Serbia catches the last fugitive from UN justice

With the arrest of Goran Hadzic, there has been more of a whimper than a bang by Serb nationalists.

There are no demonstrations on the streets of Belgrade for Goran Hadzic, the last suspect wanted by the UN Court in the Hague, who was finally captured this week.

There have been no outpourings of nationalist rage.  In part, this is because even the extremists find it hard to justify the appalling deeds of the Serbian militiamen who were, in theory, under Hadzic’s command in eastern Croatia in the early 1990s.

Their savagery was notorious, their motives often blatantly mercenary.

Throughout the Balkan wars, the line between nationalist and criminal activity was frequently blurred, [and not just by Serbs] but it was perhaps especially hard to tell if the militiamen in the Slavonia region were more interested in fighting, or smuggling and profiteering.

In part, too, it is simply because the events of the early 1990s, Vukovar et al, now seem an awfully long time ago, and increasingly irrelevant, and not just to a younger generation of Serbs.

There are only a handful of bored-looking policemen outside the courtroom where Hadzic is being held prior to his extradition.

They did not look as if they were expecting any angry supporters to turn up.

Long and painful process

So the long and painful process of finding those responsible for serious crimes during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia ends, and more with a whimper than a bang.

That is not to say that all Serbs believe that the Hague Tribunal is a good thing.

There’s still a widespread perception here that it is biased against Serbia, and has always paid insufficient attention to the wrongdoings of Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians.

But the arguments feel old and tired these days, the passions have cooled.

People here are more interested in how the rest of Europe will respond, now that Serbia has handed over every suspected war criminal on the UN’s list.

Of course, eventual integration into the European Union has always been President Boris Tadic’s ambition, and opinion polls show that most Serbs share this goal.

It’s easy to forget, amidst the slow -motion anguish of the eurozone crisis, that EU membership is still such an attractive prospect for so many people in the Balkans who are excluded from the club.

It’s one of the great unsung achievements of the EU, that even today, to those outside it seems a good place to be.

Standards of governance

The prospect of membership provides an incentive to fight corruption and improve standards of governance.

A Serbian journalist said to me: “We Serbs see the EU as a place where people live better, as a place where there are fewer conflicts, and more co-operation, and a better standard of living”.

In other words, they see the EU as a guarantor of stability.

Serbia still faces many awkward questions. For example, how did so many prominent suspects (Karadzic, Mladic and so on) manage to stay hidden for so long?

Clearly, there were powerful parts of the establishment which helped them for many years. Kosovo is another potential stumbling block.

“It’s one thing to accept we must give up the bad people from within our society”, said the journalist, “but quite another to accept we must give up part of what we believe is our sovereign land”.

But by complying, eventually, with all the demands of the Hague Tribunal, Serbia has shown it wants to move on from a dark chapter in its history.

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