The arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, political mastermind of the Bosnian genocide, is a clear indication of new Serb president Boris Tadic's intent to integrate his state with Europe, stabilizing an isolated and difficult country and a fragile region, experts say.
It also boosts an emerging international justice system, coming a week after The Hague's indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. And it offers an unexpected uplift in the Balkans, where cynicism about unarrested war criminals, including Gen. Ratko Mladic, runs deep.
Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men, has been living in Belgrade in recent years, working at an alternative medicine clinic, Serb officials said. He wore a white beard and glasses that disguised his identity as the flamboyant Bosnian Serb architect of an "ethnic purity" policy that led to events like the Srebrencia massacre and tied the West in knots for much of the 1990s.
During that period Karadzic negotiated with some of the world's top diplomats, who pursued a failed policy of peace with the Serbs – even as Serb snipers under Karadzic's authority laid siege to cosmopolitan Sarajevo, shooting young and elderly with impunity. Some 150,000 people were killed in Bosnia.
Karadzic's surprise arrest after 13 years on the run, announced near midnight in Belgrade, brought shock and jubilation – lighting up phone lines around the Balkans. His extradition to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague is considered imminent after a Belgrade judge yesterday approved the tribunal's warrant for Karadzic's arrest.
Serbian officials, citing security concerns, were not forthcoming with details of the arrest.
The Montenegran-born psychologist who once published a poem in the 1980s about dreaming of Sarajevo in flames, had been traveling on a bus from Belgrade to a suburb when he was arrested, his lawyer said. Karadzic had been "walking around freely in the city" of Belgrade, according to Serbian authorities connected to Tadic's office. "Not even his landlord knew who he was."
"What happened is that the good guys won the elections in Serbia, and this is the result," says Dejan Anastasijevic, columnist for the weekly Vreme in Belgrade. "Serbia has turned a new leaf. He's going to The Hague."
Others have also speculated that Karadzic's capture may mean the arrest of Gen. Ratko Mladic is also in the works. The two men's names are listed together in charges against them at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague.
But maybe, maybe not. Belgrade watchers say the loss of power of former Prime Minister Kostunica after the Serb elections in May may have opened the way for Karadzic's arrest. Getting General Mladic could be harder.
"Taking Karadzic is probably easier than arresting Mladic, who is a military leader," says Quintin Hoare, who is with the Bosnian Institute in London. "Karadzic is on the same wavelength as Kostunica. He's not a military type. The Serb army may have trouble with Mladic's arrest. So of the two big obstacles to European accession for Serbia, this is the easier choice."
Milosevic's right-hand man
Karadzic will be forever associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia. After the cold war ended, the Yugoslav tragedy interrupted the triumphant story of 'the end of history' by bringing a terrible slaughter among ethnic groups, largely orchestrated in Belgrade by Slobodan Milosevic, experts say. Bosnia and Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Olympics, were not well known; the intermarriage rate among Croats, Muslims, and Serbs in the city was more than 50 percent.
Into that post-cold-war moment arrived Serb nationalists like Karadzic, considered the right-hand man of Milosevic. Mr. Milosevic, who died while on trial in The Hague in 2006, brought a brutal "greater Serbia" campaign that sought territory in Croatia and Bosnia by killing or ejecting non-Serbs.
Karadzic, who ran a psychiatric practice in Sarajevo, founded the Serbian Democratic Party, and became president of the so-called Srbska Republik. After Serbs laid siege to the city, Karadzic moved his headquarters to the suburb of Pale, in May of 1992. Karadzic often showed Western reporters maps of Bosnia with large zones where he said Serbs used to be a majority – one rationale for claiming a right to retake those lands.
Hated as a 'true believer' in racism
Karadzic is particularly hated by Croats and Bosnian Muslims as a "true believer" in Serbian myths and ethnic superiority. Whereas Milosevic came to be understood as a cynical politician who simply wanted to exercise absolute power, Karadzic was seen by his victims as someone who zealously believed in his work.
"Karadzic is probably the most significant character in the saga of genocide in Bosnia," says Paul Williams of the Public International Law and Policy Group in Washington, and an adviser to Bosnia at Dayton. "He is the most heinous figure. Milosevic was a criminal mastermind who didn't really care if he got what he wanted by genocide. For Milosevic, genocide was a means, not an objective. For Karadzic, it was an objective."
Charges against Karadzic and Mladic include genocide and war crimes for, among other things, executing Muslim intellectuals and publicly prominent citizens along the Drina River in 1992, sniping at civilians in Sarajevo, killing 8,000 civilians in the UN-protected Srebrenica "safe area," and holding UN peacekeepers hostage.
Human rights groups say that putting accused leaders like former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Milosevic, and now Karadzic in the dock at Hague tribunals adds credibility to the argument that times are changing in the field of international justice.
One little regarded but important aspect of a Karadzic trial may be the testimony he gives about talks with such diplomats as Douglas Hurd and Lord Owen of Britain, Cyrus Vance of the US, and others with whom he secured peace deals and cease-fires.