The extradition of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague on 28 June – the anniversary both of the battle of Kosovo in 1389 and of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 – is a historical turning point not only for Serbia but for the international community as a whole.
For Serbia, it puts a full stop to the downfall of the Milosevic regime. The arrest and extradition of Milosevic’s co-defendants, who include the current President of Serbia, can now be only a matter of time. The removal of the worst of the old regime, combined with the discrediting of their policies as the truth gradually emerges, will aid the rehabilitation of a healthy Serbian society, ready to become a positive centre of gravity in its region.
The turmoil that Milosevic’s extradition caused in the Yugoslav government will expose the remaining institutions of the FRY. Leaders in both Serbia and Montenegro appear to be drifting towards an accommodation; if the Yugoslav institutions are unworkable and unnecessary; it may prove as easy to dispense with them. In late 2000, moderates in Serbia suddenly became less enthusiastic about the Federal Republic when it became clear that they would have to work with Milosevic’s former allies in Montenegro. The latter now realise that the cost of power in Yugoslavia is that they will have to accept the dominance of the Serbian moderates’ political agenda. This may in the end be too high a price to pay.
For the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, it is clear that the net must now also close on the key indictees for war crimes from the 1992-95 period. This will strengthen the entity’s institutions of government, which have remained vulnerable to the forces of atavistic nationalism even under the leadership of committed reformers. This in turn will give the Dayton institutions of government a fair test in what can almost be called “normal” conditions.
For Croatia the consequences could be troubling. The government, which lost one of its six coalition partners recently, feels under pressure from the right-wing supporters of the late President Tudjman. So far the Hague tribunal has issued no indictments for Croatian army war crimes during or after the recapture of Serb occupied territories in 1995, but it is known to be investigating. The trial in a domestic court of a Croatian general for war crimes in 1991 is already proving controversial; indictments from the Hague for the 1995 events will add further strains.
Most of all, the extradition of Milosevic is a tremendous boost for the planned International Criminal Court. It means that the practitioners of statecraft in all countries in the future can expect to be held to higher standards than has been the case in the past. The strengthening of the concept of justice in international relations will be unwelcome to rulers who expected to remain unaccountable for their actions. Their loss; a gain for the rest of us.
Nicholas Whyte, Research Fellow, CEPS
For an in-depth analysis, see CEPS