The surprise arrest in northern Serbia of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general believed to be behind the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, is very good news. As one mother, whose son was killed in Srebrenica, said on Serbian TV, “Justice is slow, but it does come.” The big question is why the Serbian government waited so long to arrest him, because it is difficult to believe that security services had completely lost his trail after he ceased to be protected by the army some years back. As I noted almost a year ago, it was well known from a series of undated home videos that Mladic, despite being one of the world’s most wanted men, had been “moving about freely, playing ping pong, popping champagne corks, toasting friends, bouncing a grandchild on his knee, admiring the beauties of nature, even crying at a funeral.” Now that we have learned that he was living under another name in a house of a cousin whose last name is Mladic, the Serbian government’s story about not able to find him anywhere sounds even more unbelievable.
Clearly, the political pressure from Europe that has threatened to scuttle Serbian candidacy for the European Union played a role in the government’s judgment that politically this was the right moment to hand him over. It’s probably no coincidence that the arrest was announced on the day the EU’s policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was scheduled to visit Serbia.
Of course, there are plenty of Serbs in Serbia and in the Serbian part of Bosnia who will regard the decision by Boris Tadic and his government to finally arrest Mladic as treason. These are people who will not admit, even if presented with ample and clear evidence, that he or any other Serb committed any crimes in that war, or, for that matter, in any other war they ever fought. In that respect, they are like all their Balkan neighbors. They’ll see another conspiracy, another national betrayal, and may even go into the streets, but I don’t believe that will make much difference. Serbian governments, one must remember, have plenty of practice turning over war criminals to the court in The Hague, and in this case, I suspect, even many of the nationalist politicians who will publicly object have come to realize that it’s not worth thumbing their noses at Europe because of one man.
From what we are told, Mladic has aged a great deal and is in poor health, but unlike Karadzic at the time of his capture, he was wearing no disguises, and has been very cooperative. He can appeal the decision to extradite him, but the whole process ought not to take longer than a few days. Now, what everyone will want to know in Serbia is who knew about his hiding place, who provided him with false documents, and more importantly, what he himself is willing to tell about the history of the war and what happened in Srebenica, and the various unsavory deals that took place with representatives of other ethnic groups and emissaries from foreign countries in their attempt to placate the Serbs and end the hostilities—matters that I’m certain all of those involved would prefer to keep secret.