Wolfgang Petritsch, a former Austrian diplomat who worked in the Balkans for years, told Deutsche Welle that the arrest and trial of Ratko Mladic is an important step for Serbia, but that more are necessary.
Could Mladic's arrest be a step towards the EU for Serbia?
Ratko Mladic has made his first appearance in front of a UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, after more than 15 years on the run. The move is seen as a step forward for international justice, and the Serbian government.
Wolfgang Petritsch has served as a senior Austrian diplomat in the Balkans region. During his time as ambassador to Serbia, from 1997 to 1999, he was named the EU's special representative for Kosovo, and as such he was the chief negotiator during attempted peace talks in Rambouillet and Paris which ultimately led to the deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo. Later, as the top ambassador for Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1999 and 2002, he orchestrated the civic implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.
Deutsche Welle: Europe had to wait over 15 years before Ratko Mladic was arrested. He has now been extradited to The Hague. It's late, but is it a triumph for international justice?
Wolfgang Petritsch: It's certainly not a triumph. It appears that the wheels of justice grind very slowly, but they get there in the end. So in another sense, it is an important message for Europe, one that shows that we don't give up on war crimes until the perpetrators are stood in court. I do think that's important.
We in the international European community have decided that the events in Bosnia, the wars in the former Yugoslavia must not be forgotten until all those most responsible have faced justice. And Ratko Mladic's arrest and extradition to The Hague mark an important point on this road.
Mladic appeared in front of the UN war crimes tribunal for the first time on Friday, and the charges against him were read out. Perhaps this could offer some comfort to the victims of the bloody attacks. What do you hope for, and what do you expect from this trial in an international courtroom?
Petritsch served as a diplomat in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
In my time as an official in Bosnia, I always tried to do everything possible to the let the survivors and the relatives of the victims know and realize that we had not forgotten them, that the crimes committed would be answered for in front of a judge. I think that's an important message, one that even reflects Europe's, shall we say, higher civilization level; it shows that Europe has learned from the horrors of the World War II. Europe failed several times in the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but now I believe that we have taken a clear stance. These things will not be forgotten, and we want to achieve justice on behalf of the victims.
For many Serbs the ex-general is still a hero. Many demonstrators have reacted very negatively to Mladic's arrest. Could these radical Serbs make it more difficult to leave the past behind and develop a modern, democratic country?
For Serbia, coming to terms with the entire Yugoslav tragedy is obviously a very difficult task. But you must consider that only a few hundred or thousand demonstrated amongst the millions of Serbs in the country. There are of course many others - we know this from surveys - who harbor some form of sympathy for Mladic, but the majority of them have recognized that his path led them into a deadly mistake that also seriously damaged Serbia. One thing that will further this development is an internal attempt within the Serb society - from politicians, intellectuals and the media - to work towards educating and enlightening; the tough path of self-awareness will ultimately help the country.
Has Mladic's arrest brought Serbia closer to EU membership?
It's certainly a start - the arrest undoubtedly represents a political shift towards Europe. Especially considering the surely difficult job that President [Boris] Tadic must have faced reaching this decision against considerable resistance from parts of society, not least the military. It took a long time, Europe was very patient, but I do think this was a very important step - one that needs to be followed by several more.
For me, there are two major areas where Serbia must prove it is ready for Europe, so to speak. The first is the obviously difficult question of Kosovo. There, both sides should try to approach each other mutually and seek a compromise in keeping with the European spirit. In my opinion, it could take a long time before Serbia fully accepts that Kosovo is no longer a part of Serbia, but both sides must work constructively in this direction; above all, they must be pragmatic and seek workable solutions.
And the second question is of course Bosnia. Serbia must start to behave with real loyalty towards Bosnia as a neighbor, but it cannot remain a country that meddles in Bosnian internal affairs.
Interviewer: Mimoza Cika Kelmendi / msh
Editor: Martin Kuebler