Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of The Hague Tribunal, delivered a blunt message during a visit to Belgrade earlier this month: Further delays in apprehending General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime military commander who has been indicted for genocide, would not be tolerated.
“Mladic is in Serbia,” Brammertz said. “I expect his capture."
Brammertz added that Serbia's bid to become a candidate to join the European Union "could not be granted" until Mladic was arrested and extradited to The Hague.
This was a very strong statement, and I assume it was followed up with evidence about where Mladic was hiding and under what alias.
Belgrade thus found itself with a clear choice: Arrest and extradite Mladic or give up its ambitions to join the EU.
In the end, they made the right choice. Mladic is finally on his way to The Hague tribunal to answer for his crimes.
And Serbian President Boris Tadic now stands to reap several benefits.
Most importantly, Serbia is likely to be approved as a candidate for EU membership. Brussels has already indicated that this could happen very soon.
Serbia's bargaining position vis-a-vis Kosovo will also become stronger and the international community could become more receptive to Belgrade's concerns there.
Moreover, the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions will now be more willing to assist Serbia in the current financial crisis.
Serbia’s standing in the Balkan region should also improve as a result of Mladic's arrest. This will help to end the long chapter of conflict in the region and help all sides to move toward reconciliation.
Tadic might not became the regional leader he hopes to be, but his chances now are better than ever.
If he continues with the process of “de-Milosevicisation," if the media start reporting honestly about the war's real causes, if those responsible are truly held to account, Serbia might even become a regional leader.
The one player in the region who stands to lose from Mladic's arrest is Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. The leader of the Bosnian Serb entity has positioned himself as the leader of hard-line Serbs throughout the region.
Domestically, Tadic should win back the support of disappointed members of his Democratic Party and others who supported him but were frustrated with the slow pace of his reforms. Those who nicknamed the president an “attractive Ken doll” and derided his weakness and unwillingness to make tough decisions will now need to temper their cynicism.
Tadic has demonstrated that he does, indeed, know how to be a statesman. If he is also an attractive and charming statesman, all the better.
He will probably face some demonstrations in Serbia from hard-liners. A poll just two weeks ago showed that 70 percent of Serbs would not report Mladic to the police if they knew where he was hiding.
It is unclear, however, whether this necessarily means people will be willing to take to the streets in protest. The nationalist opposition, in any case, appears incapable of mounting any massive street demonstrations of any consequence.
Tadic calculated very well.
In his press conference announcing the arrest, Tadic said it was about the “moral dignity of our country and our people.” He is right. I do know lot of Serbs who were ashamed of what Mladic did and who have been long awaiting his arrest.
They can relax now. And move forward.
Nenad Pejic is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL