Monday, March 20, 2006


Belgrade, 20 March. (AKI) - The funeral of former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, who was buried in his hometown of Pozarevac, 70 kilometers east of Belgrade, on Saturday, turned into a huge political rally which has polarized the country and divided even his own family, political analysts say. After he died of heart attack on 11 March, in a prison cell of the International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he was being tried for war crimes and genocide, Milosevic’s body was flown to Belgrade for burial, but his last journey turned into a week-long drama which at times assumed the aspects of a burlesque.

First, a sharp controversy developed over his burial place, putting the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in an awkward position. On the one hand, Kostunica’s minority government depends in parliament on the support of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, on the other he couldn’t have afforded state honors to someone who was accused of crimes and genocide, as this would have been unacceptable to the international community.

The socialists wanted to have Milosevic’s casket exposed in a public place where his followers could come and pay their respects, but no Belgrade institutions, which are controlled by President Boris Tadic’s opposition Democrats, would agree. Finally, Kostunica’s aides secured a place at a museum, which harbors souvenirs and gifts of the late Yugoslav communist president Tito, near the “House of Flowers”, where Tito was buried in 1980.

Kostunica was subject to sharp criticism from Milosevic’s bitterest opponents, but he said everyone had the right to a decent funeral. On the other hand, foreign minister Vuk Draskovic, who sits in the government supported by the socialists, said that Milosevic was a criminal who deserved no funeral and “should burn in hell”. Draskovic said he was shocked and ashamed by the public display of sympathies for the dead Milosevic, as tens of thousands of people filed past his coffin and paid respects.

Less than six years ago, in October 2000, Milosevic was toppled from power by a popular revolt and analysts were bewildered in a search of an answer as to what contributed to his sudden posthumous revival of popularity.

Prominent Belgrade political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic said that, apart from traditional Milosevic’s supporters, people came to pay their resects as a sort of “protest against what has been going on in Serbia over the past five years, particularly because of the Hague Tribunal and the policy of double standards of the international community”.

Milosevic has put up a staunch defence in televised trials before the Tribunal, presenting himself and Serbs as victims of the last decade's Balkan wars, and he has become something of a hero, or at least a martyr, in the eyes of many who had earlier opposed him.

Serbs by far outnumber members of other nationalities of the former Yugoslavia indicted by the Tribunal and Milosevic was the fifth victim to have died in the Sheveningen jail. Two other Serbs, including prosecution’s main witness Milan Babic, have killed themselves. Members of Milosevic’s family and defence team have accused the Tribunal of having killed Milosevic becuase they refused to let him go to Moscow for a medical treatement. They said that the doctors had found in his blood the traces of “rifampicin”, a medication for which he had no prescription and which is used as a cure against leprosy and tuberculosis, but that could annul the effects of the other medicine Milosevic was taking against blood pressure, thereby contributing to his death.

But ICTY president Fausto Pocar said on Friday that preliminary toxicological analyses showed no traces of such elements in Milosevic’s blood at the autopsy.

Political analysts agreed that Milosevic’s death was a serious blow to the Tribunal. In fact, the ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has consented that the Tribunal was “in coma” after Milosevic’s unexpected death. She has pledged to increase the pressure on Belgrade to arrest and extradite the remaining six indictees, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his general Ratko Mladic, to give a new breath of life to the Tribunal. Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has called for the abolition of the Tribunal before 2010, when it has planned to close.

Kostunica’s government has managed to convince a score of indictees over the past year to a “voluntary surrender”, but after Milosevic and Babic’s death it was unlikely that any of the indictees would surrender voluntarily. On the other hand, the socialists have threatened to withdraw the government support if it forcibly handed any of the indictees to the Tribunal. The government meanwhile claims it has no knowledge of their whereabouts.

The biggest surprise was awaiting Milosevic’s opponents on Saturday, when at least 100.000 people gathered in front of the federal parliament building in the heart of Belgrade to see off his remnants being sent to Pozarevac, where he was ultimately buried in the courtyard of his family home.

A crowd of several thousand joined the funeral procession there. In fact estimates of the Belgrade crowd varied from 50.000, as reported by foreign agencies, through “several hundred thousand” as seen by Belgrade papers, to half a million as claimed by the socialist party.

In any case, as daily Politika summed it up, “Milosevic would have been pleased with such a turnout even at the peak of his power”. Vlajko Senic, an official of Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement has said that it was “unfortunately the first time since October 2000 that the people who had ruled until then, seemed to be close to having the majority public support again”.

Political analysts agreed that the Socialists have proven to be great funeral organizers, despite political overtones which dominated the event, but few believed that they could capitalize on Milosevic’s death to make a major come back. According to some analysts, the Socialists are now facing an internal power struggle for Milosevic’s heritage and were unlikely to withdraw from government and force early elections.

Others think that they may come out victorious in coalition with the right wing Serbian Radical Party, which is currently the biggest single group in parliament. But there is widespread belief that neither the Socialists nor the Radicals want the “hot potato” of power at the moment when the cooperation with ICTY still hovers over Serbia’s future, when it’s about to lose the southern Kosovo province to ethnic Albanians, and while Montenegro might opt for independence at May referendum.

Finally, Milosevic’s death has split even his own family. His wife Mirjana and son Marko, who have been hiding in Moscow since 2001, didn’t attend the funeral, fearing arrest if they returned to Serbia. His daughter Marija, who lives in Montenegro, disapproved of his burial in Pozarevac, saying it was “scandalous”. She said she has broken off all contacts with the family and would demand Milosevic’s exhumation and burial in a Montenegro village of Lijeva Rijeka, where his father was born and buried. Controversy, which characterized Milosevic’s entire life, persists even after his death, leaving his own family and Serbia itself in shambles.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HOW I AGREE!!!!!!! Whats been going on in Serbia the past 5 years is the results of the Hague Tribunals policy of double standards.... Just that simple.