INSTEAD OF EDITORIAL:
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
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
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
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
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
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.