Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Serbia Ponders Haradinaj Implications

Kosovo prime minister’s decision to go to The Hague leaves Belgrade few excuses not to round up its own indictees.
By Tanja Matic

The indictment of Kosovo's prime minister may accelerate the rate of Serbia's cooperation with the Hague tribunal, as Belgrade tries to avoid coming under additional pressure from the international community.

At the same time, families of Kosovo Serbs who went missing in the conflict said they remained unmoved by the surrender of Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander who was active the west of the province, where many Serbs disappeared and are presumed killed.

Haradinaj surrendered to the Hague tribunal less than 24 hours after he received the indictment.

Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia's National Council for cooperation with The Hague, told IWPR the indictment will "certainly increase pressure from the international community and the Hague tribunal on Serbia over its cooperation with the court".

He added, "We will not wait for the pressure to come, and will instigate voluntary surrenders in Serbia".

Ljajic said he expected "more accused [men], including police general Sreten Lukic, to surrender to The Hague before the end of March".

International officials praised Haradinaj's decision to cooperate with the court and invited other former Yugoslav states harbouring fugitives to follow his example.

Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for foreign policy, was among those welcoming Haradinaj's action, saying, "Full co-operation with the tribunal is imperative for everybody".

Britain's Minister for Europe Denis MacShane said he believed Haradinaj's decision would "send a message to others who skulk and hide".

Lack of cooperation with The Hague has been one of the main impediments to blocking Serbia's progress towards European Union and NATO membership.

Since the first indictments were made public a decade ago, Serbia has never received a positive assessment for its cooperation with the Tribunal.

The most prominent absentees from The Hague are the two most wanted figures from the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, both indicted for genocide.

In a sign that something is shifting, Vladimir Lazarevic, one of four wanted Serbian generals, surrendered to The Hague over the past month along with three other indictees.

But in contrast to Haradinaj's immediate resignation and surrender, some of them have been on the wanted list for more than a year.

Serbian politicians have been pressing for an indictment against Haradinaj for some years, saying it would be a sign that the tribunal is politically unbiased.

Political analyst Slobodan Antonic said that the indictment would have a positive impact, "coinciding with the speeding up of Serbia's own cooperation".

He said there could be no going back now for the Serbian government on the issue. "Hague critics were using the lack of a Haradinaj indictment as one of the main excuses for their own lack of cooperation," he told IWPR.

James Lyon, Belgrade director of the Brussels-based think tank Crisis Group, told IWPR that Haradinaj had "set a new standard of good behaviour towards The Hague" that put Serbia on the back foot.

"If a sitting prime minister can do everything in a day, no more excuses by Serbia for not arresting Karadzic, Mladic and the rest of the [fugitive] generals can be accepted - especially as they are accused of bigger crimes than Haradinaj," he said.

Zoran Stojiljkovic, professor of political science at Belgrade University, said Haradinaj's surrender would encourage pro-Hague forces in Serbia.

"If this turns out to be a real trial and not just an on-the-spot action leading to Haradinaj's speedy return from The Hague, it could serve as an argument in favour of cooperation by pro-western elements on the Serbian political scene," he said.

It would show that the Hague court had a "balanced attitude towards the whole of the Balkans", he added.

However, as Lyon warned, a more immediate consequence of Haradinaj's indictment and surrender may be increased pressure on Serbia to hand over its own outstanding indictees.

"The international community will expect similar behaviour from the other countries and will put additional pressure on Serbia to extradite fugitives," he said.

One other positive development was that Serbia took the news of the Kosovo indictment calmly and without provocative, counterproductive displays of triumph and euphoria.

"At least no one in the leadership was seen celebrating the indictment and Serbian officials confined themselves to moderate comments," said Stojiljkovic.

The public in Kosovo also received the news of the indictment quietly, leading United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to praise the "peaceful and democratic manner" in which they reacted.

But while Ljajic said the new indictment might "soften the negative attitude of the Serbian public to the war crimes court, which is widely perceived as anti-Serb", there was not much sign of a change of heart among the public.

Members of the association of families with missing relatives in Kosovo said the extradition of Haradinaj in itself would do little to ease their pain.

One mother whose son had gone missing in Kosovo told IWPR, "I do not care where Haradinaj is. I am only interested in finding my child".

Another woman said they were all "losing hope that our dear ones are alive. If they were alive - there would be no need [for Haradinaj] to go to The Hague".

Families who have been waiting for six or seven years to hear news of their relatives would not feel very different following news of the indictment, she added.

Such views are reflected among people on the street, few of whom seemed impressed by the latest developments when interviewed by IWPR.

Only ten per cent of Serbia's population fully favours cooperation with The Hague, while 41 per cent is absolutely opposed to it, according a survey last autumn.

"One swallow does not make a spring," said 23-year-old Veljko, voicing the strong anti-Hague attitudes shared by most Serbs.

"We have a whole government and army headquarters in The Hague, and one Kosovo prime minister will not make any difference."

Tanja Matic is an IWPR reporter in Belgrade.