27 May 2011
They say it takes 20 years for a new generation to emerge, and perhaps this is also the amount of time that has been needed to put an end to the fallout from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. With the 26 May arrest of Ratko Mladić, one of the highest ranking names on the list of those indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, justice will finally be done for Srebrenica: the worst crime in the fratricidal wars that ravaged Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1995 (and later Kosovo in 1999). Now that this dark chapter in its history has been brought to a close, Serbia can shortly hope to join the European Union.
Though it may well be a coincidence, it is nonetheless interesting to note that the arrest took place in the same week when Croatia was informed that negotiations on its accession will not be concluded as previously scheduled before the end of June. As Novi List noted early this week: "The EU’s new enlargement is a strategic decision that has prompted another geopolitical tug-of-war between Western countries." The Croat daily goes on to point out: "Just as it was at the beginning of the 1990s, on one side we have a group of nations led by Germany and Austria along with the countries of the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) that are staunch supporters of the rapid accession of Croatia, which they believe has been the victim of prejudice for too long. On the other, we have Great Britain and its main continental allies – the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Scandinavian countries – who want negotiations to be concluded at the end of the year, at a time when Serbia can fulfill the conditions to apply for EU membership." And this scenario has now been made possible by the Mladić’s arrest. But Europe’s 27 member states will have to exercise careful judgment because the Balkan region remains a hotbed of potential crises.
In Belgrade, it is still too early to evaluate the political consequences of Mladić’s arrest, while in Zagreb, The Hague’s recent sentencing of General Gotovina has reinforced hostility to the EU. And in both countries, corruption and excessive nationalism still present a threat to a trouble free accession. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same Serbs who were led by Mladić are threatening to organise a referendum on their independence – a development that would put an end to the precarious peace that has reigned there since 1995. And in Kosovo, a state that is still not recognized by five members of the EU, where crime and corruption continue to thrive, the possibility of a separation between Serbian and Albanian territories remains a threat to regional equilibrium.
On the eve of Mladić’s arrest, the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fülle, presented the EU’s new strategy for the countries on its borders, which is mainly focused on Arab states, and to the detriment of countries like Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, which until now had been given priority treatment – highlighting what appears to be an inability on the part of the EU to apply a consistent policy for all of its neighbours. The Balkans are situated at a meeting point of the perspectives of enlargement and neighbourhood policy, with Croatia and now Serbia leading the way. But the effort that will be required to integrate both of these countries should not pave the way for a neglect of the rest of the region. Mladić’s arrest is just one chapter in a story that could have many different outcomes.