Serbia Greets Arrest Of Karadzic Calmly

E.U. Hopeful Shows Readiness to Move On

There were some small protests from hard-line nationalists, but arrest of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic reveals a Serbia that is increasingly tired of its brutal past.
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 25, 2008

BELGRADE, Serbia, July 24 -- There were some small protests and brief flashes of rhetoric from hard-line nationalists, but the arrest of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic this week revealed a Serbia that is increasingly tired of its brutal past and intent on joining the European Union, a beacon of prosperity for most European countries that remain outside its borders.

The passion and anger that drew 100,000 people onto the streets of Belgrade when Kosovo declared independence in February, and led extremists to attack and set fire to the U.S. Embassy, was all but absent for Karadzic.

On Thursday came another sign of changing heart in Belgrade: Serbian ambassadors who were called home to protest the declaration of independence by Kosovo, a province of Serbia, will return to their posts, the government said.

Karadzic, a longtime fugitive who is charged with genocide by a U.N.-affiliated tribunal sitting in The Hague, had been described as a "wartime hero" for Serb irredentists. But his capture generated more titillation about his bizarre appearance, alternative medical practice and alleged mistress than outrage over his likely handover to an international court for his role in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.

"Nobody cares anymore about Karadzic or Mladic," said Zoran Dragisic, a professor of security studies at Belgrade University, referring also to Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general who is now the most infamous suspect from the Bosnian war still at large. "People want to move on and fix all the damage from the past. There is a very strong wish to become a new member of the E.U., and people see it as a precondition for economic development."

The E.U. has been dangling membership before Serbian voters in an attempt to bring pro-Western leadership to office in Serbia. Prior to a parliamentary election in May, the E.U. and Serbia's Western-leaning president, Boris Tadic, signed an agreement that could lead to Serbian membership, provided that the bloc concluded that Belgrade was meeting its obligation to find and extradite war crimes fugitives.

In a country where 68 to 75 percent of residents want to join the E.U., according to opinion polls, the possibility of a fast track to membership was an important rallying point for Tadic's Democratic Party and its allies. They won a plurality and lead the new coalition that has replaced the government of the nationalist Vojislav Kostunica.

And in a potent symbol of change, the Democratic Party -- whose leaders helped topple President Slobodan Milosevic nearly eight years ago -- formed its coalition with Milosevic's Socialist Party, which is trying to reposition itself as a pro-European, left-wing group.

The Socialist Party once railed against the Hague tribunal as part of a plot against Serbs. But in the days since the arrest, the group has been noticeably circumspect. Its leader, the pragmatic interior minister, Ivica Dacic, said his department had nothing to do with the capture, a tip of the hat to some of his aging supporters, but his party also put out a statement saying that "cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is Serbia's international obligation."

Almost alone, the Serbian Radical Party, whose leader sits in a prison in The Hague, has loudly condemned Karadzic's arrest.

"We believe this is one of the worst acts of the current marionette, puppet government," said Dragan Todorovic, one of the party's leaders and a member of parliament. Todorovic promised a major public protest in Belgrade but wouldn't say when exactly it might take place. He said he didn't want to provide information to "American secret services."

"We will see the reaction of Serbia within a certain time and the arrest of Karadzic will have consequences for the regime of Tadic," he said.

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