By Christine Hilt, Transatlantic Community Analyst
The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic has been hailed as an enormous victory for international justice and a validation of Serbia’s commitment to repair its international reputation. While both of these assessments are accurate, it seems there is an overestimation of the immediate effect that his arrest will have on the Balkans region.
Mladic’s arrest invited a massive wave of international support for Serbia, with most Western leaders congratulating the government and inviting it to take further steps toward a European future. Serbia had previously been prevented from moving forward with EU membership talks until its war criminals were arrested. Now, it appears that the door to Europe has been opened.
Beyond integrating Serbia into the fold of Europe, the hope has always been that the entire Balkans region will join the European Union and that regional reconciliation would be mediated within the organization. Mladic’s arrest has certainly made this outcome a possibility, but it appears that many, in their celebratory mood, have chosen to overlook other hurdles to achieving this objective.
The cooperation of the Serbian government appears to have revived old prejudices. Mladic’s imminent extradition to The Hague has brought out thousands who support his actions, leading to riots and demonstrations in the streets of Belgrade. There is still anti-Western sentiment in the country; the wreckage of the Federal Ministry of Defense stands as a constant reminder to Serbians of NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999. Likewise, the status of Kosovo continues to be a point of contention between Serbia and the West.
And although Croatia is on its way to becoming a member of the EU, other Balkan states are not hastening to follow it. Bosnia, for example, has not met the requirements for entry into the EU – and probably will not be able to for a very long time. The country is still in tatters, both structurally and psychologically, and the majority of daily operations in the country are still run by international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations. This puts the current plan for mediated regional reconciliation in jeopardy, or at the very least, makes it a far-flung hope for the future.
The Balkans region is still haunted by its past, even though its ghosts might be captured. The Serbian government’s arrest of Mladic is commendable, but it is not quite the horizon of a reconciled Balkans region that many are painting it to be.