A few years back I visited Serbia. As a Muslim, I was naturally feeling a bit apprehensive as ones expectation is coloured by the media reports of war and genocide – and I remembered the terrible Serbs who slaughtered the defenceless Bosnians Muslims in the 90s. Once I arrived there, to my surprise, they were fully aware of my religious needs and tried their best to accommodate me. Almost everyone I met was helpful and polite. I had similar experience in the subsequent visits to Serbia, and it makes me wonder how this nation produced monsters like General Ratko Mladic; a former Bosnian Serb commander, indicted by the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in 1995, for murdering 8,300 Bosnian men and boys, after the fall of Srebrenica.
Indeed, the needless massacre of Bosnian Muslims is a fact; the graveyards are still there, with the grieving relatives to testify. I remember the clip shown on the BBC, the Bosnian Muslim men being off loaded from the truck, and then shot in the back like animals. It is difficult to imagine that the ordinary Serbian masses would condone such barbaric acts; and if there is a contrast between the ordinary Serbian masses and the small number of criminals like Mladic, then it proves the point that a few men can tarnish an entire nation, just like a few drops of urine can spoil a glass of milk!
The Serbs as a nation are still unrepentant, one poll shows 40% regard him as a hero, and 51% are against the extradition; perhaps it’s their sense of nationalism and patriotism, combined with a defensive mood after the NATO bombings that prevent them from acknowledging these war crimes. Even individuals who admit the guilt in their hearts are reluctant, to condemn the war crimes and genocide as they would be seen as traitors; it does take a lot of courage to go against popular opinion and express the truth.
So, was it mere luck that Ratko Mladic was found and arrested? For sure, it was not because the Serbian government feels the need to atone for their past sins, otherwise they would have made the effort to find and arrest monsters like Mladic and Karadzic 15 years ago, and compensate the Bosnian victims.
Serbia needs to cooperate with the war crimes prosecutors to start negotiation for gaining entry to the lucrative EU club. The recent arrest prevented the outright rejection of Serbia’s bid for EU membership, as the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal at The Hague, revised his earlier view presented at the UN. Hence, the real motive for arresting Ratko Mladic lies in gaining membership of the EU, for the same reason the Serbian regime also arrested Radovan Karadzic in 2008.
Handing over war criminals is one of the hurdles Serbia needs to cross. The other hurdles will be further internal reforms so that it matches the democratic standards set by the EU, and reign in the nationalists in order to normalise the relationship with the former province of Kosovo. With the arrest of the major war criminals almost coming to an end, the EU will start to consider Serbia as a candidate and start negotiation.
In addition, there is demand from within; one cannot fail to observe the gap between the young generation on the streets of Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Nis, who want to be part of the Europe Union, and the status-quo that reminds you of a country still living in the old communist block of the 70s. The youths want to transform their nation to resemble the wealthy nations of Western Europe.
The pressure to join the EU also arises from Serbia’s neighbours making progress and gaining entry, which will give them greater opportunity to make economic progress through movement of trade and labour. Nobody wants to remain poor and isolated, whilst the neighbours are getting richer. Slovenia is the only former province of Yugoslavia that has gained membership of the EU since 2004, and Croatia looks to be next, expected to join in 2013. Both of these nations are culturally closer to Western Europe. In fact, the Croatians see themselves as the demarcation line between Western Europe and the outside world. Montenegro is also a candidate.
If Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro succeed in joining, it will also exert pressure on Muslim dominated Bosnia, Albania, and Turkey for membership. One can only speculate what its impact will be, adding a substantial amount of Muslim population into the EU which was originally seen as a fortress for Christian Europe. Will it lead to integration and create harmony in a cultural melting pot, or will it result in the rise of xenophobia, hate and conflict? Ideas and values may flow both ways – these new Muslims of the EU may enhance the case for democracy to the Arab and Islamic world, which is already feeling the pressure for reform from the recent Arab spring, and concurrently many more Europeans may embrace Islam through direct interaction, which would dissolve the Islamic-demons created by the hostile mass media. Another remote possibility is the creation of a new Islamic block, where Bosnia, Albania and Turkey merge with the new progressive Middle East that may arise from the Arab spring.