Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

ANALYSIS: Keeping Watch on the First Couple of Crime

Mira Markovic got to visit her beloved husband, but tribunal officials did not trust the pair to share the "intimacy room".
By Mirko Klarin

Mira Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic, had an opportunity last week to see for herself whether the UN detention unit was a "sophisticated replacement for concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria" in the service of the "new Gestapo" - which is how she often publicly described the tribunal and its detention centre.


Asked to comment on the then first lady of Yugoslavia's description, Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte said in December 1999, "If I could speak with Madame Markovic, I would tell her to invite her husband to the detention centre to see how comfortable it is."


Some 18 months later, Markovic did come to the Hague, to visit her husband who had been transferred to the tribunal's detention unit three weeks before, indicted for crimes against humanity in Kosovo. What she had to see for herself on that occasion will remain a secret. Under the strict surveillance of the Dutch police who escorted her between the detention unit and the Hotel Carlton, she had no opportunity for any public statements. Upon her return to Belgrade last weekend, Markovic refrained from making any official comments, possibly inspired by a desire not to spoil chances for a further visit to her beloved.


Instead of her, the lawyer Dragoslav Ognjanovic, who followed her to The Hague, talked about her frustrations in Belgrade. He complained about the restrictions placed on her visits, as a result of which "they couldn't hug each other, they couldn't shake hands or kiss each other, as man and wife". For the whole three days, Mira and Sloba were separated by a bullet-proof glass, and talked by phone, in the presence of the UN guards and translators who followed each word they uttered.


Many reporters were surprised to hear such details about the visit. They had speculated whether during the visit the couple would use an "intimacy room", a special room for conjugal visits that is at the disposal of detainees, and in which, at least one of the detained - Zoran Zigic - conceived his son, for which he thanked the management of the detention unit during a court appearance. The surprise was all the more because the management of the detention unit proudly emphasises its "liberal attitude" towards married couples and family visits, which are allowed every day from 9.30 am to 5 pm.


"We do not want marriages and families to break up because someone is detained," detention unit warden Timothy McFadden told Tribunal Update.


Why then did the tribunal not only deny use of the "intimacy room" but also the possibility of any physical contact to the Markovic-Milosevic pair? Those who hold the same ideological views as Markovic will most likely conclude that it is due to the sadism of the "new Gestapo" and its effort to "break" not only the detained Milosevic but also his wife, who has been a driving force behind her husband's career.


Confirming for Tribunal Update that the tribunal's registry had ordered "measures of special supervision" during Markovic's trip, spokesman Jim Landale refused to state specific reasons for preventing any physical contact between them. He said that this is "not unusual" for the first visit to the detained, and points to an unspecified "set of circumstances" that made the registry conclude that this was the "best way to conduct the visit".


Asked whether these "circumstances" included the history of the Milosevic-Markovic families - the suicide of his parents, Milosevic's threat that he "would not be arrested alive", the call by his daughter, Marija, for him to kill himself during the arrest operation in Belgrade on April 1 - Landale responded that the registry "carefully considered all those things" in making its decision.


Landale does not say it directly, but it is evident that the tribunal wanted to rule out any risk that might be caused by physical contact between the two. Markovic might hand over some pill to her husband, or, perhaps they would swallow pills together, and thus end in true Shakespearean style the 40-year-long love story of "Romeo and Juliet from Pozarevac". Such a demise would, of course, be their "final victory" over the "new Gestapo" and definitive "proof" that the UN detention unit indeed is a "sophisticated replacement for concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria".


This is the last thing that the tribunal would want. Since the tribunal got its most precious indictee alive - contrary to many predictions that Milosevic would not survive the loss of power, arrest in Belgrade and transfer to the Hague - it does not want to take any risks. Hence, it acts with utmost caution, even if opening itself to accusations of "cruelty" or even "paranoia". As Kissinger's famous dictum recalls, "The presence of paranoia does not prove the absence of plots and plans."


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.