Denis MacShane: A defeat for evil as principles triumph in Serbia

THE arrest of Radovan Karadzic shows that good politics can win. The arrival of the principled pro-European Boris Tadic as Serbia's president with a working majority in the Serbian parliament appears to have opened the way to a new vigorous approach by Serb police and security agents.

No-one can doubt the importance of arresting Karadzic. Together with his accomplice, Ratko Mladic – the military brawn to Karadzic's warped political brain – they stand accused of the worst crime against humanity in post-war European history.

In the summer of 1995, up to 8,000 unarmed men were taken away and shot after the failure of the United Nations, with the complicity of the appeasement policies of the then British government, to tackle the Serb military as they surged into the harmless Muslim town of Srebrenica in Bosnia.

To put the massacre in perspective, the world remembers with horror the Nazis' killings at Lidice or the massacre by the Das Reich division at Oradour-sur-Glane in France. But the total number of people killed by the Nazis in those two atrocities amounted to less than a quarter of those murdered by the Karadzic-Mladic killing machine at Srebrenica.

For four years as Minister charged with the Balkans policy,

I travelled to Belgrade to urge the post-Milosevic government to hunt down Karadzic and Mladic.

I was told not to be obsessive and that it was impossible to find Karadzic, who was hiding outside the reach of the Belgrade authorities in the Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mladic was reported to be seen in Belgrade and his family were still receiving his military salary and pension. So now Karadzic has been found and taken without resistance, it is time Mladic too is detained. Both men should be sent to the Hague.

International justice can work and if Barack Obama does become President of the United States, one of his first symbolic actions should be to signal America's adherence to the International Criminal Court.

The clear political winner in this is President Tadic, who has taken a principled stand within Serbia in urging his fellow citizens to accept what happened in the Milosevic era was a terrible stain on Serbia's honour and history. He was viciously attacked by nationalists inside Serbia and their fellow-travellers in the west, including those journalists and intellectuals in London who see the intervention to destroy Milosevic's murder machine as an unacceptable example of liberal interventionism.

The last time I spoke to Tadic was at the Socialist International congress in Belgrade earlier this month. Montenegrin and Bosniak politicians there were critical of Tadic entering into coalition with the left-over Serb socialists, once the party of Milosevic. But Tadic's judgment appears to have been correct. If Mladic is also detained, the chances of Serbia under Tadic bringing closure to the Milosevic era are good.

One major obstacle remains. Kosovo. The Serbs cannot accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs. Like the Germans who insist "Schlesien bliebt unser" – Silesia belong to us – Serbia insists that Kosovo remains part of Serbia. This delusion, at a time when dozens of countries from

Europe to Japan have recognised Kosovo as an independent nation-state, remains a blockage to Serbia's full-speed-ahead progress to European Union and even Nato status.

Russia is doing all it can to block a resolution of the Kosovo problem and has support from Spain. The latter's political position is curious. Spain, in effect, has lined up with the worst ultra-nationalist politicians in Belgrade, men whose politics are more reminiscent of falangism than modern European social democracy.

Karadzic and Mladic are closer in style, rhetoric and actions to the fascist terrorism of ETA and Spain should now take the opportunity of this development to rejoin mainstream EU foreign policy and recognise Kosovo.

Bit by bit, European policy has worked in the western Balkans. The Croatian war criminal, Ante Gotivina, is also in the Hague after years of denial by the Zagreb authorities that he could be found and transferred. When it was made clear that Gotovina in the Hague was a condition for Croatia to start EU membership negotiations, the Croats found Gotovina quickly enough.

I made myself unpopular in Zagreb by going on radio and television to demand Gotovina's arrest. The president of Croatia even travelled to see Tony Blair to complain that Britain was taking too hard a line. Downing Street officials urged me to ease off but I insisted that Britain should take a lead at EU meetings, saying Gotovina should be in the Hague.

Tadic now needs support, congratulations and private encouragement to find a way out of Belgrade's dead-end Kosovo posturing. If Gordon Brown gets bored with Southwold, a quick visit to the Balkans, where

British political-military prestige remains high would show

a senior European leader supporting democrats in the region.

A Brown visit would face down the growing Russian efforts to meddle and thwart the efforts to bring stability and progress in nations between Greece and Austria, between the Black and Adriatic seas.

Back in Britain, there may now be a case for an inquiry into the behaviour of British ministers and officials over the disastrous handling of the Balkans during the Milosevic years.

Some of them remain close to David Cameron and remain influential in Tory foreign policy thinking. Tadic and other Balkan leaders do not forget easily those in Whitehall and Westminster who did deals with Milosevic. Britain had to wait for the arrival of Tony Blair before clear judgment was applied on what needed to be done to defeat Balkans fascism.

In the meantime, as with the release of Ingrid Bettancourt, not all the news from afar is bad. Evil can be defeated.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Minister for Europe.