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The (democratic) ties that bind

A lesson from events in Serbia and Zimbabwe is that democratic freedoms matter.

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Two countries. Two starkly different events. But one thread ties together this week's arrest in Serbia of war-crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and, in desperate Zimbabwe, a welcome agreement to start political power-sharing talks. That connection is the fiber of democratic freedoms.

For 13 years, Mr. Karadzic had been in hiding as the world's most wanted war-crimes fugitive. The former Bosnian Serb president and accused architect of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war found cover under Serbia's nationalist government.

But the nationalist crowd was recently turned out in elections, and a new pro-Western government took over last month. The chief of secret police, who has the job of arresting war-crime suspects, was replaced, and Mr. Karadzic's arrest followed in short order.

The man who eluded NATO capture for years, and who was allegedly behind the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, has finally been nabbed by the Serbs themselves. That testifies to the power of free and fair elections, and to the pull of benefits that will come if Serbia joins the European Union. The EU has made Serb membership in its democratic and economic club contingent on the arrest of Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, who is still at large.

A continent away, representatives of Zimbabwe's polarized parties began talks July 22 on a power-sharing deal. The need is urgent. A country that used to be a prosperous anchor in southern Africa has been leaching millions of refugees into bordering nations as Zimbabweans flee hunger, violence, and a defunct economy.

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