Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

Arrest Takes Serbia Towards Reconciliation, and the EU

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, May 26 2011 (IPS) - “Nothing can bring back our husbands or children, but this means so much for us; the man who ordered them killed is finally going to face justice,” says Hajra Catic, head of the Women of Srebrenica Association, following the arrest in Serbia of the former head of the Bosnian Serb army Ratko Mladic.

Mladic, the most wanted fugitive from the wars of the nineties in the Balkans, had been indicted by the United Nations-founded International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in The Hague for genocide and war crimes. He was indicted for the massacre of 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 and for the three-and-a-half year siege of Bosnian capital Sarajevo that took 10,000 lives in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

Hajra Catic told IPS that she and other women in the Association only believed that Mladic had been arrested when they saw Serbian President Boris Tadic address a press conference in Belgrade, aired by almost all television channels in former Yugoslavia.

Tadic revealed few details on Mladic’s arrest in Lazarevo village in the northern Serbian province Vojvodina. He said the extradition process to the ICTY was already “under way”.

“Today we closed one chapter in our recent history that will bring us one step closer to full reconciliation in the region,” Tadic said. “We have also met all the expectations from the European Union (EU). All its expectations.”

Tadic was referring to two different issues that burden Serbia. One is the slow reconciliation process, burdened by the shadow of atrocities against non-Serbs that left about 150,000 dead. The fact that Mladic had escaped arrest for 16 years limited reconciliation.

The other is Serbia’s ambition of EU membership since the toppling of the warmongering regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

“Now we see Serbia opening doors in two directions with the arrest of Mladic,” professor of international law Vojin Dimitrijevic told IPS. “One is the badly needed reconciliation, if the region wants to move further. The other is the EU membership prospect. One can only salute such developments.”

Leading human rights activist in Serbia Natasa Kandic says the arrest of Mladic is “one of the most important historic, political and judicial events in the recent past.

“There has been no more important event than this,” Kandic told IPS. “The fact that the President has announced it, that he said he was proud of it, speaks about its significance. This will open the doors for reconciliation, the message that supports justice and need for justice among families of victims.”

Kandic believes the arrest will have a long-term effect in changing relations between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

Security analyst Zoran Dragisic says the arrest of Mladic had been expected. “It happened at the almost calculated right time – when the EU said Serbia cannot join the EU without Mladic being sent to The Hague, and when the chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said his report on Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY was negative.

“But if Mladic decides to testify before the tribunal, maybe we’ll hear some different views and descriptions of wars,” he told IPS.

Croatian analyst Zarko Puhovski says the developments after the arrest of Mladic will mean a different political position for Serbia. In an interview with the B92 radio and TV station, Puhovski said that “Serbia obtained many positive points” and that “Tadic has enforced his influence in the region.

“Croatia is due to join the EU in 2013, and after that Serbia will become the leader here in the region,” Puhovski said. “The arrest of Mladic removes so many obstacles in relations between nations here.”

But the arrest of Mladic brought no joy to Serbian nationalists, who still regard Mladic as a war hero who defended Serbs in Bosnia.

Commenting on possible protests by such nationalists, Tadic said “everything will be done in order for Serbia to remain a stable country.”

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