A reader writes:
I know you're busy yelling at Netanyahu and Palin supporters (who aren't listening to you anyway), but I'm surprised that you haven't said a word about Serbia's having finally captured Mladic. This is a big deal for Serbia and Europe. And it might make us think differently about the Arab Spring, given that so many hold out the metaphor of 1989 with one hand, then retract it with the other: Europe was different, was wealthier, was more stable.
Yes and no, and Mladic's capture allows us to reflect more fully on the reality of 1989 and its aftermath.
Yugoslavia started boiling in '89 (Tudjman renaming streets in Croatia after Ustasa murderers from WWII, Milosevic's vicious nationalism,_inter alia_), exploded in 1991, and didn't stop murdering until 1998. Nagorno-Karabakh, and tension and warfare in the Caucasus which continues to this day. The Czech-Slovak "Velvet Divorce," and the subsequent election in Slovakia of Vladimir Meciar, former boxer and corrupt thug. The elderly throughout the region scrabbling through garbage cans for recyclables to sell as subsidies for utilities and cheap rents disappeared. The enormity of East Germany slowly dawning on the prosperous West German population, and the brain drain and internal conflicts which resulted. Aleksandr Lukashenko still in power, not to mention Vladimir Putin. The EU's fear of Poland, now reaimed at Turkey.
But it's not surprising, is it? Never before had an interlocked set of socialist economies been forced to leap forward 20 years (or, in some cases, 50 or 60 – that's how far behind the rest of the world these economies were) and capitalism created from scratch. And half of Europe had to confront fifty years of bloody history, from their collaboration with Nazism to the actions of their Communist secret police, and then find a way forward together.
Mladic's capture helps us keep these messy details in mind. Europe's post-'89 transition is not complete, despite the US tendency to think of Europe as a "finished" continent and despite Europe's many undeniable advantages over the Middle East. If Europe needs more than two decades to sort out this kind of historic shift, and lapsed into genocide along the way, it shouldn't surprise us when the Middle East encounters bumps and snags along its own path.
I'd like to point out the difference between the way Europe and the US go after bad guys. The US invades countries, blows them to pieces, then goes into another country, blows that to pieces, only to find out that the guy they're looking for is hiding in yet another country. One they thought was a friend. But regardless of the friendship, the US goes in without telling their friend and executes their bad guy.
Here's how Europe does it. It holds a big carrot over the place where the bad guy is hiding: membership of the EU union. It creates an international court system, in this case the Yugoslavia court. And it waits. And slowly the bad guys get discovered by the locals. First Milosovic. Then Karadzic. Now Mladic.
No guns, no execution, no torture, just the patient power of the law. Just look at the dry headline on The International Criminal Tribunal's website: "Tribunal Welcomes the Arrest of Ratko Mladi?". These thugs have to stand trial. No glorious, scandalous trial. No politicians fearing death and destruction. Just the slow-grinding, boring mill of justice. Milosovic died under the pressure. Karadzic is fading away. And now Mladic faces the same prospect in a very decent cell in Scheveningen.
America is a fantastic country to live in. But boy am I proud to be European on days like this.
(Photo: A Serbian Radical party supporter holds photos of war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic (L), Ratko Mladic (C) and Vojislav Seselj (R) at a rally in Belgrade February 24, 2006. A Serbian ultranationalist party on Thursday urged fugitive Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic not to surrender to the UN warcrimes court, despite mounting pressure on Belgrade to hand over one of the most wanted suspects of the Balkan wars in 1990s. By Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)