Dutch to veto Serbia’s SAA?

Apparently the Dutch have said they won’t approve Serbia’s Stability and Association agreement unless Serbia comes up with suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic.

This comes from the excellent B92 site:

Holland will not let Serbia sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) until Ratko Mladić is transferred to the Hague [said] Dutch European Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans… in an interview published by Belgium daily Le Soir today.

“We have been saying, and I repeated this clearly, that Serbia has to cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal. This means that Mladić has to be transferred to the Hague Tribunal prison,” said Timmermans.

By the way, I went to the Le Soir site to find the interview. You know what? Everything but the front page is pay-per-view. Cripes. What is this, 2004? That just seems so very Belgian somehow…


Le Soir reported that Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel’s visit to Holland on Thursday had been unsuccessful because he had failed to persuade his Dutch colleagues to allow Serbia to sign the SAA on January 28.

You may recall that Slovenia is holding the rotating EU Presidency just now. It was hoped that having a former Yugoslav republic there might help with some of the knotty Balkan issues that are bubbling up just now, especially Kosovo.

Stressing that Holland “has rather close cooperation with Belgium on this case,” Timmermans said that, according to the statements from former Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, it would be easy for the Serbian government to transfer Mladić, but that the situation with the remaining three fugitives was less clear.

Clarifying the reasons for his country’s stance on the matter, Timmermans explained that the Hague was the world’s metropolis of international law as several international courts were located there.

“We have certain responsibility for the functioning of those institutions. Also, there is a rather uncomfortable situation relating to Srebrenica, which concerns all Dutch people. (…) The fact that those crimes were witnessed by Dutchmen has a direct impact on our stand regarding the war crimes committed in Yugoslavia,” the minister concluded.

I posted about this almost a year ago. At that time, both Belgium and Holland were saying they wouldn’t allow Serbia to become an EU candidate unless there was cooperation with the Hague. I don’t know if Belgium is still on board, but it looks like the Dutch are willing to hold the line.

At this point someone pops up and says, how can a whole country’s candidacy be held hostage to one man? Two answers. First, this has happened before… Croatia’s candidacy was stalled for about half a year because they refused to produce suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina. Eventually they started cooperating, the process was allowed to begin again, and Gotovina was found and arrested. If Croatia had to do it, Serbia should be held to the same standard.

Second, while Mladic is important, it’s not just about him. The current government of Serbia has pretty much stopped even pretending to cooperate with the Hague. They don’t even go through the motions of looking for Mladic, Karadzic and the other missing suspects. You may recall that they handed over Zdravko Tolimir last year; well, that was the first handover in two years, and there hasn’t been another one since. Requests from the Hague for information or assistance are greeted with contemptuous silence. The Kostunica government doesn’t want to cooperate with the Hague at all, and will do only the minimum that it absolutely must.

This comes at an interesting time. On one hand, many Serbian politicians — including Kostunica! — are saying that they shouldn’t sign the SAA if the EU moves to get involved in Kosovo. Meanwhile, there are voices in Brussels saying that Serbia should get a special fast-track to membership if they’re willing to give Kosovo up. Both of these are rendered moot by the Dutch decision, and that’s a good thing.

A year ago I asked whether this position was tenable in the long term. A lot of pressure may be brought to bear on the Dutch (and the Belgians, if they’re still in it). Will they still be vetoing Serbia’s candidacy six months, a year, two years from now? Watch this space.

10 thoughts on “Dutch to veto Serbia’s SAA?

  1. It really doesn’t surprise me that they are not cooperating and are shrugging off requests for information on the progress in capturing war criminals. After all the EU is trying to illegally secede part of a sovereign nation’s territory, why should Serbia bother with international law if the dutch and others wont.
    There is certainly not going to be any cooperation until whatever happens with Kosovo happens, and the dust settles.

  2. I can read all of Le Soir by simply clicking on “Plan du site” on the top right-hand of the first page and clickig on any section I;m interested in.Now maybe I get a special treatment because of my ISP, skynet.be////

  3. Doug,

    I fear you may be right about the Dutch coming under increased pressure. Seselj’s deputy, Toma “the Gravedigger” Nikolic, looks like a good bet to get a plurality of votes in the first round of Serbia’s presidential elections on Sunday. If and when he does so, the resulting dumb panic in EU capitals is likely to find its expression in enormous pressure being brought to bear on the Netherlands to agree to an SAA signing, without Mladic, before balloting begins in Serbia for the second round of the elections.

    The Belgrade mass-circulation daily Glas javnosti is already trumpeting assurances that the Dutch will soften their stance and give up insisting on Mladic’s arrest. As its source, Glas cites Vladimir Vukcevic, chief prosecutor of Serbia’s war crimes court, and other local experts. Glas also claims to know that Brammertz will be pressured (by Brussels) to agree to some kind of deal (a positive report, in exchange for more promises of “cooperation”?) when he makes his first visit to Belgrade at the beginning of next month.

    Is there any truth in all this, or is it just hopeful Serbs whistling in the dark? Time will tell soon enough. But it’s enough to make one nervous.

  4. Andras: at the last Presidential election (June 2004) Nikolic beat Tadic in the first round. I’d expect the same thing to happen again. If he beats Tadic by a lot (like, six points or more) then I’d start worrying. Otherwise, it will look a lot like 2004 over again.

    Some people in Brussels seem to panic awfully easily. While I think a Nikolic Presidency would be very bad news for Serbia, it’s not going to much affect the EU. Serbia’s candidacy would be delayed, but it’s not like it’s imminent anyway.

    Mosh: right, because the ICTY is a creature of the EU. The EU is trying to dismember Serbia, so Serbia should never cooperate with the ICTY.

    Oh, wait… the ICTY is an arm of the United Nations. You know, the body that passed Resolution 1244, affirming Serbia’s territorial integrity? The one whose Security Council is all that’s stopping an independent Kosovo from getting formal international recognition? That United Nations?

    Oh, well, Serbia should refuse to cooperate with the ICTY anyway. Because… because Serbs have been victimized enough! Yes!

    Doug M.

  5. Pingback: A Fistful Of Euros » Blog Archive » Serbia, Round One

  6. This represents a different angle on Dutch refusal to back up Serbia in its EU road.

    The key issue for the refusal was that Netherlands insists that Belgrade catch and surrender fugitive war crimes suspects Radovan Karazic and Ratko Mladic. The reason for such an attitude is the Dutch part in events around massacre in Srebrenica.
    The argument is that because the Dutch are aware of their responsibility, they have to insist that responsible for that tragic event should found them selves in front of justice, meaning the Tribunal in Hague. Maybe for other EU countries is easier to say “ok, we should look into the future, and try to forget the past”, but the Dutch are not willing to drop it so easy.
    Counter argument for backing up Serbia for the Pact is to support democratic candidate for the President of Serbia: Boris Tadic against Tomislav Nikolic, who is a candidate of SRS, the extreme right party. Of course, that is not sufficient reason for Dutch to give up insisting on justice.

    So, what do we have here?
    We have one horrible event that occurred during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and unfortunately not the only one. On the other side, we have one EU country that refuses to give up this issue because it was unable to prevent it, although had possibilities, responsibilities and the mandate to do it. That is why, now it is determined to remain though about this, until the guilty are punished.
    However, we could ask who might be the guilty ones. Well, accused for this war crime are Radovan Karazic and Ratko Mladic: ex-president of the Serbian ethnicity in Bosnia and the general of the Bosnian Serbs Army. They are accused and could be probably guilty, although of course that is something that the Court should decide. Still, they are Bosnian Serbs, not Serbs from Serbia, and if there relations between them, those could be found only in Slobodan Milosevic and his support that he was giving during most of the war to Bosnian Serbs.
    In addition, in some periods of Milosevic´s rule, SRS participated into Government and cooperated with Milosevic.

    So, what do we get?
    We get that the Dutch are blocking democratic Serbia that had nothing to do with Srebrenica, moreover that was fighting against Milosevic, the same person that was giving assistance to those who are accused to be guilty, and yet, asking from Serbia to be responsible for arresting and delivering those two to the Tribunal in Hague, although they are citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maybe some argument could be found for Mladic, because for some time he was hiding in Serbia, but for Karadzic there is no basis at all to connecting him to Serbia.
    In that way, the political party and its candidate, whose ideology is related to those who actually are responsible the crimes and who cooperated with Milosevic, are indirectly supported by the Dutch. On the other hand, the democratic candidate that argues for the EU road is left without backup from the same EU.

    And why? Because the Dutch need to wash them selves in their own eyes, not taking into consideration that they could cause even more damage.
    But what is more important, why talking about the democratic candidate, nationalistic candidate and the presidential elections? Why not talking about Serbian people who support democracy in majority and trying to see their future in the European way? Why not mentioning millions common people, mostly young people, who had nothing with the war except its consequences and in spite of that, they find strength to forget the horrible past and look into the lighter future. And those who find it easier to blame EU for everything they have experienced are actually supported in their beliefs.

    At the end, one could ask about the consequences of such attitude of the Dutch and wander of number of new victims of such behaviour. How many new victims are needed that we could go on?

  7. In my opinion, the Dutch Government is taking revenge for the scandalous way, it was kept uninformed of the big countries’ arrangement with Milosevic/Karadzic in the spring of 1995, i.e., to give the latter green light to do away with the (UN-protected) Muslim “enclaves” in Serbian Bosnia, like Srebrenica. Frustration about the NATO allies, who did not come forward with the promised air support, is still great in the country. The whole affair has been documented by Frank Westerman (1996,in Dutch), the 2002 Dutch government-commissioned report by the Amsterdam Institute of War-Documentation (English version at the Dutch Government website) and most recently by Florence Hartmann (Paix et Chatiment, November 2007, French), the former porte parole of Carla Del Ponte (TPIY).The Dutch, while officially referring to the TPIY procedure, are unofficially saying to the Brits, the French (and the US): “Milosevic died, before he could be brought to confirm the 1994/5 deals with you about Srebrenica at the The Hague Court. Give us Mladic, who you helped to protect for more than 17 years, and who is freely walking around in Belgrade, and we’ll see!”

  8. If I can get e-mail adress from Ivan Nikolic,that would be very nice.He knows who I am:)

  9. Dutch Government is taking revenge on Serbian people, they troops wore together in Bosnia with that general for which they are up to. They want to get away from the responsibility which they have by putting blame on Serbia, Serbian Government is cooperative with tribunal, that’s what international tribunal prosecutor sad, so only conclusion is that Dutch government is acting on very savage and brutal way to words Serbian citizens.

  10. Thank you, Dutch goverment and people, for not giving up on justice, and for striving to provide closure for thousands of bereaved Bosnians, Croats and Kosovars who were victims of the Serb land-grabbing, genocide-ridden war of the early 1990s.
    Shame on “those voices in the EU” (why are their names kept under wraps?) that put their economic interests before justice and redemption for the victims of Serb atrocities in Srebrenica conducted under Mladic’s command and Serbian agenda.
    And, puhleeze, spare us Serbian techicalities, lamentations and spin. If you want to know the truth you need to look deeper than the media headlines or Serbian bloggers’ swearing to “the world’s conspiracy against the innocent Serbian nation”. Serbian people should have some dignity and honor and admit to their wrongdoings instead of blaming others for it. Then they can move on.

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