Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Milosevic Exploits Generation Gap
"First, Milosevic played with the life of our son," stormed Dusan Vukovic. "And now he is playing with our nerves."
Vukovic's son Aleksandar was drafted to Kosovo last year and killed in action. His death has been at the centre of an extraordinary campaign by the Vukovic family to get compensation from the Milosevic regime.
The outburst in front of the local headquarters of the Yugoslav Army in Nis came a day after Dusan's father, Radomir, accepted the 'Milosevic' medal, a posthumous bravery decoration, on his grandson's behalf - the same state honour Dusan had sent back to the regime in disgust when it was awarded to Aleksandar in December.
The story reveals how painful and apparently unbridgeable generational divisions have emerged since Milosevic came to power in the early 1990s.
Most elderly Serbs who grew up under Tito's regime honestly believe that Milosevic's politics are a continuation of the "righteous partisan fight" for Socialism. They still believe in a federal Yugoslavia, despite the events of the last ten years, and look back on the Communist era as a time of peace and relative comfort.
But young Serbs find it difficult to ignore the devastating results of the wars Milosevic instigated, and cannot escape the harsh reality of life in present-day Serbia.
The president, meanwhile, exploits this clash to great effect.
At the December medal ceremony, Dusan said bitterly that his son did not give his life for the motherland but for the president's son Marko. Aleksandar's death, he believed, served to prop up a corrupt regime - made up of Milosevic's close circle of relatives and cronies.
Soon after the ceremony, the drama was transferred to the courtroom, when the Vukovic family sued the Yugoslav Army, demanding 5,000,000 dinars (218,000 German marks) compensation for the loss of their son. Army representatives, unsurprisingly, denied any responsibility for Aleksandar's death.
But in an astonishing decision - the first ruling against the Yugoslav state in ten years - the Nis Municipal Court at the end of July ordered the army to pay one million dinars (42,210 marks) to the Vukovic family.
But Dusan Vukovic said he was not interested in any money. "I have proved that the army, its generals and Slobodan Milosevic, are to blame for my son's death. For as long as I live, I will not agree to any settlement. I am not selling my son, nor will I ever do so."
His next step, he announced, was to prosecute specific individuals he held responsible for his son's death. Then, he said, he would call on all parents of soldiers killed in action to follow his example and sue the state.
But he hadn't counted on the army's response. On July 12, they called Aleksandar's grandfather, Radomir, to the Nis barracks, and presented him with the 'Milosevic' medal. Unlike his son, Vukovic senior accepted it, saying, "I am very sad about the death of my grandson Aleksandar. But it is a great honour to receive this high decoration from President Slobodan Milosevic".
The same day, Dusan Vukovic, told journalists he would send the medal back. He said he had been at odds with his father - a member of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia - since Aleksandar's death. Radomir, he said bitterly, preferred Slobodan Milosevic to his grandson.
Hence the scene in front of Nis barracks, when Dusan - having failed to return his grandfather's medal - broke and kicked it in front of the military compound.
"I will make a criminal report against Yugoslav Army. They have committed a criminal act - nobody but the parents of a dead soldier is allowed to receive a medal for him. Slobodan Milosevic just wants to provoke my whole family."
Thus the story of the Vukovic family continues, along with the deepening chasm between two generations.
In the run-up to municipal and federal elections in the autumn, regime propaganda has been intensifying, and independent media is increasingly stifled. As in the past, many elderly people in Serbia show themselves to be willing recipients of government propaganda.
Previous elections showed that this sector of the population is ready to support every move of the Belgrade regime, no matter how much they are forced to endure. As the rift in the Vukovic family shows, there is no reason to think this time round will be any different.
Vlado Mares is a regular IWPR contributor
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