Catching Karadzic: How Did One of Europe's Most Wanted Men Give the Security Forces the Slip for So Long? Because the Serbs Didn't Need to Seize Him until Now

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Looking a little like God in a Cecil B DeMille film, Radovan Karadzic was genuinely unrecognisable when he was arrested on a Belgrade bus last Monday evening. Yet even more astonishing was the news that he had been working as a crystal-rubbing therapist promoting well-being to audiences around Serbia. The killer as New Age healer-you couldn't make it up.

Several people who came into regular contact with Dragan David Dabic were clearly shocked to discover that he was in fact Karadzic. "It never occurred to me," said Goran Kojic, editor of Belgrade's Healthy Life magazine, who explained that Dabic had referred to himself as "a researcher in psychology and bioenergy" As recently as May, he made a public appearance as a therapist at a health festival, lecturing on "How to Enhance One's Own Bioenergies"

That was clearly the secret: do something so wildly ludicrous, grow an outrageous amount of facial hair, and you can give all those security forces the slip.

Er...not quite. The most perceptive comment in the wake of Karadzic's arrest was offered by Zlatko Lagumdzija, leader of Bosnia's Social Democratic Party. "It would appear," he observed, "that the state has decided to deal with Karadzic. The same state had earlier decided on the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic. This proves that Serbia has a strong state."

Lagumdzija knows Serbia is not a tinpot republic as caricatured in Tintin books. It has a developed infrastructure and its intelligence services are among the best-informed in Europe. The implication is clear: until now, Serbia was blocking the arrest of Karadzic.

Why has that changed? The short answer is that Serbia wants to curry favour with the European Union. In longhand, this is the culmination of a sophisticated and complex political operation by President Boris Tadic.

Early this year, the US and most EU states recognised the independence of Kosovo. The timing could hardly have been worse, as Serbia was scheduled to have presidential elections soon after and Tadic was under serious pressure from his main opponent, Tomislav Nikolic, the ultra-nationalist chief of the Serbian Radical Party, the country's largest political party.

Thus, in his campaign, President Tadic had to explain to the electorate why the people should vote for his pro-European orientation when the major European powers were engaged in stripping the country of part of its territory. Whether Kosovo should be independent was not at issue: but the timing and manner of the process was extremely badly handled by the EU and the US.

As if this wasn't enough, the Dutch government then announced it would block Serbia's continued progress towards EU accession until it handed over the two most wanted indictees to The Hague, Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. …