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NO 93-94

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 93-94 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 93-94

March - April 2006



By Sonja Biserko

Slobodan Milosevic's death was a major catalyst for Serbia's mindset. The manner in which the Kostunica cabinet reacted to it clearly demonstrated how close to the Premier's heart, policy and ideology Milosevic's regime had been. It also disclosed how much the Premier leaned on the Socialist Party of Serbia's support and how unwilling he was to distance himself from Milosevic's policy. However, reactions to Milosevic's death brought to the fore something much deeper - genuine devotion to the program that had been given plebiscitary support, including Kostunica's and all his coalition partners'. Serbia was saying "the last goodbye" to the man she adored and hated at the same time because she had looked up to him for things impossible. Milosevic's regime and he himself were thus blamed for all dashed hopes. By denying their own responsibility, individuals and groups have renounced all values and criteria. It was only logical that the criteria of good and evil were relativized. Therefore, Milosevic's extradition to The Hague - and the ensuing four-year trial that laid bare his policy of crime and evil - triggered off almost the entire community's mechanism - collective denial. It was his death that best mirrored that mechanism. For appeasement, guilty conscience needs a new model of exclusiveness - this time it seized for simplification and one-sided interpretation of Milosevic and his era.

Milosevic's conduct during the trial indicated that such denouement would be only logical. Once his defense strategy of underrating and discrediting the court failed, as if he wanted by "staging his own death" to place the burden of responsibility for it on the international community. Judging by numerous reports publicized after his death one cannot but conclude that he and his closest associates "had provoked cardiovascular complications, disseminated obviously false information about malpractice, and stirred the feelings of both progressive and reactionary publics" and that Milosevic, "fearing retaliation, kept playing until he overplayed his hand and lost the game." William Montgomery, former American ambassador to Serbia-Montenegro, says about the same, "I strongly believe that for Milosevic the worst alternative was a trial ending in unavoidable life sentence, far from home and far from public eye. His widow Mira Markovic actually predicted his death at a meeting in my Belgrade residence in 2003." Metropolitan Amfilohije begged Milosevic, while the latter was still in the Belgrade Central Prison, to commit suicide. Actually, both radical and "genuine" Serbian nationalists had invoked his death in the name of national interests.

Judging by reactions, both nationalists and the entire society were ambivalent about Milosevic's death. First and foremost, the fact that death had outstripped the sentence took a load of everyone's mind. The trial of Milosevic was nearing its end, while he himself had lost the battle long ago. His defense was unconvincing and unprofessional. His opting for a political defense found an echo only in Serbia and anti-globalist circles worldwide. Even some legal experts perceived his death as his final victory. Lawyer Toma Fila said, "Everything that took place at the trial to Milosevic is legally invalid, and depositions in favor of the prosecution would have to be rerun in every new case." Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic said, among other things, "The Hague found itself in deep waters and that's why they decided it would be best should he physically disappear." "For them, that was an elegant solution," she concluded.

For their part, Serbian nationalists seized the opportunity to build up anti-Hague campaign, question the position of the detained Serbs and, above all, object extradition of Ratko Mladic. Scores of "patriotic" newspapers run headlines that maximally exploited the suspicion the official Belgrade had skillfully launched - Milosevic was poisoned because the Tribunal with insufficient evidence against him had been deadlocked.

The media played a major role in picturing Milosevic as a statesman and ex-president of Yugoslavia. Just few of them reminded of the victims of his policy in the neighborhood and in Serbia proper. He was referred to as a hero, a man of competence and a historic figure. Tabloids and pro-governmental media spoke the same language, while electronic media broadcast live the arrival of his coffin at the Belgrade Airport, the homage paid to him in the Museum of Revolution, the memorial held in front of the federal parliament and, finally, his burial in Pozarevac. Little footage was given to those who spoke critically about Milosevic's life.

Day in day out, the media kept suggesting that Milosevic was killed in The Hague. Front pages bombarded the readership with headlines such as "Killed" (Kurir), "He Was about To Win out the Tribunal" (Kurir), "Dacic: Milosevic Is Murdered" (Politika), "The Hague Tribunal Murders Him" (Vecernje Novosti), "Milosevic Is Poisoned" (Glas Javnosti), "The Hague Kills Milosevic" (Glas Javnosti). Bylined commentaries propounded that "The Hague got its biggest sacrifice so far and probably kissed goodbye to its very existence."

Under the pressure from the European Serbia and Europe on the one hand, and the frustrated, majority Serbia terrified by the looming responsibility, the government opted for a middle way: it did not partake in the memorial service but provided all necessary logistic support. Milosevic was, therefore, given a para-state burial. And not only because his Socialist Party of Serbia sides with Kostunica's minority cabinet, but also because of general ambivalence about his role and deeds.

Having his coffin exhibited at the Museum of Revolution was a symbolic act in itself, since the museum symbolizes "the second" Yugoslavia he had smashed. Symbolism as such was not a mere coincidence - they actually wanted to see him off as a communist and thus imply that communists were accountable for wars and war crimes. The master of destruction was grieved over and buried in the absence of his family, without state symbols and state officials, under a linden in the garden of his wife's family house in Pozarevac. He bequeathed to Serbia poverty, crime, corruption and anarchy. He turned Serbia into a prison not only because of the sanctions that had been imposed on her, but also because of the fatal brainwashing, which has lasted for almost two decades.

Milosevic's Moscow-based family coordinated "the pitiful amateurish show" in Pozarevac through Milorad Vucelic, an aspirant to his throne in the Socialist Party. Letters by his son Marko and wife Mirjana were read aloud over his open grave, while his daughter Marija demanded from Montenegro that her farther should be buried in Lijeva Rijeka, the village of his predecessors. Under the family's direction, Russian General Leonid Ivashov spoke of a huge heart he was holding in his hands, a heart that used to be imprisoned and was brought there as a gift from /Milosevic's/ wife Mirjana. "Following their wish, I've brought it from Moscow and now I lay it down in this sacred tomb. Adieu, you great Slovene, adieu you soldier, Slobodan!" Only those chosen by the family attended the funeral ceremony - his party comrades (and not all of them), the Radicals as representatives of the closest party, retired generals in full dress, several Hague indictees, a number of communists from the East, mostly Russians such as Gennadi Zyuganov, then Ramsey Clark and Peter Handke, along with close relatives and neighbors. Popular Russian songs resounded in the garden while he was laid down in his tomb.

While commenting Milosevic's death, prominent figures and politicians mostly followed the pattern set by Premier Vojislav Kostunica and Patriarch Pavle - they almost spoke as one that his death was not the proper occasion for reconsidering his legacy. Premier Kostunica said, "In our people's tradition, all political and other differences are left behind in such moments. For his part, Patriarch Pavle messaged, "At this moment we expect state bodies and our entire people to keep their dignity before God, history and the tragic end of Milosevic's worldly life.Everyone has unalienable right to a grave and a dignified funeral, particularly the people like Slobodan Milosevic, who have left their seals on their eras and crucial developments in the life of both the Serbian people and other peoples in this trying epoch."

Milosevic's family and closest associates kept upholding the thesis that he had been murdered. For instance, Mirjana Markovic claimed that the Tribunal had "murdered" her husband, master of funeral rites Milorad Vucelic spoke about "a big tragedy for the Milosevic family, the Socialist Party of Serbia and all true patriots and people of good will in Serbia," Milosevic's legal adviser Zdenko Tomanovic "revealed" that he was told by Milosevic himself that "they were trying to poison" him in the prison, while Momir Bulatovic, former federal prime minister and the last person who met with Milosevic, said, "Milosevic somehow knew what was going to happen. I believe he foresaw his end. And somehow I also knew I would never see him again."

The Radicals, the strongest party in Serbia, seized the opportunity to publicly discredit the Tribunal. "With the assistance of domestic knaves, The Hague Tribunal murdered Milosevic," they said, adding, "The Prosecution and quack judges of the Tribunal are the main culprits for his death." Therefore, as they put it, they would no longer allow that anyone like "Boris Tadic, Vuk Draskovic, governmental officials and aggressors' media branches in our country" maltreat the families of Serbian patriots." Tomislav Nikolic ominously announced that Milosevic's death "raises the question of other tragic deaths in The Hague Tribunal and the question of cooperation at all costs." He also said he was worried about the destiny of his leader, Vojislav Seselj, "since they do not want him to outlive the verdict." Because of such speculations about Milosevic's poisoning, other indictees, regardless of their ethnic origin, protested and demanded that a special commission investigated the conditions of their life and the quality of medical care provided to them. They turned to the Security Council requesting the establishment of an independent, expert commission that would supervise their stay in Scheveningen, given that "after Milosevic's death, no one feels safe any longer."

True masterminds behind Milosevic's project - some of whom have taken the stand for the defense - also had their say. This did not come as a surprise since they had never abandoned their beliefs. According to them, the international community is solely to blame for his death. Mihajlo Markovic, academician and chief ideologist of the Socialist Party of Serbia, pinpointed, "This testified once again that The Hague Tribunal was political, rather than legal institution." Professor Smilja Avramov, the loudest advocate of conspiracy theories, said, "That's not a tribunal, that's a morgue! That's the place for killing the Serbs! Milosevic is the sixth Serb in a row who met his death in that court." Academician Cedomir Popov, historian, grieved over Milosevic and underlined, "Such major historic figure met an undignified death he has not deserved." Expressing the hope that history would differently judge Milosevic and Serbia, Popov says, "History and the part of the Serbian people that is fully aware of national interests and the meaning of dignity will identify those who are responsible for Milosevic's death."

However, Dobrica Cosic, arch mastermind behind the Greater Serbia project and paradigm of anti-Europeanization, was not in the mood to comment Milosevic's death. "I am sick and cannot make any comment. I've heard that Slobodan Milosevic had died, but am unable to talk." On the other hand, over his latest interview with the NIN weekly on New Year's Eve he said, "Now that Milosevic is behind Schengen bars and tried by The Hague Tribunal - a political court rather than a court of truth and justice - I refrain from speaking about Slobodan Milosevic's policy."

The segment of the political elite advocating Europeanization tried to relativize the establishment's and the public's attitudes towards Milosevic. President of the State Union Svetozar Marovic generalized everything by saying, "The news of any man's death is always a sad one. And particularly so when it refers to the death of a sick, imprisoned man who cried for help." Vuk Draskovic was the only official who pointed a finger at the sum and substance of Milosevic's regime. "I am ashamed of the reactions to Milosevic's death. His followers' grief for the man responsible for countless crimes and who has himself ordered many murders was turned into eulogies for him and his policy that produced nothing but death, misfortune and hatred," said Draskovic. As a promoter of the government's pro-European policy, Draskovic took the opportunity to appeal to the world to immediately admit Serbia to the European Union and NATO.

The reactions coming from both official and unofficial Russia were predictable. Russia used Serbia and Milosevic's death to once again oppose the West's more or less unisonous perception of Slobodan Milosevic's role. The reactions coming from Belgrade, particularly from the people close to Milosevic, only testified how much Milosevic and many others had relied on Russia. Speculations that he could be buried in Moscow were soon cut short, while the Russian Foreign Ministry's criticism of The Hague Tribunal did not exceed "a grudge" about Milosevic having been prevented from getting medical treatment in Russia in spite of its "guarantees." The Russian Duma unanimously voted in a resolution stating, "The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia failed to attain the idea behind its creation." The resolution demanded conclusion of the investigation in all cases processed by the Tribunal, since its decisions were marked by "politicization and bias."

In their initial reactions to Milosevic's death, world officials mostly pinpointed that Serbia should finally make a clear break with her past and turn to future instead, and pursue her cooperation with the Tribunal. Javier Solana said he hoped the event would "at long last change Serbia-Montenegro's perception of the future." Condoleeza Rice said, "Milosevic has been for long one of the biggest demonic forces in Europe. He is definitely accountable for many, many human lives and the policy that brought about the country's disintegration." The CNN summarized all reactions in a single phrase - "Milosevic: The Architect of the Balkan Slaughter." Richard Holbrooke, author of the Dayton Accords, said, "Justice was served. He /Milosevic/ was a monster who started four wars and spent the last five years of his life in prison, which is an appropriately tough justice." Stjepan Mesic, Croatian president, and other politicians in the region mostly stated it was a pity "he didn't live to the end of the trial and got his comeuppance."

Milosevic's death dealt the heaviest blow to The Hague Tribunal - in less than a week it lost its main defendant Slobodan Milosevic and crown witness Milan Babic. The people working on the case could not but feel immensely frustrated, both morally and intellectually, and for all the time and effort wasted. Commenting Milosevic's death, Carla del Ponte said, "I am sorry for all victims and those who have survived and expect to see justice done." It was only logical that she promptly put the Serbian government under stronger pressure to extradite Ratko Mladic.

Domestic analysts kept expounding the thesis that the Tribunal made sense no longer. In this context, Braca Grubacic, director of the VIP bulletin, said Milosevic's death was "very bad for The Hague," as it "raises the question how the Tribunal can possibly proceed with other processes." "It's hard to expect anyone to give himself up in near future," he added."

According to many analysts, Milosevic's death and the official close of his trial also dealt a severe blow to the proceedings Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina instituted before the International Court of Justice. Their cases could have been stronger were Milosevic sentenced for genocide. The thesis was particularly popular in Serbia. Tibor Varadi, legal expert in Serbia-Montenegro's team, takes that Milosevic's death has made things worse for Bosnia-Herzegovina - for, had The Hague Tribunal found Milosevic guilty, "the International Court of Justice might have leaned on such decision." "This pulled a possible rug from under the Prosecutor's feet," said Varadi.

Few were the politicians and public figures of Serbia's younger generation - the one that paid dear for Milosevic's adventure - who reacted rationally and impassively to the news of Milosevic's death. They had recognized his destructiveness from the bottom of their heart and protected themselves from it by instinct. Actually, that was the only way for them to survive. Instead to Milosevic, Bojan Kostres, speaker of Vojvodina's parliament, paid homage to his victims, Zoran Djindjic, Ivan Stambolic and Veselin Boskovic. For Kostres, those figures symbolized "all the sacrifice and suffering at home and in the neighborhood that one man's rule has brought about." Director Gorcin Stojanovic said, "Slobodan Milosevic personifies the school of thought amalgamating stupidity, no vision, primitivism and backwardness that under specific circumstances turn into evil." But Stojanovic also takes that everything Milosevic has stood for was "still in power in Serbia." Writer Marko Vidojkovic said he felt no compassion for Milosevic - "That would be as if someone mourned Hitler." "It would have been much better for Serbia and her health had he lived to his punishment." Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of Serbia's youngest party - the Liberal Democratic Party, said that "treating Milosevic as a statesman is unacceptable," since his death "can amnesty neither him nor his policy." "Slobodan Milosevic was contemporary Serbia's biggest and costliest mistake and the great delusion we still live in."

Whether or not Milosevic would be possible at all were there not for the atmosphere the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Writers' Association, and political and military elites - with ample assistance of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the media - have created for years created over years still remains an open question for the Serbian society. Milosevic nothing but mirrored the will of the Serbian elite. By opting for him, they manifested thorough misconception about the spirit of the times and Europe and the world's mainstream. As it seems, that same elite has already "cemented" the interpretation of the recent past. Probably it was Dobrica Cosic who best formulated it, as if writing his testament to the Serbs. "All those wars in the Balkans in late 20th century were nothing but remnants of the World War II and beginnings of a new war against Europe, which, to her discredit and through NATO aggression against Serbia in 1999, partook in them. Perpetrators are the same, and the same are the victims." It was Milosevic's death that served his purpose. And that's what they've been looking forward to.

The indictment issued against Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 deligitimized him as a political actor and contributed to this ouster in 2000. On the other hand, his extradition to The Hague provided a political window to Zoran Djindjic's reformist government. Though never sentenced, Milosevic left a "legal heritage" - for, over his four-year trial, piles of documents that could have remained buried were brought to the pubic eye. All those documents will be surely used in other proceedings such as those against Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and numerous military and police commanders.

Serbia faces a long period of self-examination and digging into the causes and consequences of the Greater Serbia project. She will have to face up the fatal outcomes such as unfinished state, self-isolation, a devastated society and unprecedented loss of human potential.

In the time to come, Milosevic, a phenomenon of the late 20th century, will for sure be both studied and denied in Serbia and worldwide, not only by his followers and contemporaries, but also by numerous researchers and historians. Milosevic stood no chance whatsoever to win The Hague Tribunal. Therefore, his death is, in a way, only logical. What by far more affects Serbia is that he passed away unsentenced. His sentence could have been in itself a starting point for "inner" differentiation.


NO 93-94

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