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Until a few days ago, the history of the European Union’s engagement with Serbia was a dispiriting one. The EU, having failed catastrophically over Bosnia in 1992-1995, sought a ‘second chance’ in the Balkans, by throwing itself into the reconstruction of Bosnia and bringing Serbia closer to Europe. It promptly failed again, or was in danger of doing so, because it had abandoned strict conditionality in permitting association talks with Serbia.

In the paradoxical view of one anonymous European Union official: ‘The EU compensates for the war by being overly positive on Serbia’. Anybody who observed Belgrade’s backsliding on the arrest of war criminals and the implementation of Police Reform could only agree. The picture was not much better in Bosnia, where ‘Republika Srbska’ continues to obstruct meaningful integration and reconciliation. Only in Slovenia and Croatia has the European project made really decisive headway, but there more under their own steam then as the result of any moves on the part of Brussels.

The capture of Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and a man co-responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands more, therefore marks a sea change in Serbian politics. The new anti-nationalist, or at least anti-radical nationalist, Serbian government obviously feels strong enough to risk such a controversial move; the fact that it is made up of President Boris Tadic’s Democrats and the Socialist party once led by President Slobodan Milosevic is an added irony. Only a few months ago, the Kosovar declaration of independence sparked vicious riots and even resulted in arson attacks on the United States embassy. So far, touch wood, the response to the arrests has been even more muted than the reaction to the arrest of Milosevic in 2001, the low-key nature of which surprised many. Perhaps predictably, the Socialist party, which controls the new Interior Ministry, has put out a statement denying any involvement in the arrest

Of course, none of this would have happened without substantial Western pressure, and the carrot of ultimate entry into the European Union. As James Lyon, a well respected Balkan analyst for the International Crisis Group has remarked: ‘This is happening because the new government is committed to European integration and is committed to meeting its international obligations. And the new government clearly wants to move forward and better its relations with the European Union.

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Dirk Blade
July 29th, 2008
11:07 AM
Luis: I'm sure there is an element of bribery involved in this - but that is not much more than enlightened self-interest. There's an increasing recognition in Serbia that Russia has only Russias interests at heart, and the much-vaunted Slavic ties are as strong as Moscow wants them. Perhaps its better to be a client of Brussels, where there is at least a possibility of a fair hearing, than of Moscow, where terms of deals alter at whim - as BP are finding out - and being hung out to dry with no recourse. Notwithstanding the significant support for the Radicals, I think we can be cautiously confident that a majority of Serbs recognise also that there's not much to be gained by associating with indicted war criminals any more. It's less and less lucrative to be in the support network, and that is part of the reason Karadzic was brought in. If the organ-harvesting controversy attracts little comment in western Europe, that could be because people are growing a little tired of conspiracy theories from Belgrade about K Albanian atrocities, including the repeated wolf-crying over NATO's creation [sic] of an al Qaeda statelet. As to an ultra-nationalist backlash, that's what a lot of us thought about the EU's intervention in the Serbian election campaign earlier this year. In the event, the prospect of EU membership, in spite of the controversy over Kosovo status, helped Tadic carry the day. I think it looks increasingly like the Radicals have passed their high-water mark, but of course such obstructionists are still capable of some spectacular mischief - as we might find out this afternoon...

Luis
July 28th, 2008
8:07 PM
I couldn't disagree more. The arrest deeply divides the Serbian people and ironicly the manner and timing of Karadzic's arrest may serve to bolster nationalist sentiment. It looks a political move in order to gain EU favour. Taking him to the Netherlands to face judges who may be perceived as a western backed elite will endear him to ordinary Serbians who feel they have been disporportionately victimised since the early 1990s. There has been no attempt to prosectute comparable Croatian or Bosnian leaders despite attrocities being perpetrated by all sides. Attrocities such organ harvesting from Serb prisoners in Kosovo also attract little interest. How much better if he could be tried in his own country- then Serbia could proved whether it really had "soul". In contrast this looks like the Serbian government being bribed by the prospect of EU membership.

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