Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Mladic case: Inside the billiard ball

In order to fully understand Serbia’s failure to deliver Mladic by the 3rd May 2006 deadline and the subsequent decision of the EU Commission to temporarily interrupt the negotiations leading towards the signing of the Stabilization and Association agreement with Serbia it is necessary to understand what the resolution of the Mladic case would mean for every individual political player in Serbia. Euan’s blog entry offered a good introduction to this analysis.

Prime Minister Kostunica and his party Democratic Part of Serbia have a lot to lose with the arrest of Mladic. What’s at stake in this case is losing power. This is because the minority government relies on the support of the party of the late Serbian dictator Milosevic, and this, Socialist Party of Serbia threatens to withdraw their support to the government if Kostunica arrests Mladic. A preferred alternative is the mechanism of ‘voluntary surrender’ of ICTY indictees that in the past produced considerable results leading to the delivery of around 15 indictees to ICTY (the voluntary character of some of them is doubtful). Yet, it seems that Mladic is not ready for such an eventuality. On the other hand, a stalemate in the process of negotiations with the EU does not suit Kostunica’s image in front of his own voters and especially as far as the undecided electorate (largely pro-European oriented) is concerned. Kostunica could of course try to arrest Mladic, but in this case the Socialists would withdraw their support from the government. Of course the opposition Democratic Party (led by the Serbian President Tadic) could come in, or at least offer support to Kostunica’s fragile government. Still, this scenario would require Kostunica’s acceptance of the conditions Democrats are posing in front of his government as well as it would mean that Kostunica would not be the only one signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. On the other hand, if Mladic is not in the Hague, there will be no SAA at the first place.

The Party of the Serbian vice President Labus, G 17, continues to be in an uneasy position, being a pro-reform oriented and resolutely pro-full cooperation with ICTY, including arrests. From their perspective Labus’s resignation is more than logical, having the purpose in the unconditional pro-European electorate.

It is useful to consider the presumption that the Serbian security forces have Mladic surrounded but that the Serbian government still hesitates to go ahead with the arrest, hoping that Mladic might still surrender (as some Belgrade tabloids claim). Furthermore, ICTY Prosecutor Carla del Ponte is convinced that Belgrade could arrest Mladic if they wanted to. More worrying is the presumption that some parts of Serbian military and civilian secret services remain independent from the power of the Serbian government. In the light of this one should right Labus’s statement that Mladic “could be arrested in one day or five years”, after which Labus invited journalists to interpret his statement themselves.

First scenario would argue that the Serbian government purposefully missed the deadline wanting to create the alarming situation in the Serbian public opinion. One has to note that they largely succeeded in this, almost every newspaper is screaming “sanctions”, “isolation from the world again”. Only such a feeling of returning to the disastrous years of 1990s has the power to win over the feeling of injustice and betrayal that would be created (in the minds and hearts of many) after Mladic’s arrest. Of course this feeling is not about Mladic himself, irrational or justified, it is about the unjust treatment of the Serbs in the conflict of the 1990s that still prevails in the majority of the Serbian opinion. As in the case of the revolution that led to Milosevic’s demise, economic and social despair remains stronger than the feeling of injustice. Thus, if at the end Kostunica is forced to arrest Mladic, he could say, as he already by the way did, “because he is hiding, Ratko Mladic makes a great damage to our state and national interests”. If he arrested Mladic before the deadline this statement would be less convincing, in the present situation fear of losing the EU perspective (even 2/3 of Radical party voters are pro EU) can possibly justify the arrest. Some even claimed that this might happen by 10th May, so that Serbia could normally continue with the scheduled EU negotiations on the 11th May.

As far as Labus’s resignation is concerned, it remains an act of personal nature and it is rather uncertain that the ministers from his party will follow. Other G 17 ministers might indeed decide to stay in the government. Whether, this move will make them save part of their increasingly smaller electorate to the opposition Democratic Party, it remains doubtful.

Moreover, the interruption of negotiations with the EU has a fundamental importance for the outcome of the Montenegro’s referendum. A stalemate in the negotiations with the EU certainly goes in favour of the Montenegrin independence card. In this case Montenegrin President can use the Mladic card to defend his sophist argument that Serbia presents a brake in Montenegro’s inevitable EU accession. A Machiavellian cynic could even argue that hiding Mladic, although risky, is in Djukanovic’s interest. Failing to arrest Mladic before the date of the Montenegrin referendum (21st May 2006) might provide Djukanovic with few votes he needs to surpass the EU imposed threshold. Since the large portion of Montenegrin pro-independence vote is caused by the bad memory of Milosevic’s years and the impression that alliance with Serbia presented a heavy cost for Montenegro’s future.

The same goes for Kosovo. Mladic’s arrest (more than surrender or some unfortunate outcome of the arrest operation) would lead towards Serbia’s eventual entry into NATO Partnership for Peace. Together with the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, such a situation would make imposed independence of Kosovo very difficult.

Mladic will be found. It is less likely that he will surrender more likely that he will be arrested. Lets just hope that he does not take poison before they arrest him.

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