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REGIONAL REPORT: Slobodan Snores!

The warden of the Belgrade Central Prison is sacked for publishing a less-than-explosive diary of Milosevic's stay in cell no. 1121.
By Zorka Milin

The warden of Belgrade Central Prison, Dragisa Blanusa, was sacked on July 18 over his unauthorised publication of a diary giving details of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's three-month stay in the facility.


Serbian justice minister Vladen Batic said on July 16 the warden would have to go because "he did something he was not allowed to do and must bear the consequences".


Milosevic was held in cell no. 1121 at the prison following his arrest on April 1 on corruption charges, until his extradition to The Hague on June 28.


The book, "I Guarded Milosevic", is already on sale in Belgrade and extracts have been serialised in the Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti since July 11. Head of the Belgrade Bar Association Branislav Tapuskovic has called on the public prosecutor to ban the book on the grounds that the information it contains was obtained through the abuse of an official position.


Blanusa insists he did not publish the book to make money and that all proceeds will be donated to humanitarian organisations. He said his motive was to preserve an authentic documentary account of the period, for posterity.


"Doubting as to whether I had the moral right to do it or not," Blanusa wrote in the preface, "I finally recalled that much that has come to pass in this part of the world was concealed or kept silent about until it was all simply confined to oblivion."


Blanusa recounts that inmate no. 101980 - "the most famous prisoner in the world" - was housed in a hotel-like room in the "deluxe" wing of the prison nicknamed "The Hyatt". Milosevic's cell was 4m by 3.5m and had en-suite shower, toilet and washbasin, as well as hot running water.


The former warden claims Vojislav Seselj, leader of the ultra-right Serbian Radical Party, was confined to the same cell when Milosevic had him arrested in 1995. Seselj went on to become Milosevic's coalition partner, although he left the government before the former president's fall from power. Now his party campaigns, alongside the ousted leader's Socialist Party of Serbia, for Milosevic's release.


Blanusa's daily notes are meticulous, detailing Milosevic's sleeping and eating habits and including transcripts of conversations with his wife, Mira Markovic. Blanusa describes how Milosevic preferred to smoke cheap domestic cigarettes, eat beans and drink fruit tea he would prepare himself in an electric teapot he was allowed to use in the cell. The book even mentions Milosevic's quirks - the former president, it seems, is prone to snoring.


Blanusa wrote that during a routine search on arrival at the prison, Milosevic's personal belongings, including his belt, were removed. Milosevic apparently retorted, "Don't worry, I won't hang myself."


The former warden paints a picture of a sometimes gentle, elderly man who "liked to feed the pigeons". Overall Blanusa agrees with his counterpart at the United Nations detention unit, describing Milosevic as neat and courteous - "a model prisoner". Timothy McFadden, warden of the UN detention centre at Scheveningen, told BBC radio on July 3 that Milosevic "behaved like a perfect gentleman". Despite his arrogant reputation, it seems the one-time president was also respectful to everyone at the Central Prison.


According to Blanusa's account, the same could not be said for Mira Markovic. It appears Milosevic's wife had a hard time coming to terms with her husband's incarceration and often panicked and bullied prison staff. On one occasion she allegedly excused her own behaviour saying, "I'm fine, it's only a surplus of female hormones".


Blanusa wrote that Markovic was clearly very devoted to her husband and he to her. She never missed a daily visit and would always arrive promptly at noon with a prepared lunch. At Easter, she brought painted eggs, although the couple are known to be atheists. They would speak tenderly to each other for a full hour, behaving like teenage sweethearts, caressing each other's faces, holding hands and making no attempt to conceal their fondness for each other.


In his spare time, Milosevic would often read, but Blanusa does not reveal the former president's literary preferences. The rest of the time, Milosevic apparently stared at a fixed point on the ceiling, sometimes for hours on end.


The former warden does not believe Milosevic spent these long hours repenting for his passed deeds. It seems he feels no guilt.


When presented with a Belgrade newspaper from April 1 with the blaring headline "Dictator Arrested", Milosevic allegedly said, "What! They're calling me a dictator?" He believed he was imprisoned for "putting up resistance to the world's strongmen".


It appears Milosevic remains a staunch chauvinist, a man dismayed by the fact that he has been incarcerated by fellow Serbs.


"If it were the Shqiptar [a pejorative term for Albanians] or the Germans that imprisoned me, I wouldn't have cared. But my own Serbs!" he moaned.


Zorka Milin is English editor at www.FreeSerbia.org.


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