Late Monday night word spread rapidly across Serbia that TV news networks were reporting that Radovan Karadzic, junior partner in the Bosnian Serb fugitive dyad of Mladic and Karadzic, had been captured by Serbian authorities and was being prepared for hand-over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).Initially, reports were vague, but even though they had been cruelly fooled before, moderate Serbs and Bosnians started to celebrate almost immediately.
Later in the day Serbian authorities revealed that Karadzic was arrested by “security forces” on a public bus in the suburbs of Belgrade. According to pictures released purporting to show him shortly after his arrest, he was unrecognizable as the Karadzic of wanted posters. In Serbian blogs, forums and Facebook groups he was mocked as looking like Santa Claus or the Asterix character Getafix.
Within hours of the arrest, conspiracy theories and urban legends were being traded across Serbia. They range from the ridiculous, “Karadzic played a gusle (a one stringed banjo) at Eurovision in front of 500 million viewers” to the absurdly true, “Karadzic was openly practicing as an alternative health expert in Belgrade”.
Karadzic’s arrest and presence in Serbia have genuinely surprised almost all observers of Serbian affairs.
It had become almost an article of faith amongst analysts that Karadzic was in Bosnia under the protection of the trans-Balkan mafia and renegade elements of the security services (that is, untouchable). Even former ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte thought he was in Bosnia and so did the BBC.
So what really happened?
For now it is almost impossible to figure out. There are vast networks of secret affiliation in Serbian politics. Events involving these networks — like high profile arrests, assassinations or surprise political alliances — generate furious speculation as to what’s behind them, but in reality there is no coherent political narrative, based on what is known and recorded, that adequately explains events.
The real causes will only be revealed in declassified cabinet papers, leaked intelligence service files, criminal trials and whistle-blower’s books. In other words – years from now.
There are, however, three predominate theories which purport to explain Karadzic’s arrest. They are presented here in reverse order of credibility.
1. Poetic Justice Theory
For over a decade it has gone almost undisputed that Karadzic and Mladic were being helped and protected by Serbia’s internal intelligence agency (BIA). Until two weeks ago, the BIA under the direct control of then Prime Minister Kostunica.
This theory proposes that Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party and new Interior Minister, was been “set up” by ex-Prime Minister Kostunica as revenge for Dacic forming a coalition with Kostunica’s arch-enemy President Boris Tadic.
Dacic fought hard in recent negotiations to “win” the Interior Ministry and now he is being credited/blamed with the arrest itself – a possible death sentence.
Presuming that Kostunica still controls the Secret Service, it was he that ordered the arrest of Karadzic so as to land Dacic in trouble with the mafia. Dacic took the extraordinary step of hastily releasing a statement declaring that his ministry had no part in Karadzic’s arrest. His concern is understandable. Ever since Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated by the mafia in 2003, local politicians have been very aware that they are extremely vulnerable. Handing over Mladic and Karadzic was not considered to be political suicide, but literal suicide for whoever who ordered it.
Some see Dacic’s denials as a desperate effort to distance himself from the dangers of a mafia revenge squad let loose on him by a vengeful Kostunica. The poetic justice refers to the widespread belief that the Socialist Party played role in Zoran Djindjic’s assassination and that any threats they face are “poetic justice” or blowback.
2. Backlash theory
This theory also assumes that former Prime Minister Kostunica or elements in the Radical party still have enough power over the Security Services to order Karadzic’s arrest and did so to provoke a public backlash against President Tadic.
Serbian Radical Party official Dragan Todorovic described the arrest of Karadzic as “a disgraceful act” and labelled President Tadic “a traitor”, adding that the President would now have pay back those in the international community who helped him win the May general election, suggesting he is a stooge and quisling.
If there is any truth in this theory — and I doubt it, then the Radicals have yet again completely misread the public mood.
It is true that the arrest coincides with a low point in relations between Serbia and the ICTY. In the eyes of many Serbs, the ICTY has destroyed its credibility after a spate of dubious acquittals saw the release of several individuals accused of grave war crimes against Serbs. This and the ICTY’s refusal to investigate fresh allegations involving crimes against Serbs have led to even the most moderate of Serbian politicians expressing outrage at the ICTY’s actions.
Two cases in particular caused fury in Serbia, that of Ramush Haradinaj, former Prime Minister of Kosovo and leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Naser Oric, a former Bosnian commander accused of crimes against Serbs around Srebrenica. Yes, THE Srebrenica.
In Oric’s case his conviction was overturned after the Appeals court found that he could not be shown to be in full control of his forces, which is in essence a technicality. The presiding trial judge said that “there was no doubt grave crimes had been committed against Serbs in the Srebrenica area between September 1992 and March 1993, but that this was not enough to condemn a specific person”. The crimes remain unpunished.
Ramush Haradinaj was also “acquitted ” at the ICTY of when charges or torture, murder, rape and deportation of non-Albanians were dismissed because of a “lack of evidence”. The problem, we are told, is that the prosecution could not provide enough witness testimony. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that nine witness linked to the Haradinaj case have been killed since 2003 ?
Despite this public anger towards the ICTY, most Serbs seem to fully support the extradition of Karadzic (and Mladic). There is no danger at all of a “backlash” and I doubt even the Radical Party believed there would be.
Police were deployed across Belgrade on Tuesday night, but there were very few reported incidents. A tiny group of extremists scuffled with police in the city center, but overall reaction by extremists and ultra-nationalists has been remarkably muted.
3. Tadic Transformed Theory
When one asks of the Karadzic arrest, “Who benefits?”, the obvious answer is “the people of Serbia”. It suggest that for once a Serbian politician, Boris Tadic, has actually acted in his people’s best interest, and in so doing has demonstrated political brilliance and great personal courage. It is hard to believe this can be true of any politician in Serbia, but then again, who would have believed last week that Karadzic was alive and well living in Belgrade disguised as Santa and working in an alternative health clinic?
The third and final theory is all about the transformation of Boris Tadic from lame duck president into the most canny and brilliant political operator Serbia has seen since Milosevic. It proposes that Tadic — possibly with the help of Western political strategists — has pulled off a political masterstroke that may very well be seen as one of greatest acts of political courage in modern Serbian history.
It appears that Tadic has isolated and contained the Radicals and their allies, brought the Secret Service under control, delivered a coup de grace to Kostunica and helped Serbia take a giant step towards EU membership. And he has done it all in six months, with what appears to be an impeccably executed plan.
Tadic clearly has one overriding objective, and that is to do whatever is necessary to drive Serbia into the EU fold as quickly as possible. The arrest of Karadzic has just removed one of the major obstacles.
Ratification by EU member states of Serbia’s entry into the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), the fist step to membership of the EU, was made conditional upon a positive appraisal of Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY. European commission president José Manuel Barroso, responding to the Karadzic arrest said that it “proves the determination of the new Serbian government to achieve full cooperation with The Hague tribunal”.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, EU Foreign Security Policy High Representative Javier Solana and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have all individually praised for Serbia for the arrest, with Rehn saying the EU “should start implementing the interim agreement, that is the trade-related part of the SAA agreement now”.
Tadic has forcefully demonstrated Serbia’s readiness to fulfill all its international obligations and to behave like a normal pluralist democracy that respects international law. He knows full well that this will not only help to boost to its EU membership ambitions but also the negotiations over the final solution on Kosovo.
Only one question remains: What transformed Tadic into this shrewd and courageous patriot? Where did he suddenly get all this courage and brilliance? Locals are deeply skeptical about his “transformation”, but I am not surprised at all.
I think Tadic and his advisors have had this plan in motion for quite some time. They were disabled by Kostunica when they shared power in the last government and once they realized that Kostunica was the key obstacle to any substantial progress for Serbia, they set about destroying him and putting the country on the path it is on now.
Tadic was just waiting for the right set of conditions before he made his moves and his judgement has been faultless. I suspect that the Socialist Party gave him his breakthrough opportunity. Their internal transformation and decision to become a normal center left European party suddenly meant that Tadic benefited from not just their support in the parliamentary coalition, but crucially, their secret power in the BIA and military too.
So what now?
It is now obvious Kostunica must have been complicit in Karadzic’s (and Mladic’s) protection by the BIH and various mafias, and I expect that he will be subjected to a parliamentary or criminal inquiry.
The Socialist party has already suggested that such an inquiry may be announced soon saying in a press release that they “will review the circumstances under which Radovan Karadzic was arrested and will demand that the Serbian public be informed how long Radovan Karadzic has been in Serbia under the control of security services.” This is a message to Kostunica and the former regime elements that shielded Karadzic and continue to shield Mladic.
The message reads, “Your time is up.”
The focus both locally and internationally will now switch in back to Mladic and to a lesser extent Goran Hadzic, one of the former Croatian Serb leaders also wanted by the ICTY. Mladic is seen as the main obstacle to Serbia’s accession towards Europe (along with Kosovo) and he is considered a much tougher nut than Karadzic. He enjoys revered status as war hero amongst Serbian nationalists and is believed to be extremely well connected to both the Serbian military and regional criminals.
Mladic will be Tadic’s true test.
If Tadic can deliver Mladic to the ICTY, the last serious obstacle to EU accession will removed and Serbia will reap immediate and substantial rewards from normalization and investment. That said, it is a very dangerous time for Tadic and pro-Western forces in Serbia. The radicals, nationalists and criminals are down, but not out. It would be very foolish to underestimate their cunning and resolve.
It is also worth remembering that we have been here before.
Back in 2003, a brilliant pro-Western leader was leading a jubilant Serbia towards normalization and prosperity. He too tackled the corruption, organised crime and the renegade security services that were at the heart of Serbia’s problems. Then, on the 12th of March 2003 Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was murdered by a conspiracy of mobsters, politicians and security forces. His death ushered in the Kostunica era and five years of kakistocracy in Serbia.
The country has still not recovered from that dreadful setback and I for one am desperately hoping that Boris Tadic will get to finish what his friend Zoran Djindjic started — by getting Serbia irreversibly back on the path to EU membership.