Leading article: From Srebrenica to The Hague

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The Independent Online

Radovan Karadzic is a name from the past, but suddenly it is a name for the present, too. His trial for war crimes is due to open today at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Proceedings may yet be postponed; the defendant sent a letter to the court last week saying that his defence was not ready. Or the trial may open, and Mr Karadzic will act on his threat not to turn up. The former Bosnian Serb leader, who was arrested last year after a decade in hiding, clearly sees no reason to simplify the prosecutors' lives.

In one way, the charges against Mr Karadzic are more clear-cut than those for which the ousted Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was hauled before the same court four years ago. They include genocide and ultimate responsibility for the shelling of Sarajevo, which cost 12,000 civilian lives, and the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and youths at Srebrenica – a searing episode, which exposed the inability of UN-sponsored peace-keepers to carry out their mission to protect.

But the Bosnian Serb military leader, Ratko Mladic, is still at large, and part of Mr Karadzic's defence will surely be that his chief crime was to emerge on the losing side after an especially vicious civil war. He is also expected to argue that he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution under the terms of the Dayton peace accords. The court, frustrated by the sudden death, mid-trial, of Slobodan Milosevic three years ago, still has to prove that it can make charges stick against uncooperative defendants.

This year sees a succession of celebrations across Europe to mark the 20th anniversary of communism's fall. But there are less uplifting anniversaries, too – including 14 years since Srebrenica. And the trial of Mr Karadzic for war crimes is a grim reminder that the past was not rolled back quite so easily everywhere. While Croatia cruises towards EU accession, neighbouring Bosnia remains poised on a knife-edge. The UN and the EU have kept an uneasy peace, but they have made little headway in bringing reconciliation on the ground. There is much unfinished business here, of which the trial of Radovan Karadzic is just one part.