The timing could not have been any better. A few days from now, the chief prosecutor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will release a report which was expected to paint a damning picture of Serbia’s co-operation with the ICTY, thereby destroying Serbia’s chance of getting EU candidacy status this year. Considering today’s historic arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic and his expected extradition to The Hague, some people at the ICTY will now have to work overtime to correct the draft report, .
Serbia’s move towards EU accession began back in 2008, with presidential elections and a parliamentary vote both demonstrating the appeal of the EU perspective to Serbia’s electorate. Even after Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence, a majority of Serbians continued to resist nationalistic demagogy. Of course the nationalist ideology had not disappeared, but its political significance started to diminish.
Serbia officially applied for EU membership in December 2009, after seeking to secure the broadest possible support among member states. In October last year, the EU member states referred Serbia’s application for membership in the EU to the European Commission, while reiterating that further steps toward membership would depend on Serbia’s “full co-operation” with the ICTY. The Netherlands in particular took a tough stance, reiterating that their consent was dependent on the arrest of General Mladic and Goran Hadzic. Today’s events are thus a massive boost to efforts of the Serbian Government in its bid to obtain EU candidate status later this year.
The process of Serbia’s integration with the EU is also influenced by Kosovo’s still uncertain status. Serbia has repeatedly declared that keeping Kosovo as its integral part is more important than EU membership. However, Serbia’s struggle to preserve its territorial integrity and the EU membership question will likely remain two separate processes until Serbia’s membership moves closer to realization. Moreover, Mladic’s arrest places Kosovo in a bad light: individuals linked to alleged war crimes occupy positions up to the highest levels in Kosovo’s government, and there is no willingness or efforts from Kosovo’s institutions to bring them to justice. This, and in particular Kosovo’s reaction to the so-called Marty report, cast a shadow over EU-Kosovo relations.
Regardless of the EU question: Ratko Mladic’s arrest is a defining moment in Serbia’s history. A pre-condition for national reconciliation, it provides a sense of justice to the families of Srebrenica victims and brings relief to all those Serbians who felt that the destiny of their country was held hostage by Ratko Mladic. After overthrowing Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the last President of the Federal Republic Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica vowed to make Serbia a ‘ normal, boring country’. With today’s arrest, Serbia is one step closer to fulfilling this promise.