A defeat for evil as principles triumph in Serbia
23 July 2008
The arrest of Radovan Karadzic shows that good politics can win. The arrival of the principled pro-European Boris Tadic as Serbia’s president with a working majority in the Serbian parliament appears to have opened the way to a new vigorous approach by Serb police and security agents.
No-one can doubt the importance of arresting Karadzic. Together with his accomplice, Ratko Mladic, - the military brawn to Karadzic’s warped political brain – they stand accused of the worst crime against humanity in post-war European history.
In the summer of 1995, upto 8,000 unarmed men were taken away and shot after the failure of the UN, with the complicity of the appeasement policies of the then British government, to tackle the Serb military as they surged into the harmless Bosniak town of Srebrenica. To put the massacre in perspective, the world remembers with horror the Nazi’s killings at Lidice or the massacre by the Das Reich division at Oradour-sur-Gland in France. But the total number of people killed by the Nazi in those two atrocities amounted to the less than a quarter of those murdered by the Karadzic-Mladic killing machine at Srebrenica.
For four years as Minister charged with the Balkans policy I travelled to Belgrade to urge the post-Milosevic government to hunt down K and M. I was told not to be obsessive and that it was impossible to find Karadzic who was hiding outside the reach of the Belgrade authorities in the Serb part of the Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mladic was reported to be seen in Belgrade and his family was still receiving his military salary and pension. So now Karadzic has been found and taken without resistance, it is time Mladic too is detained. Both men should be sent to the Hague. International justice can work and if Obama Barrack does become President of the United States, one of his first symbolic actions should be to signal America’s adherence to the International Criminal Court.
The clear political winner in this in President Boris Tadic who has taken a principled stand within Serbia in urging his fellow citizens to accept what happened in the Milosevic era was a terrible stain on Serbia’s honour and history. He was viciously attacked by nationalists inside Serbia and their fellow-travellers in the west including those journalists and intellectuals in London who see the intervention to destroy Milosevic’s murder machine as an unacceptable example of liberal interventionism.
The last time I spoke to Tadic was at the Socialist International congress in Belgrade earlier this month. Montenegrin and Bosniak politicians there were critical of Tadic entering into coalition with the left-over Serb socialists, once the party of Milosevic. But Tadic’s judgement appears to have been correct. If Mladic is also detained the chances of Serbia under Tadic, who remains close to Labour in Britain, bringing closure to the Milosevic era are good.
One major obstacle remains. Kosovo. The Serbs cannot accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs. Like the Germans who insist “Schlesien bliebt unser” – Silesia belong to us – Serbia insists that Kosovo remains part of Serbia. This delusion at a time when dozens of countries from Europe to Japan have recognised Kosovo as an independent nation-state remains a blockage to Serbia’s full-speed-ahead progress to EU and even Nato status.
; Russia is doing all to block a resolution of the Kosovo problem and has support from Spain. The latter’s political position is curious. Spain, in effect, has lined up with the worst ultra-nationalist politicians in Belgrade, men whose politics is more reminiscent of falangism than modern European social democracy. Karadzic and Mladic are closer in style, rhetoric and actions to the fascist terrorism of ETA and Spain should now take the opportunity of this development to rejoin mainstream EU foreign policy and recognise Kosovo.
Bit by bit, European policy has worked in the western Balkans. The Croatian war criminal, Ante Gotivina, is also in the Hague after years of denial by the Zagreb authorities than he could be found and transferred. When it was made clear that Gotovina in the Hague was a condition for Croatia to start EU membership negotiations the Croats found Gotovina quickly enough. I made myself unpopular in Zabgreb by going on radio and television to demand Gotovina’s arrest. The president of Croatia even travelled to see Tony Blair to complain that Britain was taking too hard a line. Downing Street officials urged me to ease off but I insisted that Britain should take a lead at EU meetings saying Gotovina should be in the Hague where he now is.
Tadic now needs support and congratulations and private encouragement to find a way out of Belgrade’s dead-end Kosovo posturing. If Gordon Brown gets bored with Southwold, a quick visit to the Balkans where British political-military prestige remains high would show a senior European leader supporting democrats in the region. A Brown visit would face down the growing Russian efforts to meddle and thwart the efforts to bring stability and progress in nations between Greece and Austria, between the Black and Adriatic seas. Russia’s new president, Dimitri Medvedev, supported Brown’s had line on Zimbabwe at the G8 summit. But on return to Moscow, he executed a 180 degree reversal and Russia blocked UN sanctions on Mugabe. No-one wants quarrels with Russia but appeasement is not an option.
Back in Britain, there may now be a case for an inquiry into the behaviour of British ministers and officials in the disastrous handling of the Balkans during the Milosevic years. Some of them remain close to David Cameron and remain influential in Tory foreign policy thinking. Tadic and other Balkan leaders do not forget easily those in Whitehall and Westminster who did deals with Milosevic as Britain had20to wait for the arrival of Tony Blair before clear judgement was applied on what needed to be done to defeat Balkans fascism.
In the meantime, as with the release of Ingrid Bettancourt, not all the news from afar is bad. Evil can be defeated.