Hi folks, I am your guest blogger for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll allow me to be a little coy about my identity; but I do work in Brussels, in the general field of international politics.
I usually forget to check the European Parliament’s calendar of next week’s events on Friday afternoon, though really I should do it as a matter of routine, to plan ahead for the coming week. (And really they should have a direct link from the front page of their website, rather than three clicks away; but there’s not much point in wasting blogspace on stating the obvious about the crap design of the EU institutions’ websites.)
Along with the usual tedium of schedules for a conference in Cairo that nobody I know will go to, and such marvels as the European Parliament’s desperate attempt to make itself relevant to the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there is one potentially very interesting meeting on the agenda.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Foreign Affairs Committee will be discussing Croatia’s EU application with Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatia’s ambassador to the UN and its Chief Negotiator. This will be the day before Croatia’s EU membership talks would have started, were it not for Zagreb’s failure to catch fugitive general and war crimes indictee Ante Gotovina. (Who knows – in the next few days he may hand himself in, and prove my forecast wrong. But I’m not counting on it.)
The extraordinary events of last week in Kosovo – where the Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned and went quietly to the Hague following his indictment, successfully urging restraint on his own supporters, surely now must increase pressure on both Zagreb and Belgrade to draw a line under the past by dealing with the loose ends from the wars of the 1990s. Zagreb’s protests – that they don’t know where Gotovina is – are answered by the war crimes tribunal with the accusation that this is for want of trying.
(The Serbian government’s protests to the same effect are not widely believed in Belgrade, let alone in the Hague. A senior government official there recently told me, “I’d send my own mother to the war crimes tribunal, if they asked, so that Serbia could fulfill the EU’s conditions. Unfortunately the people who matter in this government don’t see it the same way.”)
There is a valid question about whether or not a war crimes tribunal is the best way to go in resolving conflicts. In other cases, political compromises between old and new regimes, or truth and reconciliation commissions, or both have been used. The fact that the ICTY has proved to be genuinely independent, especially in the way it has not felt constrained by anyone else’s political inconvenience when issuing indictments, has been a source of frustration to many in the Balkans. (Some of my more excitable friends even claimed that Carla del Ponte bore some of the responsibility for the assassination of Zoran Djindjic – an absurd assertion: the blame belongs entirely with those who planned and carried out the killing.)
However, IMHO that is all irrelevant by now. The international community, including the UN and all the relevant governments, signed up to ICTY when it was set up and they have no choice but to follow it through to the end. It also seems to me that the removal of war crimes indictees has generally had a positive effect on the ground. Look, for instance, at Kozarac, near Prijedor where the first two arrests by SFOR were made in July 1997: then a blasted landscape of ruined houses, now one of Bosnia’s best examples of refugee return. And just imagine how much worse the political scene would be now in Belgrade if Milosevic and Seselj were still in situ, either glowering from their prison cells or, worse, at liberty to whip up their supporters.
Considering that Kosovo is so far behind Croatia in so many other ways, it surely cannot be comfortable for Croatian officials to reflect that the UN protectorate has a perfect score on the one political condition that is keeping Croatia from EU membership negotiations. Vladimir Drobnjak is one of the most impressive negotiators and diplomats I have encountered from any country, let alone from the region, but he has been handed a very difficult situation to try and explain to the European parliament on Wednesday. I expect he will rise to the occasion: I’ll certainly be there myself, and will report back here.
And the first person to greet me with the words, “You are Brussels Gonzo, and I claim my free drink” will get a glass of wine (or equivalent) from me at the hemicycle bar.