ANALYSIS: Milosevic's Revenge

Slobodan Milosevic seeks to take revenge on Serbia for the humiliations heaped upon him and his family.

ANALYSIS: Milosevic's Revenge

Slobodan Milosevic seeks to take revenge on Serbia for the humiliations heaped upon him and his family.

Saturday, 6 April, 2002

At the start of his trial, Slobodan Milosevic declared his mission was to "destroy the tribunal" and "demonstrate the responsibility" of western politicians and governments for the break-up of the old Yugoslav federation and the crimes committed against present-day Yugoslavia, and Serbia in particular, during this process.

After only 22 days and the testimony of 20 witnesses, it is too early to assess Milosevic's success in his mission. But it is not too early to note his success in another endeavour, though the terms of this one have never been revealed to the public.

The purpose of the latter was to take revenge on Serbia from his cell in The Hague and try to return it to the state it was in during his 13 years in power. Milosevic has only one accomplice in this mission, his wife Mira Markovic.

The other parties defending him in Serbia, such as the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Freedom Association, and those working abroad, such as the International Committee for the Defence of Slobodan Milosevic, ICDSM, are only involuntary accessories to Slobo and Mira's campaign.

The couple has many motives for their secretive mission. The list starts with their "betrayal" by the electorate in the presidential ballot of September 2000; Milosevic's overthrow in the street revolution of October 5, 2000; his arrest and imprisonment in Belgrade from April to June 2001; and his rapid and humiliating transfer to The Hague on June 28, 2001.

Last, but by no means least comes the "humiliating treatment" of Milosevic's closest family members - his spouse Mira, daughter Marija and son Marko - which he complained about in his opening statement at the start of the trial.

From his court appearances, it is possible to discern three objectives in Milosevic's campaign of revenge. The first is to stir up conflicts in Serbia itself by dividing people into "patriots" and "western lackeys".

He has never missed a chance to describe Serbia's ruling coalition, which sent him to The Hague, as the latter, serving western governments and their project of "establishing domination over the Balkans", which he, as a patriot, opposed. Milosevic argues that he was deprived of power by these same governments (not by Serbian voters).

Milosevic's partial success in achieving this first objective is evident, among other things, in the drama surrounding the US deadline for Serbia to establish "full cooperation" with the tribunal, primarily meaning the transfer of indicted men, on which further American financial aid depends.

Last year, US assistance was contingent on Belgrade arresting Milosevic by a March 31 deadline. This was met - and he was delivered to The Hague several days before a second deadline, satisfying Washington's condition for its participation in the Donors Conference for Yugoslavia in Brussels.

America's latest deadline has expired without any action from Belgrade and US financial aid to Serbia has been put on hold. The expected arrests and extraditions did not occur precisely because Serbia's prime minister Zoran Djindjic (unlike last year, when he ordered Milosevic's arrest and transfer to the tribunal) did not want to be condemned as a "traitor" or western "lackey" alone, insisting that Yugoslavia's "patriotic" president, Vojislav Kostunica, should also carry the can.

Djindjic seems to have succeeded because the "patriots" surrounding the President Kosunica have now agreed to the urgent passage of a law regulating the transfer of indicted persons to the tribunal.

The second objective of Milosevic's mission is to cause strife between Serbia and neighbouring countries, blocking reconciliation and the normalisation of relations, especially with Bosnia and Croatia. Kosovo is a special case. Fraught Serbian-Albanian relations long preceded not only the crimes committed in 1998 and 1999 but also Milosevic's rise to power.

What hope - if any - of reconciliation there Milosevic has successfully stymied from the courtroom, by invariably presenting Albanians as "terrorists", "pathological killers", members of "narco-mafia", "smugglers" trading in guns, drugs and cigarettes and by openly displaying contempt for their culture, traditions and religion. Everything Milosevic says at The Hague serves to confirm Albanians in the belief that their future does not lie in Serbia.

The modest gains made so far in the field of Serbian reconciliation with Croatia and Bosnia will face a severe test when it comes to the presentation of evidence for crimes committed in these countries. Milosevic has already indicated in his opening statement that he will defend himself against indictments for genocide in Bosnia and crimes against humanity in Croatia by blaming everything on "Islamic fundamentalists" in the former and "Ustasha" (Second World War Fascists) in the latter - and by claiming these movements were both preparing a "new genocide" against the Serbs.

Such a defence will not only open up wounds that are just starting to heal, and add insult to injury for the victims, it will also revive the myth of the Serbs' innocence and victimhood, making the process of facing up to the past and accepting responsibility for crimes committed in their name still more difficult.

The third objective of Milosevic's mission is to ignite new conflicts between Serbia and the international community, effectively returning it to the state of isolation in which it spent most of his rule. Milosevic has been working diligently on this since he first appeared before the court, when he presented himself and "his people" as the victims of a global conspiracy which, in addition to NATO and its member states, led by the US, Germany and Britain, included the UN.

Milosevic has adjusted his paranoid image of the world in line with current trends. After September 11, he moved from denigrating globalisation as "the new colonialism" (plotting against him and Serbia) to denigrating the "terrorist international", which allegedly links former US president Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, "Islamic fundamentalists" in Bosnia, "Albanian terrorists" in Kosovo, and German spies and other intelligence agencies.

Such conspiracy theories may inspire ridicule in the western media and The Hague courtroom (see Ashdown's comment in Tribunal Update No. 258), but they "sell" well among some of the ex-president's former voters. It is often said in Belgrade that "the Serbs were Milosevic's greatest victims". This is not true, at least not yet. But he is working hard on it, thirsting for revenge for the many humiliations this "ungrateful nation" subjected him and his family to after September 2000.

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

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