SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The arrest of Ratko Mladic, the last of the major Serb wartime figures wanted for war crimes, should help deflate Serb separatism in the region as Serbia closes in on EU membership, analysts said on Friday.
“Once Serbia is installed on the EU path, there will be less and less space for it to meddle in Bosnia,” Sonja Biserko, head of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said.
“The arrest is most important for Serbia’s winning EU candidate status,” she added.
Analysts also downplayed fears among some ethnic Serbs that strengthening Serbia’s ties with the European Union would spell the end of Republika Srpska, the main Serb political entity within multi-ethnic Bosnia.
“I think in mid-term perspective, the trial will not have an impact on the Republika Srpska status and the way it was created because nobody wants to further complicate the political relations in Bosnia and the Balkans,” Tanja Topic, a political analyst with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said.
Mladic, along with his political chief Radovan Karadzic, was indicted twice in 1995: for genocide and the war crimes committed across Bosnia during the 1992-95 war, and then over the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims.
The war’s end left the Balkan country divided into two autonomous regions — the Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat federation under a weak national government. Ethnic division remains strong in the country, hindering Bosnia’s own EU aspirations and its efforts to lure foreign investment.
Many see Mladic’s arrest as a blow to the present day Bosnian Serb nationalist leadership, which under President Milorad Dodik has worked hard to turn the Serb Republic into a separate state, relying on support from Serbia and Russia.
While the Bosnian Serb leaders were muted in their reaction to the news of the arrest, many ordinary Bosnian Serbs voiced disbelief that a man they see as a hero was arrested by their wartime ally Serbia.
“We, the Serbs west of the Drina River, received a message that we are alone and that we must find new friends,” said Pantelija Curguz, president of the Bosnian Serb war veterans association.
“With Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s president and official Belgrade have shown that entering the European Union is their priority.”
Curguz expressed fear that Mladic’s trial will be used by some political circles to renew a call to abolish the Serb Republic, based on a claim “that it is a criminal creation founded on genocide.”
“The trial to General Ratko Mladic will be the trial of the Republika Srpska,” he said. “It’s not about the arrest itself; it means that Republika Srpska will suffer long-term consequences.”
Some analysts dismiss such a scenario, saying that Mladic will be tried for his individual responsibility in the war.
Others doubt that Mladic’s trial will change political reality in Bosnia and opposing views on the war past. Most Serbs see the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as biased against Serbs.
“I don’t see why we would see some changes now when nothing has changed after Karadzic was arrested,” said Edina Becirovic, a political analyst and professor at the Sarajevo University.
Additional reporting by Gordana Katana in Banja Luka, editing by Adam Tanner and Michael Roddy