War criminal arrested: cue all sorts of guff from people who should know better about how this proves the Serbian government’s “pro-Western credentials” and demonstrates “Serbia’s European aspirations”. It does nothing of the sort.
All this really means is that a thoroughly unpleasant mass-murderer has finally been arrested and can at last be brought to trial. Wider significance cannot, as yet, be drawn from this long-overdue apprehension of one of the nastiest pieces of work Europe’s seen for a while. Not while Serbia’s still being cozy with Russia and helping the Kremlin further dominate European gas supplies to gain backing in the ongoing Serbian campaign against Kosovo’s independence.
Because the thing to remember is that yes, this current Serbian government may well have made some of the right noises to flatter the EU’s ego – but it’s still a Serbian government, and Serbian governments have long been unable to decide in which direction they want to head. Little wonder as, slap-bang in the centre of the Balkans, Serbia has cultural and historical links to Europe, Russia, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Islamic world to the south – it’s been right at the heart of some of Europe’s most confusing and vicious territorial disputes for centuries. Little wonder as well, then, that Serbia’s identity crisis mean that it has rarely been known for either consistency or sanity ever since gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire back at the start of the 19th century. It was no accident that the First World War kicked off thanks to the actions of a bunch of Serbian assassins – with the first declaration of war being between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia. (Which then escalated, lest we forget, thanks to Serbia’s old friendship with, erm… Russia…)
So, what does Karadzic’s arrest mean? Probably not a lot in the long-term, because hardly anything ever means much in the long-term when it comes to Serbia. It is, however a potentially handy short-term bit of PR for the current Serbian government:
With Serbs refusing the accept Kosovo’s loss and angry with the EU for sanctioning it, the liberals needed other areas where they can show they are ready to co-operate with Brussels… It was particularly beneficial for [Serbian President] Mr Tadic that Mr Karadic was captured with the help of Serbian security officers because the arrest provides clear evidence of Belgrade’s willingness to co-operate with the war crimes tribunal.
But PR is all that this is – and PR largely aimed at the outside world. Within Serbia, nationalist feeling remains high despite the current government’s supposedly “liberal” credentials, and the arrest of a nationalist figurehead could just as easily cause trouble for a more moderate government still trying to prove to the Serbian people that it’s just as pissed off about the Kosovo situation as anyone. Having already overseen the independence of Montenegro, losing Kosovo as well puts Tadic’s government in a very tricky situation indeed – and he’s too canny an operator not to ensure that he has all bases covered. Why else would he be sucking up to both Russia and the EU at the same time?