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Osama Bin Mladic

Mladic at work, 1995
Okay, so we’re not the first to write about the comparison between Osama bin Laden and Ratko Mladic, the former commander of Serbian forces in Bosnia who spent almost 16 years on the run from war crimes charges.

But we should have been. Earlier this month, it turns out, RFE/RL's Balkan Service interviewed several experts in their part of the world about their reactions to the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan. The basic tenor of the questions was: "The Americans have done it. Why can’t the Serbs?"

Our colleagues have been kind enough to provide us with English translations of what they came up with. The quote that leaped out at us comes from Goran Petrovic, a former head of Serbia’s secret police. He starts by citing an argument often heard from Serbian officials:

"For God's sake, if the United States couldn't locate bin Laden with all their money and secret agencies, how can we, small and poor, find Mladic? Now the killing of bin Laden is in a way a very bad news for Serbia, since they are left without this excuse."

Petrovic was speaking almost a month ago. Now, by finally landing Mladic, the government of President Boris Tadic has done away with the need for excuses.

Just look at whom U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to congratulate in her statement praising the arrest of Mladic: "We commend President Tadic, the government of Serbia, its security services and all those who have labored for years to bring Mladic to justice."

Note that Serbia's "security services" and "all those who have labored for years to bring Mladic to justice" are not one and the same. You can easily imagine why: For years there was more than enough reason to doubt that Serbia's law enforcement authorities were really all that interested in catching the guy.

While conceding that there are many differences between the two situations, Pavol Demes, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, notes that many observers in the Balkans found the comparison illuminating: "Many people believed that Osama bin Laden would never be captured just like many people never believed that Mladic would be captured." In both cases, Demes says, the notion that either of these men would face justice had achieved the status of a "fairy tale."

Now Tadic's decision to change all that could well spur Serbia's long-awaited accession to the European Union and perhaps even strengthen his hand against his ultra-nationalist opponents at home. He's enjoying a well-deserved -- some would say long overdue -- moment of triumph.

It's a pity that he won’t be able to exploit it at tomorrow's Warsaw gathering of 20 leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, who will top the whole thing off by dining with President Obama. Serbia is boycotting the event out of opposition to the presence of Kosovo, which Belgrade still refuses to recognize. Demes says that Tadic ought to go to Poland anyway, arguing that the Serbs should seize the rare opportunity to pose as European heroes.

They got their "international gangster." The Pakistanis, by contrast, had to be humiliated by the Americans, who did the dirty work for them. And that, sadly, says a lot. Pakistan, unlike Serbia, doesn't have the lure of participation in EU-style prosperity and freedom dangling in front of it. Instead the Pakistanis are struggling to resist the temptations offered by a starkly different model of international community: the global jihadi front. How nice it would be if the would could find some more effective way to counter its dark attractions.

-- Christian Caryl