brutality Europe has endured since the Nazi campaigns,” including the siege of Sarajevo and the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. He hid in Serbia for more than a decade to evade international war-crimes charges. Successive Serbian governments claimed they couldn’t find him—but that now seems unlikely, given that the current, pro-Western coalition was able to make the arrest after less than a month in power. But even the current government seems motivated more by pragmatism than by morality—it wants Serbia to join the E.U., which has long insisted that it turn over indicted war criminals.

Don’t underestimate how politically risky it was for the Serbian government to make the arrest, said Misha Glenny in Britain’s The Times. Indeed, it took great courage for “the new, pro-European forces” to arrest Karadzic. “Serbia recently had to swallow the humiliation of the U.S. and most E.U. states recognizing Kosovo,” the Serbian province with an ethnic-Albanian majority that broke off to become an independent country earlier this year. Many ordinary Serbs see the E.U. as the entity that supported truncating their country, so it is hard to convince them “that pursuing a pro-European policy is in their best interests.”

Fortunately, Serbian radicals are making it easier for the government, said Serbia’s Danas in an editorial. The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party tried to hold rallies supporting Karadzic, but only “aggressive extremists” showed up, mostly “young men with scarves in soccer-team colors.” Mainstream Serbs may not like the idea of bowing to international courts, but they certainly don’t associate themselves with soccer hooligans. The nationalists are “marginalizing themselves.”

In fact, said Helmar Dumbs in Austria’s Die Presse, “the protests against the arrest are downright pathetic.” Now is the time to capitalize on the marginalization of the Serbian far Right. The best way to bolster democracy and civil society in Serbia is for Europe to reward the Serbian government by accept­ing Serbia as a full candidate for E.U. membership.

Not so fast, said Edina Sara in Bosnia’s Dnevni Avaz. The arrest of Karadzic is “a tremendous achievement,” but it does not eclipse the need to bring to justice “the one with greater responsibility for the genocide of Bosnians: Ratko Mladic.” Karadzic was merely the civilian leader of the Bosnian Serbs; Mladic was the military leader, and therefore was personally responsible for the massacre in Srebrenica. He is still at large, presumably in Serbia. Only after he is brought to justice, too, can this tragic chapter in our history truly be brought to a close.

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