Were all Serbs complicit in the crimes of the Milošević era? That’s the view of Ratko Mladić, the man who ran the four-year siege of Sarajevo and orchestrated the killings in Srebrenica. ‘You voted for Milošević,’ he said at the special war crimes court in Belgrade, after his arrest last week. ‘I am not guilty.’ Punish us all, in other words, but don’t single me out. It’s a weight-free argument beside the gravity of the charges, and an insult to the many Serbs who could do nothing to halt the degradation of the 1990s. In The Hague, Mladić will want to do better.
He has been an expensive problem for his compatriots. The national broadcaster B92 cites estimates from officials in Belgrade that ‘Ratko Mladić cost Serbia €1.2 billion annually due to the blocked EU bid.’ Never mind that the advantages of EU membership aren’t all they used to be: the government in Belgrade, which overspends in dinars but does its sums in euros, can’t wait to gambol in a bouncy castle full of punctures. Younger Serbs, having languished under visa restrictions until very recently, are just as enthusiastic. That’s why the arrest took place when it did: the ICTY prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, has been preparing a negative report on Belgrade’s co-operation with the tribunal, for delivery to the UN Security Council next week. Belgrade has had to take stock of things. No Mladić, no Ode to Joy. The last stages of the EU membership process might have been stalled and the Serbian government would have been forced to go empty-handed to the polls next year.
Is the path now clear? Presumably. Brammertz would like to see another monster delivered to The Hague: Goran Hadžić, wanted for crimes in the Krajina and still at large. Even so, Mladić is the bigger celebrity, and when Catherine Ashton was in Belgrade she made favourable noises about his arrest. But then, on her visit to Kosovo, she suggested that the road to membership was still full of pitfalls for Serbia. That’s partly a way of saying the same about Kosovo, but it’s not what Serbs want to hear after their efforts to confront the recent past.