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Karadzic arrest: Belgrade's strange way of getting a pass to the EU

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague (ICTY) finally got another N1 prisoner: on a warrant from The Hague, the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been arrested in Serbia.

There are conflicting reports about the circumstances of his arrest: some say he was arrested in Belgrade in the evening of July 18, and some that he was detained in the evening of the 21st. Karadzic's lawyer claims he was detained on the 18th, kept in limbo without presenting any charges, denied a meeting with his lawyer in violation of procedural standards, and consequently his arrest is illegal and he should be set free. But that is immaterial. When such a person is arrested this is quibbling over details.

Similarly, speculations that Karadzic may be tried in Serbia and not at The Hague are pointless. For the new pro-Western government of President Boris Tadic and Premier Mirko Tsvetkovic, keeping Karadzic in Serbia makes no sense and may even be dangerous.

Like all the major figures in the ten-year bloody drama of the break-up of Yugoslavia, the 63-year-old former psychologist, poet and leader of Bosnian Serbs is a highly polarizing figure. For the majority of Bosnian Serbs and many Serbs in Serbia he is a hero, a dedicated fighter for the land and the rights of the Serbs. For the Bosnian Muslims and Croats he is devil incarnate whose hands are dripping with blood. Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who drafted the agreements to end the war in Bosnia, upon learning of his arrest described Karadzic as "the European Osama bin Laden."

One can argue whether the Serbian authorities are doing the right thing, whether they are pro-Western, pro-Slavic, true Serbs or traitors, but casting emotions aside, the current Serbian president and government had no other option but to surrender Karadzic to the Tribunal. Both declared themselves pro-European during their election campaigns, and they could not get a pass to Europe without cooperating with the ICTY in apprehending the "villains." Considering the plight of the Serbian economy (for which NATO air raids are partly responsible) Serbia's future without assistance from the EU looked bleak: a cross between a political and economic outcast among former brothers and sisters in Yugoslavia who have either joined or are about to join Europe and NATO. Serbia had no one to lean on.

From the developments around Serbia and Kosovo it is abundantly clear that no one is going to let Russia into the Balkans. And let's face it, Russia itself had let down Yugoslavia and Serbia so hard (first under Gorbachev and then under Yeltsin) that few people in Serbia can seriously rely on its help. What happened to the famous Serbian saying "God is in heaven, Russia is on Earth"? Whatever you might say, times are changing, and we should be more circumspect in supporting our Slavic Serbian brothers.

A lot of lances were broken and nerves were frayed at the UN over the support of Kosovo, but now Belgrade is welcoming back the ambassadors of all the Western countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence. It no longer bears them a grudge. Belgrade is on the threshold of the EU. It will also knock on NATO's door. It is only a matter of time. Russia again will find itself alone with its principled stand in support of interests that are not our interests. Principles are all very well provided they come naturally, yield fruit and make our position appealing...

The arrest took place on the eve of the EU foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels where the issue of admitting Serbia to the European Union was discussed. The EU made Belgrade's admission conditional on Serbia's cooperation in tracking down and catching Karadzic and his military chief, commander of the Serbian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Ratko Mladic. "It is very important for Serbia's European ambitions," said Manuel Barroso, Chairman of the EU's European Commission. The EU's foreign policy and security chief, Javier Solana, expressed the hope that after the arrest the ICTY would appreciate Belgrade's "full cooperation" and give the green light to the key agreement between the EU and Serbia. "I have yet to talk to the ICTY prosecutor, but I am sure he will report full cooperation." This is an odd exchange: a ticket to the EU for an arrest.

One wonders, however, why the alleged crimes committed by Karadzic are assessed a priori, before the trial. Karadzic was indicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1995 (the war in Bosnia lasted from 1992 to 1995), and the arrest warrant for Karadzic was issued on July 24, 1996. Neither Karadzic, nor Milosevic, who died while in the custody of The Hague Tribunal in 2006, were angels. Civil wars do not produce angels. On the contrary, artificially fomented ethnic conflicts in which the bullet is the ultimate argument have always been particularly brutal. When only one side is constantly accused of atrocities, the question arises, is Justitia really blindfolded? The Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina were cursed for "separatism" and for unleashing a war, but in the end Bosnia had to be divided into Muslim-Croat and Serb parts.

Karadzic is accused of organizing and encouraging the slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica. But nobody knows exactly how many people died and whether they were killed there. Western papers cite various figures: 6,000, 7,000, 8,000. The memorial cemetery in Srebrenica has 2,907 graves. This is dreadful. The number of refugees is appalling, variously put at between 1 and 2 million. The Tribunal's problem and misfortune is that it finds it very hard to obtain testimony. It does not have anything like national justice bodies, so it uses public information channels, not least press reports. By the way, the bill of indictment on Karadzic never mentions a single figure of victims.

It is a very droll kind of trial in which one side is declared guilty in advance. Most of the accused and convicted there are Serbs. Criminals of other nationalities are few and far between. The Serbs account for up to 90%.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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