Ratko Hunt 2010: Help Serbia Join the EU

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/11/2010 12:13:00 AM
Lest you think you've accidentally stumbled upon the Soldier of Fortune website, let me explain what's going on here. In my time here in Britain, I've ended up with some funky flatmates. (Heck, maybe I am one myself.) A current Italian flatmate, for instance, is a hedge fund manager in nearby Knightsbridge. While exchanging the usual pleasantries--how was your day and so forth--he told me a day or two ago that he had, just recently, bought Greek government bonds maturing in 2012 as a punt on the EU bailing out Greece if push comes to shove. Like him, I too regard the fuss over Greece as overrated, though that's a post for another day. Still, I have to admire his rather more aggressive risk profile. Anyway, while completing my degree in Birmingham, a conversation I had then with a Greek flatmate turned to Serbian war criminals for one reason or another. I asked him, "Where are Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić (appropriate name, that) hiding?" While Slobodan Milošević was already caught and would soon die in captivity, the other two prominent war criminals were still at large. (Radovan Karadžić was caught in 2008 and made to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia or ICTY.) He rolled his eyes and told me ever-so-matter-of-factly, "Oh, Emmanuel, everybody knows Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić are being sheltered in the Greek hinterlands by Orthodox monks sympathetic to them."

I swear; I can't make this stuff up. Ever the melodramatist, my mock response was, "Dammit man, let's get some Heckler & Koch UMPs and hunt them down for ransom money!" Authorities were offering a cool EUR1M then. Unsurprisingly, of course, my roommate's hunch as to Radovan's whereabouts were far off the mark.

So we move to calendar year 2010 and the only one of the evil troika still at large is Ratko Mladić. For the mercenarial sort, the news is even better as the bounty on this not-so-fine fellow has been upped by the United States to $5 million (in addition to the aforementioned sum). From Der Spiegel:
Former Yugoslav Lieutenant Colonel Srboljub Nikolic has confirmed that high-ranking Serb politicians and army officers constantly knew the fugitive's location at least until 2002.

It wasn't until May of that year -- fully six years after his arrest warrant was issued -- that then Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic ordered Mladic to leave the military barracks in Belgrade. A former bodyguard testified that before 2002, the general enjoyed the protection of 50 soldiers at the barracks, men officially put at his disposal by the Serb government. However, the bodyguard added that this was not to shield him from state prosecutors, but from bounty hunters attracted by the $5 million reward offered by the United States for his arrest.

Even after his bodyguards had been withdrawn in May 2002, Mladic continued to move freely around the country. The closest he came to being in real danger was in March 2003, when Serb leader Zoran Djindjic -- frustrated by failed mediation to convince Mladic to give himself up -- promised then-chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Mladic would soon be arrested. Although Djindjic's move was unpopular at home, he hoped it would secure Serbia's future within the EU.

In an interview back in 1996, Mladic had warned potential pursuers they would "pay dearly" if they tried to bring him to justice. A few days after making his promise to Del Ponte, Djindjic was murdered. At the time of the assassination, Mladic was hiding in the house of a friend, a general who lived near the airport in a suburb of Belgrade.
Therein lies the rub: For those wishing to capture Ratko Mladić, note that support for him in Serbia is still strong--especially among armed forces veterans. In a manner of speaking, he may be a nasty character, but he's their nasty character--not to be paraded in The Hague alike Slobodan and Radovan before him. The Der Spiegel article also makes references to unwelcome truths he may spill as the reason why his pursuers have been none to eager to capture him even if he's hidden in plain sight. All the same, the important implication is that Serbia's path to EU membership is prominently hampered by Brussels' demand that Ratko be promptly handed over. It certainly can be argued that the EU still feels remorse over its handling of Yugoslavia's breakup and would not dare admit Serbia without achieving closure on this matter. From the London Times:
The toughest hurdle will be Serbian co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, which is still looking to bring war criminals to justice a decade after the collapse of Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslav regime.

While the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested last year, the tribunal is still pressing Serbia to hand over his military commander, General Ratko Mladic. International prosecutors want to charge him with genocide over the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.

The tribunal is also seeking Goran Hadzic, the former Serb leader in Croatia, who is wanted for war crimes in Croatia. The EU had previously blocked closer links with Serbia, demanding that the country co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal. But it recently unfroze an interim trade agreement and last week lifted visa restrictions for Serbian citizens in EU member states. However, several EU countries, notably the Netherlands, still oppose closer co-operation with Serbia until General Mladic is handed over to The Hague tribunal.
If this subject matter interests you in an eerie way, I also suggest that you read "What It’s Like to Chill Out With: Ratko Mladic, Goran Hadzic and Radovan Karadzic." As with most writing out there on Ratko, a certain amount of conjecture and hyperbole are in evidence, but the fact remains that a $5M reward is there to be won. In the meantime, if you believe that your bounty hunting skills are on par with the Fett clan, well, off you should go to Serbia (not the Greek hinterlands) to claim the greatest prize on offer this side of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar. There will certainly be champions for EU integration within the country willing you onward--even if they know that there's a far better chance of you winding up dead as a doorknob than receiving $5M.

In the meantime, Ratko's shadow looms large as ever on prospects for Serbian EU membership.