A close friend and Balkanologist (if such a word exists) told me in 2005 that Mladic was ‘minutes away’ from being captured. We fertively paced outside our office building in Bristol with him smoking one of his legendary carefully prepared roll-ups and me drinking my usual sugar-infused ‘builder’s tea’. His contacts had told him that this was now the moment that Mladic would be arrested: the various security forces (military and intelligence) had fallen out in a particular way, and this had made it possible for Mladic to be arrested… only he wasn’t. Not on that day in 2005, and nor for the intervening six years. Indeed, he’s been likely walking his curiously small dog and hiding in plain site ever since – a bit like bin Laden in his mansion, only his relative’s house was a dilapidated.
Over those six years I have occasionally ribbed my friend for his ‘five minutes to capture’ excitement – indeed, everytime he’s looked more right than me about something have I brought it up. The politics of the playground rules in this part of academia… But in 2006-7 I thought there was probably a good chance that Mladic would be brought in by one of the seven (?) intelligence agencies that work in Serbia, because their candidacy for membership to the EU was up for discussion, and it would have seemed an opportune moment for the ‘most wanted’ man from the civil war to be brought in. But at that time the EU’s leverage over Serbia caused a backlash amongst the Serbian people who rather enjoyed giving the EU the Harvey Smith.
But Serbia’s economic troubles are sufficient developed right now that I would personally doubt that it’s a coincidence that Serbian candidate membership of the EU (and Serbia was about to be condemned for not doing enough to arrest him) is about to be discussed and Mladic has been arrested. His arrest will be controversial in Serbia – some Serb nationalists still regard him as a hero, whilst for others he is as an unacceptable face of nationalism and genocide.
Mladic’s relationship with Karadiz was strained – he claimed to be in overall charge of the military campaign even though he reported to Karadiz, and their campaign in Bosnia was only surpassed by the nightmare that was the Balkans in the second world war. The international lawyers condemned the killing of bin Laden, and yet will raise a glass of organic champagne to the capture of Mladic. Both are the result of some fluid politics, and Mladic has had little influence over Serbia or Serbian politics since 1995 (he’s merely a divisive figure), whereas bin Laden was still very active – surely this provides some clue as to why different approaches prevailed? Pakistan has struggled to answer the questions about how bin Laden came to be hiding in plain site in their territory, and Serbia will similarly face questions about how they managed to pick up Mladic when their EU membership was about to be made very tricky, and why they resisted handing him over for so long.
Regardless, 2011 is turning out to be a tricky year for those who have flouted the will of the international community. History might turn out to be their ultimate judge, but at the moment the international community is on a roll, and presumably the ICC in the Hague will have learned from the unremitting cock-up that was the Milosevic prosecution. Small hopes.