Leading article: An arrest that enables Serbia and Europe to turn a page

Ratko Mladic's capture marks a symbolic end to the chaos that followed Yugoslavia's break-up

Related Topics

A grisly chapter in the history of the Balkans has been closed with the arrest of the Bosnian General Ratko Mladic, who had been on the run for an extraordinary 16 years. The former head of the Bosnian Serb army was the most prominent war crimes suspect still at large. His extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, where his civilian partner Radovan Karadzic is already on trial, marks a symbolic end to the chaos that followed Yugoslavia's break-up at the end of the Cold War.

The grim shadow of Mladic falls across one of the darkest places in modern Europe, Srebrenica, a city of ghosts, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were ruthlessly slaughtered in 1995 when Mladic's troops entered a United Nations "safe haven" for refugees.

The wanton, week-long rampage saw the worst civilian carnage since the Second World War; children had their throats slit before their mothers' eyes. Mladic is charged with 15 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and other atrocities.

His arrest, in contrast to the killing of Osama bin Laden last month, will generate a trial which will exorcise some of those ghosts – a process of which the region was cheated when Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb strongman and architect of the Bosnian wars, died before a verdict could be passed on the heinous crimes of those dark days. Justice has been a long time coming. In the early years, Nato powers did not press for a resolution for fear that a remorseless manhunt might jeopardise the fragile post-war ceasefire. Instead, they played a long game, making it clear to Serbia that it could never hope for membership of the European Union while war criminals were sheltered in its midst.

The Netherlands, whose UN soldiers were humiliated in the Srebrenica safe haven, has taken a hard line in exercising a veto. Serbia has been resistant. Ultra-nationalist factions within the military, intelligence, para-military and political establishments have protected war crimes suspects. Many Serbs still see Mladic as a patriot hero. Just last week, 51 per cent of citizens said they would not hand Mladic over to The Hague.

But change has been coming, slowly. After the general election in 2004, a firmly pro-European politician, Boris Tadic, did well enough to build a pro-European coalition and become Serbia's President. In 2008, he felt strong enough to replace the head of its secret police. The capture of Karadzic swiftly followed, by agents who were actually hunting Mladic. Earlier this year, they tracked down Mladic's diaries, which could provide important evidence in the coming trial.

The maintenance of international pressure has been key. The chief prosecutor from The Hague had just complied a report on Serbian foot-dragging which was to be debated by the UN Security Council in two weeks. And Mladic's arrest was announced the very day that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Baroness Ashton, arrived in Belgrade for talks. There are still questions to answer. Who helped Mladic to hide for so long on Serbian soil? On whose authority? Who turned a blind eye? More arrests among a network of Serb military and security officials may yet follow. And the war crimes fugitive, Goran Hadzic, who led the Serb insurgency in Croatia, is still at large.

But a page has been turned not just for Serbia but for Europe. Slovenia already has EU membership. Croatia is moving towards it, as are Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and, more controversially, Kosovo. Serbia now looks set to turn from its traditional ally, Russia, and look westward. The hole on the European map between Italy and Bulgaria and Romania is being filled. Serbia's return to the comity of nations is good for the peace and prosperity of the entire continent.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page


General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk