In the space of a week, Serbian President (since 2004) Boris Tadic announced the arrest of Europe’s most wanted war crimes indictee, former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic; he oversaw the extradition to The Hague; and Tadic explained to his fellow Serbians his decision to do that, as a majority of Serbs consider Mladic a hero.
In Belgrade, he told euronews that reconciliation in the Balkans must encompass everyone.
Valerie Zabriskie, euronews: President Tadic, how do you answer to critics who say the arrest of Ratko Mladic is too little, too late, [after he spent] 16 years on the run, 11 of them in Serbia?
Boris Tadic, President of the Republic of Serbia: My answer is very simple. I can explain easily what happened. [For] 16 years, we didn’t have the same governments in power. [During those] 16 years, we had a democratic revolution in Serbia. Sixteen years ago, it was the government of Slobodan Milosevic. Until 5 October, 2000, Ratko Mladic had been walking [around] freely. He had been protected by the people from the state. This is crystal clear.
We [have] had political tensions within my country, but after forming the current government, we formed the new National Security Council, we implemented reforms; from the beginning of that process we arrested Radovan Karadzic and, two and half years after that, Ratko Mladic.
euronews: I read this editorial that said tracking war criminals is a bit like waiting for a bus: you can wait a very, very long time and finally two come along, in this case Osama bin Laden and Mladic. What do you think of this comparison, especially when there are some who hint that you, like President Obama, may have had something to do with the ‘bus schedule’?
Tadic: This is simply not the truth. What to say about those kind of comments? For Serbia it [would have been] much better to fulfil that obligation earlier, many years ago. Every day [of] our investigation was extremely painful for Serbia. The moral price we paid in the international community was extremely high. [And] we [have] lost many investors in the past few years.
Politically speaking, if I could have chosen another date for finishing that process, it would have been much more efficient to do that before the decision of the chiefs of the European Union states about the date for accession talks.
euronews: I saw in an opinion poll — and I know that we always have to be careful about opinion polls, but — one that was taken shortly before Mladic was arrested… and it said that only 34 percent of Serbs supported arresting Mladic, and 80 percent said they would not have given away his hideout if they knew it. With these kind of surveys, how did you end up deciding to deliver Mladic to the Hague?
Tadic: If you are calculating with opinion polls, with the common approach of your people, being president or [another] politician, you [don’t deserve] to be president.
I am not saying that Ratko Mladic was participating in the war always in cases like Srebrenica. I am not saying that he didn’t defend ordinary Serbian people who were living in Bosnia Herzegovina. He did it. I know that in that war there were many extremists on all sides, Bosniac and Croatian sides. But the Srebrenica case has such serious allegations, which means he has to be in the Hague Tribunal, to be treated with a fair process. But he has to give some answers. That is how I see the current situation.
At the same time, [by] finishing that process, [by] capturing all the indictees, we are creating a better atmosphere in terms of reconciliation between us [Balkan states].
euronews: Now that Mladic and Karadzic are at the Hague, Kosovo is the biggest obstacle for Serbia to join the European Union. Is it inevitable that Serbia must one day recognise Kosovo, or at least normalise relations?”
Tadic: I am not expecting that European Union politicians are going to try to convince me to recognise Kosovo independence. Those who try something like that will fail. But, at the same time, I don’t expect that Serbia can start a new conflict within the European Union. That is why we tabled a resolution with the 27 European Union countries in a joint assembly with the United Nations last summer [in which] we opened dialogue with Pristina.
There are many solutions, but those solutions have to be agreed. We need the other side to be more flexible, ready for dialogue, brave, innovative. If we are strict and rigid, we cannot find a solution for problems that [have existed] in the Balkans for more than 100 years.
Okay, I am not very happy about being involved in all the problems that exist in the Balkans and I am not guilty of the problems that [have existed] for more than 100 years, but I am expecting and asking everyone to take into consideration and respect the legitimate Serbian interests.
We are a member state of the United Nations. We are one of the founding members of the United Nations. We are an old country and we have our legitimate rights. We have an identity, and the origin of our identity is in Kosovo. We are ready to talk and find solutions.
euronews: …which will not be easy.
Tadic: But what is easy? Is it easy to find a Ratko Mladic? To capture Slobodan Milosevic? Radovan Karadzic? Two former presidents of Serbia? Presidents of Republika Srpska — all generals? It’s not easy to take [those] kind[s] of risks. I am always ready to take risks if we [can] have a rational and promising future, if we can find a solution for problems that are creating an unsustainable atmosphere in the region — if we can find a really rational strategy and at the end of the day bring all the people who are living in the Balkans into the European Union.