Jurists at the Hague tribunal are carefully reviewing the 11 indictments against Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide in Bosnia's 1992-95 war, as they await his imminent extradition. But in Serbia, Mr. Karadzic's legal team is delaying his departure by using evasive tactics and stalling methods reminiscent of the Bosnian Serb leader's dealings with peacekeepers and Western diplomats during the war itself, experts say.
The current technical delay on Karadzic further plays into an overall effort by hard-line nationalists to block the new government's pro-Europe plans by fomenting popular anger, protests, and destabilization in Belgrade, Serbia's politically and emotionally divided capital.
President Boris Tadic's government is trying to show meticulous regard for law and due process in extraditing Karadzic. But the issue has become highly sensitive in a country that by a narrow margin is pushing to join Europe – but where the extent of Balkan war crimes and Serb aggression in the 1990s has not been fully acknowledged.
"The radicals are pushing for a real confrontation over Karadzic," says James Lyon of the International Crisis Group in Belgrade. "They want to drag this out ... see how much popular anger they can stir. They aren't above using protest to destabilize the country in a serious way."
That could jeopardize Serbia's recent push for closer ties with the European Union, which has made membership contingent on the capture of Karadzic and his former military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic.
"Karadzic is a handy pretext for the hard-liners to shake up Tadic's weak coalition ahead of a vote on Aug. 4 for a formal agreement with the EU," says Ljubica Gojgic, a leading columnist for B-92 news service. "They are using every possibility to destabilize....and one of the biggest battles now is for the city of Belgrade. We still don't have a local government."
Karadzic, facing charges of crimes against humanity for massacres and ethnic cleansing, was posing in Belgrade as a long-haired new age guru when he was captured July 21. He was thought to be hours away from extradition to The Hague Monday, but his lawyer and family claim to have sent a "registered letter" of appeal that has not arrived in Belgrade courts. Serb postal authorities say they have checked all post offices in Serbia to no avail. In the meantime, demonstrations by hard-line Radical Party nationalists are planned, and Radical Party officials have openly called Tadic a "traitor."
During the Bosnian war, Karadzic became famous among United Nations officials and Western diplomats for making deals on cease-fires, travel, food delivery, care for refugees – that were quickly reneged on, and often on legal grounds.
"You had Serb officials finding incredibly detailed and trivial legal points to squabble over in the midst of genocide," says one senior Western diplomat with Belgrade experience. "I think it is a communist or Soviet tactic, a hold-over, and it wasn't unique to Karadzic."
Faced with the mythological Karadzic letter, the Tadic government is in a bind: If they extradite the Bosnian Serb fugitive in what might appear an "extralegal" process, they could appear pliant and weak. Extended delay could bring ugly dynamics on the street. Some sources don't rule out an escalation ending in a dysfunctional government, or even a putsch.
The Radical Party controls the largest number of seats in the parliament, and lost the May elections by a narrow margin. Moreover, Radical Party demonstrations Tuesday are being joined by the forces of former Prime Minister Kostunica, a leading Serb ultranationalist who has long eschewed public protest. The Radical Party has not sought a police permit for the protests. However, early this week Radicals stated that the major rally on Tuesday is not about Karadzic.
Serbian state prosecutor Slobodan Radovanovic this week asked the Radical Party to hand over recordings of a press conference several days ago in which party leaders accused Tadic of sending provocateurs into its ranks.
According to the BetaNews service in Belgrade, Radical Party spokeswoman Vjerica Radeta said the basis for the charges against Mladic were, "reality and the fact that he is a dictator" who is becoming "dangerous for Serbia."
"We are reminding Tadic that betrayal has never gone unpunished in Serbia," Ms. Radeta told Belgrade journalists this week, recalling the assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic after he sent accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague. "We're not threatening, but warning of the curse that has followed all traitors in Serbian history.... God punishes up to the seventh generation, and they should take heed of this."
This week the EU put on hold a package of trade benefits with Serbia, pending the hand-over of both Karadzic and General Mladic, the military chief of the Bosnian Serbs, who ran the four year war that took the lives of some 150,000 Bosnians. The Belgrade dynamics this week could make it more difficult to turn Mladic over, some sources speculate.