[This post is quite long but it could be the best work I have done this year. The reader is asked to be patient as the parts of a surreal sequence of events is described. Skip the afterthoughts if you wish (I tend to get off track sometimes) Until then the content is convoluted but coherent.]
Radovan Karadzic, arrested yesterday as a war criminal, is one of many such criminals hiding in plain sight around the world. (BBC, H/T View from Iran)
Was his arrest brought about by a tipping point in public opinion in that part of Europe? And if so, is that shift in public opinion a spinoff of anything done or said by Barack Obama?
It is clear that the impact of his image and the mere promise of an Obama presidency in America, is bringing about about changes in public opinion abroad. Look what appeared last week in Sofia Echo, a Bulgarian weekly:
US Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama has congratulated Serbian president Boris Tadic and prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic on the formation of the country’s new government.
In a statement on his website, Obama said that he wished the new government in Belgrade “success in tackling the problems that have for too long kept Serbia from achieving its great potential”.
Late on July 7, Serbia got a cabinet after two months of hard coalition bargaining. A total of 127 members of parliament of the 250-seat Serbian assembly approved the government composition that Cvetkovic had proposed earlier in the day along with the cabinet programme, after which the new ministers were sworn in.
In the statement, issued on July 8, Obama said that “Serbs have moved through several painful chapters in their long and proud history”.
Citizens of Serbia are eager for progress, democratic development and economic growth, Obama said.
“In May, voters expressed their desire for a European future, a vision that has been confirmed by the Serbian political leadership through the formation of a government that shares these aspirations. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union provides the foundation upon which the new government can build. A Serbian government that devotes its energies to this hopeful vision can count on my full support.”
Obama said that “real progress of course requires positive and responsible relationships with all of Serbia's neighbours, including Kosovo. Relegating inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions to the past is essential to achieving this. An Obama administration together with our European partners, will work to ensure that all regional actors adhere to such standards”.
“All Serbs in the region, no matter where they reside, can see their lives improve by active participation in legitimate political institutions at all levels.
“Rest assured that, as President, I will work with all international and local actors in Kosovo to realise the full array of protections for Serbs there, including enhanced competencies for Serb municipalities, unfettered and undisturbed access and operation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the right of return and restoration of property for all refugees and displaced persons.”
Obama said that building a better future also required honouring obligations from the past.
“The recent arrest of Stojan Zupljanin was an important step in this direction. I call on the new government in Belgrade to exert maximum efforts to apprehend the remaining fugitives wanted for war crimes, including General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.”
Obama said that Serbia and the United States traditionally had enjoyed warm relations as partners and allies.
“It is time for our countries to return to the shared values and mutual respect that served us so well in the past. My administration will look for a vibrant partner in Belgrade with which we can together cultivate our relationship,” Obama said.
This piece is dated July 13.
Obama is quoted as calling specifically for the arrests of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
Karadzic was taken into custody yesterday, a week later. And this morning NPR suggests that Mladic may not be far behind.
(Since the end of open hostilities following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, these men have moved about unmolested because apprehending them creates problems for the authorities. Security is already tight because their supporters are not famous for patience or tolerance.)
This story is low-hanging fruit for whatever ambitious young journalist wants to pick it. As I've said before, I'm just an old guy blogging, and if I can see it, anyone can.
Here's some garnish for the salad:
From the Obama website, a harvest of three thousand plus links that mention "serbia:"
Milojko's Blog: March 2
Serbian students addressing Barrack Obama in order to support his new policy towards dialogue and tolerance has imposed a nonviolent action in Belgrade, Less than ten days since US embassy in Belgrade is stormed, another face of Serbia has addressed to US public - supporting Barrack Obama. Kosovo instability in Serbia is widely recognized as Clinton Dynasty failure, by most of the Serbs, bringing unrest, riots and instability in Balkans, the region which has developed towards democracy in last 8 years, after a series of Civil wars, and NATO military intervention, led by Bill` Clinton`s administration in 1999. Spatial envoy for Balkans at troubled 90ties was Richard Holbrook, widely recognized as "arrogant cowboy", Serbian immigrants in US, settled largely in Chicago IL are very supportive of Barrack Obama, including few superdelegates. Only seven days after mobsters has burned US embassy in Belgrade, with 1 protester dead, young Serbs has put the Obama next to Kennedy, widely recognized as friend of this part of the world. Young Serbian Student Leader Simon Simonovic has stated to media covering this public action that "after announcing new political course, including new policy Towards Cuba, Barack Obama gives hope to Serbs that US will treat us with more common sense and less arrogance" . We think that Obama should be aware of this support, and thinking about the re-building friendship with Serbia!
Post from More Peace Corps - Less Defence Dept:
Serbia arrested one of the most notorious war criminal yesterday. He was indicted twice by the U.N. tribunal on genocide charges stemming from his alleged crimes against Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Former high ranking US State Department official, Richard Holbrooke estimated that Radavan Karadzic is responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people in former Yugoslavia. Without him there probably would not have been a war or genocide in Bosnia. He is in custody now, leaving only about 5 indictees, including Ratko Mladic remaining at large.
The EU presidency (currently held by France) was quick to comment that this arrest is "an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union".
Reconstruction in all of former Yugoslavian countries that were most affected by the 1992-95 war (Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia) has been slowly poking along. This arrest may prove quite helpful to Serbia to push along reconstruction efforts. Bosnia and Serbia are definitely countries that could use Peace Corps Volunteers that have a business profile and background. There are tons of jobs for American entrepreneurs.
At last !
By Nesic Mladjan - Jan 7th, 2008
We belive in you Obama. Because Serbia and America have a great democratic future, if you winn. We pray for you, and we need support of your country. We still believe that our country is able to survive. Please, help us Obama. America is our new hope !!!Everybody are talking about Europe, but i would say there is a new era, a new hope for living in peace. Just a little more understanding needed Obama.
Just a little more help to democratic Serbia.
Democratic Serbia need your support.
We are giving you all our heart to winn.
God bless America, God bless Barack Obama and his family.
From a group called Serbs4Obama
This group is to facilitate interaction among anybody interested, all around the World, to support Senator Barack Obama to become next President of USA. It's formed with only ONE goal, to make this country and this World a better place with more hope and compassion. It is time to think about health, education, environment, integrity, help for ones in need - not only about $. Thank you everyone for your time and dedication and donation, let's help make this happen.
I haven't taken the time to sift through this amazing collection of cyber-flotsam. But the little I have seen gives me a flashback to a day in New York, October, 2002, just a few weeks after the World Trade Center tragedy.
As I stood at a chain-link fence shrouding what they called "Ground Zero" I saw endless notes and messages fastened to that fence from people all over the country. There were prayers, poems, messages of condolence and hope, some in pen, some typed, many from children in crayon... but I couldn't allow myself to read them. One or two at a time was all I could manage because my eyes filled with tears. Even now the memory of that moment returns and that same emotion swells in me. Just knowing that so many other people shared the grief was a powerful realization.
Nesic Mladjan's link above, composed back in January, with its awkward English and the innocent, bright-eyed hope that only shines from the faces of young people, gives me the same feeling I had six years ago in New York. In the aftermath of the unfinished business of the military conflict that tore his part of the world (like the misbegotten adventure in Iraq) which cost the lives of so many, both military and civilian, the image and message of Barack Obama does, in fact, bring hope -- audatious hope, if you will -- that the future can bring about change (there's that word again) for the better.
And that's why I think Barack Obama had something to do with the arrest of Radovan Karadjic. How can anyone question this man's acuity in foreign policy? What kind of "experience" trumps this?
One reason this item jumped out at me was that I followed closely the collapse of Yougoslavia at the time it was happening. Targets on the backs of people in Sarajevo, complicated maps of the ethnic and religious mixture of the region, history and all that... I also discovered Misha Glenny, a BBC journalist who seemed to be the best informed source of information and author of the most current book available at the time.
This BBC report puts yesterday's arrest into perspective.
The next year refugees began coming to America and I hired two of them to work in the cafeteria. They were surprised to find that I knew something of the events that led them there (most Americans did not... nor do they to this day) and they were model employees until they were hired away to other jobs with higher pay.
(This is normal for many people working at or near the minimum wage. I never imagined that a newly hired employee serving on a cafeteria line, cleaning tables or washing dishes was making a career move. What most companies derisively refer to as "turnover" is nothing more than the normal workings of the lower edge of the economy. It is also why I have no problems with increases in the federal minimum wage. But I digress...)
Having filled out any number of I-9's validating "green cards," I was surprised when I saw different identification. It was the only time I saw something like a brown shipping tag with a stamp (no photo) from the State Department, not the INS, identifying them as refugees. They also had new Social Security cards and permission to work. They were sponsored by a local church group which is why they were in the Atlanta area instead of one of the places where others might be found who spoke the language.
Which reminds me of religion. One of these ladies was Christian and her friend was Muslim. They didn't know each other before they arrived but their common origin was more important than their religious identity.
So-called religious conflicts seem to be an opportunity for tyrants and extremists to bring out the worst in others. What happened in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans is not very different from what is happening in the Middle East or Africa. The names change, the races change, the confessional identities change, but the theme remains the same.
There, but for the grace of God, go we.