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Karadzic Arrest In Serbia Shows Power Of Elections

  • Brian Whitmore

Elections, it appears, do matter.

Analysts and Balkan-watchers say the surprise arrest recently of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic came about as a direct result of a pro-Western government coming to power in Belgrade following elections in May -- and previous power brokers falling out of favor.

The new Serbian government that came to power following elections in May -- an unlikely pairing of President Boris Tadic's Democrats on the one hand, and the Socialists of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic on the other -- is eager to advance its efforts to join the European Union.

Pro-Western forces have been looking to step up Belgrade's European integration for years, of course. But until now, those efforts ran up against a repeated roadblock -- the failure to apprehend Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Ratko Mladic, to face trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"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," James Lyon, senior Balkan analyst for the International Crisis Group, tells RFE/RL.

"It is also quite clear that the government is aware that Hague cooperation is one of the conditions for bettering its relations with the European Union. Therefore they have decided to take this step in an effort to improve relations with Brussels."

BIA Power Struggle

Serbia's elections weren't only important for who they brought in. They were also significant for who they left out -- namely, two nationalist parties, the Radicals, and the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

It was Kostunica's fall from grace, Lyon says, which turned out to be the key variable leading to Karadzic's capture. "Kostunica has lost all his influence. He no longer has any influence on the national level," Lyon says. "The pro-Western faction does have the upper hand, there is no question about it."

As prime minister, Kostunica held extensive sway over Serbia's intelligence service, the Security and Information Agency (BIA), which was packed with loyalists ready to protect Karadzic and Mladic from arrest.

Former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica
But just days before Karadzic was apprehended, the pro-Kostunica BIA head, Rade Bulatovic, was replaced by a Tadic loyalist, Sasa Vukadinovic. Lyon describes as "a sign that there is going to be a massive power struggle inside the BIA and people are now choosing sides. The former BIA head was a Kostunica appointee and a Kostunica loyalist. With his having gone, it has become apparent that people in the organization are probably going to be looking for new patrons. This is probably one of the first signs of the impact this shakeup is going to have."

Of the two coalition partners, the Socialists are less enthusiastic about the move to arrest Karadzic. The Interior Ministry, which is run by Socialist leader Ivica Dacic, was quick to release a statement saying that it did not participate in the Karadzic's arrest.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL, however, the Socialist speaker of Serbia's parliament, Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, said everyone who committed crimes during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s "has to be punished, each person who committed a crime has to be named, and it has to be done by the appropriate legal institutions" -- a clear reference to The Hague tribunal.

"International law must be respected, and Serbian law must be respected. We have a law on The Hague tribunal and it does not matter who was against it and who opposed that law when it was introduced," Djukic-Dejanovic said. "Not only do we have to respect the law, but we have to encourage law enforcement even when we disagree with some provisions of that law. Whoever committed a crime has to be sentenced."

Opening The Door To Europe

So far, however, the domestic repercussions of the move have been minimal. Dozens of protestors gathered on July 21 at the Belgrade court where Karadzic was being held, but mass demonstrations have not materialized.

Paolo Quercia, a Balkan analyst with the Military Center for Strategic Studies in Rome, says the political consequences should remain minimal if the government can show ordinary Serbs that the arrest has concrete benefits.

"Serbs are very pragmatic people," says Quercia. "They are very nationalistic, they care about their history and their leaders, but they can be very cynical, very pragmatic. If they can get important elements [things], in terms of economic aid or if they can strengthen their position on Kosovo, they won't care about Karadzic being sent to The Hague."

One possible benefit is a step forward on Serbia's long-standing bid to join the European Union.

Failure to arrest Karadzic and Mladic were key issues blocking the full implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement the EU signed with Serbia in April. Meeting the terms of the agreement, which was frozen pending "full cooperation" with The Hague, is seen as a key step for Serbia to be considered for eventual EU membership.

Mladic -- a tougher arrest to make?
The arrest came on the eve of a key meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, which is scheduled to discuss Serbia's bid to join the EU.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the meeting on July 22, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said the arrest proves that Serbia's new government is committed to working with The Hague tribunal.

"I think [the operation] has been very well done by the Serbian authorities," he said. "Remember that the elections in Serbia -- the presidential and parliamentary elections -- took place not long ago. And I think they have proven their will to cooperate fully with the international tribunal, and that's something I welcome very much."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said it was too early to "prejudge anything," stressing that "Karadzic has been arrested but Mladic has not."

And as Lyon of the International Crisis Group points out, arresting Mladic should prove to be even a more difficult task politically than apprehending Karadzic.

"Karadzic was never that popular inside Serbia," Lyon says. "Mladic is regarded by most Serbs as a genuine war hero. So that makes it more difficult to arrest him, because he was seen as fighting to protect the Serbs in Bosnia during the war. Karadzic was seen more as a bigmouthed, annoying politician."

Serbian officials say Karadzic was arrested while taking a bus between two Belgrade suburbs.

Serbian officials said Karadzic had been working at a medical clinic under a false name and had tried to conceal his identity with a white beard.

"Karadzic used a false identity and documents with the name Dragan Dabic," Rasim Ljajic, the minister in charge of cooperation with The Hague tribunal, said at a press conference in Belgrade. "Karadzic was not a Serbian citizen, and he was very convincing in hiding his identity. He was working and performing alternative medicine, making money that way. He was working in a private medical practice and his last residence was in New Belgrade."

Karadzic has been twice indicted for genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal: for the siege of Sarajevo, which claimed more than 10,000 lives, and for orchestrating the massacre of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

Karadzic was handed over to Serbia's Special War Crimes Court, which on July 22 ruled that the conditions for his transfer to The Hague have been met. Karadzic's lawyer reportedly plans to appeal the decision.

Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz called the arrest "an important day for the victims" and for "international justice" that showed that "nobody is beyond the reach of the law."

Western governments hailed the move. Russia's Foreign Ministry, however, warned that Karadzic's trial should be "impartial," accusing the UN war crimes tribunal of "an often biased approach."
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