MILOSEVIC'S DEATH RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT SERBIA'S FUTURE
by Vesna Peric Zimonjic
Milosevic Trial Is Must-See TV In The Balkans
(IPS) BELGRADE --
sudden death of former leader Slobodan Milosevic has brought the focus back on the controversies of his rule, and raised questions again about the future of Serbia.
"History is yet to have its say on the decade of Milosevic's rule in Serbia, as it was marked by tough controversy," historian Predrag Markovic told IPS. "However, this untimely death means that the chance of coming to terms with the wars of the '90s is missed now, and that is a pity."
Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his bed in the detention unit of the United Nations founded International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Saturday morning. An ICTY statement said a medical officer was called in and pronounced Milosevic dead.
The statement added that the Dutch police and Dutch coroner were called in to start an inquiry. A full autopsy and toxicological examination have been ordered, the short statement said.
Informed sources told IPS that suicide was being ruled out and that Milosevic appears to have died in his sleep during the night. He was evidently dead for several hours before a guard found out.
Milosevic ruled Serbia from 1989 to 2000. He was ousted in a popular uprising after his refusal to accept defeat in the presidential elections.
His rule was marked by the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995. Serbia under Milosevic participated actively in those wars, on the pretext of "protecting the Serb population outside Serbia proper."
More than a million ethnic Serbs lived in Croatia and Bosnia then, and official propaganda presented them as endangered by Croats or Muslims. Official Belgrade described the independence drives of Croatia and Bosnia as secession aimed at eradicating Serbs on their territories.
Thousands of paramilitaries from Serbia were involved in warfare on the side of ethnic Serbs, conquering territories and committing numerous war crimes against non-Serbs.
The international community reacted with severe punishment for Serbia proper. It lived under sanctions from 1992 until Milosevic fell from power in 2000.
Under Milosevic, the nation of 7.5 million was impoverished, with consequences that continue today. More than 400,000 young and educated people fled Serbia to look for a better future abroad. The shortage of the generation aged between 35 and 50 is visible all over the country.
After the sanctions Serbia faced 11 weeks of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing in 1999, due to Milosevic's repressive politics against two million ethnic Albanians in the southern Serb province Kosovo. Those who believed Milosevic's propaganda thought this an unprovoked attack.
In all these years, the nation remained deeply divided over Milosevic's policy.
The conservative and nationalist oriented part of the public supported him, while intellectuals, young professionals and students tended to see him as the man who led former Yugoslavia to its demise.
After his death, Serbia remained divided along the same lines.
Top official of his Socialist Party Zoran Andjelkovic told IPS that "the ICTY killed Milosevic." The decision of the ICTY not to allow him to go to Moscow for treatment amounted "to signing the death sentence against him."
Milosevic had been complaining of poor health and was demanding a transfer to Moscow. He was known to have suffered from high blood pressure and a heart condition, but his demand was seen as a way to reunite with his family.
Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic, their son Marko and Milosevic's brother Borislav have been living in Moscow for years now. The court refused his plea several weeks ago.
"All the responsibility for my brother's death lies on the tribunal now," Borislav Milosevic told local media in Moscow.
Slobodan Milosevic was transferred to the ICTY detention unit by the new Serbian authorities in June 2001. The trial against him, with 66 charges for genocide and war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and in Kosovo began in February 2002. It has been adjourned dozens of times due to Milosevic's poor health.
The trial was due to be over by the end of the year. Analysts have often said the basic idea beyond merely sentencing Milosevic was to provide a basis for truth to be heard and reconciliation to be introduced among the Balkans nations after the bloodshed of the '90s.
"This is a crushing blow for the ICTY, but also for Serbia itself," head of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Sonja Biserko told IPS. "It's a pity that the court did not reach a verdict. The possible guilty sentence could have helped Serbs come to terms with crimes committed in their name. The chance is missed now."
A large part of the Serbian public lives in denial that any war crimes were committed against non-Serbs, such as the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.
"It is a pity that the trial has not been finished," journalist specialising in war crimes Dejan Anastasijevic told IPS. Anastasijevic was also a witness for the prosecution in the case against Milosevic before the ICTY.
"No legal ruling on whether Milosevic was guilty or not guilty will come out now," Anastasijevic added. "This only means one thing: Serbs who supported him will continue to think of him as a hero; those who believed he was evil will continue to think in such manner. The division will remain."
In Serbia's neighborhood, the bitter feeling of justice not being done prevails.
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic said in a statement that "it was a pity Milosevic did not live long enough to be sentenced as he deserved."
The Association of Mothers of Victims of Srebrenica was of the same opinion. "Milosevic's death means he will never face justice for crimes committed, and never hear the sentence against him pronounced," the association said in a statement.
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March 11, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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