Could Ratko Mladic playing ping-pong hurt Serbia’s EU chances?

Wednesday night, the Bosnian television program “60 Minutes” broadcast videos of former Serb general Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted to join his former political leader, Radovan Karadzic, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the forme Yugoslavia in The Hague. Unlike Karadzic, whose elaborate disguise was finally found out last year, Mladic is widely believed to have been living in the open and with the collusion of Serb authorities for the past decade-plus. This allegation would seem to be supported by the videos, some of which the “60 Minutes” producer claims are less than two years old.

Serbia, though, denies that any of them could be “less than eight years old.” At particular issue, among videos showing Mladic dancing, toasting at a wedding, and getting in a snowball fight, is one depicting him playing table tennis at an army barracks, which is one of the locations he is reputed to have been spending time in the past few years. This was confirmed a couple days ago, when one of Mladic’s former bodyguards attested to have been protecting him at the barracks, under Serb government orders, between 1997 and 2002.

The court in The Hague says that it already has the videos that were shown on Bosnian television. And the broadcast does seem suspiciously timed; on Monday, EU foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss Serbia’s cooperation with the Hague tribunal and the search for Mladic, which has been an important condition in Serbia’s push for EU membership.

Could Bosnia be seeking to cast doubt on Serbia’s commitment to finding Mladic, in hopes of undermining its EU bid? It’s entirely possible. But it was also widey — and reasonably — suspected, even before his former bodyguard’s recent testimony, that Mladic has spent a long time living under at least quasi-government protection. This Serb government is more committed to joining the EU than its predecessors, but it faces the same quandary, in that Mladic, unfortunately, remains a popular figure among segments of the Serb population. Mladic should be even easier to arrest than the heavily disguised Karadzic, though, so Serbia should make sure that he is not spending his days playing ping-pong in army barracks.

(image from flickr user leasing2008 under a Creative Commons license)