Until a few days ago, the history of the European Union’s engagement with Serbia was a dispiriting one. The EU, having failed catastrophically over Bosnia in 1992-1995, sought a ‘second chance’ in the Balkans, by throwing itself into the reconstruction of Bosnia and bringing Serbia closer to Europe. It promptly failed again, or was in danger of doing so, because it had abandoned strict conditionality in permitting association talks with Serbia.
In the paradoxical view of one anonymous European Union official: ‘The EU compensates for the war by being overly positive on Serbia’. Anybody who observed Belgrade’s backsliding on the arrest of war criminals and the implementation of Police Reform could only agree. The picture was not much better in Bosnia, where ‘Republika Srbska’ continues to obstruct meaningful integration and reconciliation. Only in Slovenia and Croatia has the European project made really decisive headway, but there more under their own steam then as the result of any moves on the part of Brussels.
The capture of Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and a man co-responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands more, therefore marks a sea change in Serbian politics. The new anti-nationalist, or at least anti-radical nationalist, Serbian government obviously feels strong enough to risk such a controversial move; the fact that it is made up of President Boris Tadic’s Democrats and the Socialist party once led by President Slobodan Milosevic is an added irony. Only a few months ago, the Kosovar declaration of independence sparked vicious riots and even resulted in arson attacks on the United States embassy. So far, touch wood, the response to the arrests has been even more muted than the reaction to the arrest of Milosevic in 2001, the low-key nature of which surprised many. Perhaps predictably, the Socialist party, which controls the new Interior Ministry, has put out a statement denying any involvement in the arrest
Of course, none of this would have happened without substantial Western pressure, and the carrot of ultimate entry into the European Union. As James Lyon, a well respected Balkan analyst for the International Crisis Group has remarked: ‘This is happening because the new government is committed to European integration and is committed to meeting its international obligations. And the new government clearly wants to move forward and better its relations with the European Union.
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