Karadzic is a victim of the EU's soft power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2008, 12:00am

Radovan Karadzic's disguise was quite elaborate, but he didn't spent the past 13 years hiding from the Serbian authorities. They knew where he was all along. Only 10 days after the government changed, the police plucked him off the bus he rode to work every day and began extraditing him to The Hague to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So why was Karadzic in disguise, then? Because he was a compulsive showman who always sought the limelight, and hiding in obscurity was driving him crazy. The disguise, the false name, the whole different persona were a way for him to resume a public life (as an alternative-medicine 'healer'), not a way of hiding from the state security and intelligence services. They were actually protecting him from the agents of the international court, because that was usually what the Serbian government wanted.

It was certainly what Slobodan Milosevic, the main author of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, wanted. Until he was overthrown by a bloodless coup in 2000, all the ultranationalists who had set out to 'cleanse' non-Serbs from the Serbian-inhabited parts of former Yugoslavia were safe from the UN tribunal, including Karadzic and his chief collaborator in the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, Ratko Mladic.

But Milosevic was overthrown because he had lost the wars and ruined the economy, not because he had sponsored a genocide. Even today, fully a third of the Serbian population believes that Serbs are the innocent victims of foreign plots. And the new president, Zoran Djindjic, who sent Milosevic and a couple of his close allies off to face trial at The Hague, was assassinated by a Serbian extremist in 2003.

In recent years it seemed likely that all major Serbian perpetrators of the genocide would not be punished. Milosevic died before he could be convicted, and Serbia wasn't handing over more suspects. Then came the parliamentary election of 10 weeks ago.

It took two months, but early this month a government emerged (with much help from President Boris Tadic) that was willing to move against the Serbian war criminals. Led by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, it has already 'found' Karadzic, and before long it may also find Mladic and the Serb responsible for the worst atrocities in Croatia, Goran Hadzic. What is motivating it to act so decisively, and why are so many Serbs now willing to go along with it?

The European Union. The Serbs want to return to Europe. They want the prosperity, constitutional stability, democracy and rule of law that flourish almost magically in countries that join the EU. And diplomats have made it very clear there will be no talk of membership until Serbia hands over its war criminals. What got Karadzic was the 'soft power' of the EU: the immense attraction of belonging to a continent-wide organisation that really does deliver such benefits to its members.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries