Slobo's Tribunal Farce

Slobodan Milosevic mocks the tribunal in his dramatic appearance at The Hague court

Slobo's Tribunal Farce

Slobodan Milosevic mocks the tribunal in his dramatic appearance at The Hague court

Slobodan Milosevic's first appearance at The Hague tribunal this morning was little more than a farce. Just as he has done on previous occasions, the defendant sought to turn his problem into someone else's.

During his brief appearance in the dock, Milosevic refused to enter a plea. He said he did not recognise the court, as he regarded it as illegal - and, therefore, would not require a defence counsel. When Judge Richard May offered to read him his indictment, Milosevic arrogantly replied, "that is your problem".

He continued insisting that the court had no legitimacy. The trial's aim, he claimed, was to provide a "false justification for NATO war crimes" against Yugoslavia. At this point, the judge cut him off, proceeding to enter a plea of not guilty on Milosevic's behalf, and adjourned the case until late next month.

It seemed that many of the journalists gathered in the courtroom were awestruck by Milosevic's presence. They'd come to see the biggest 'player' in the Balkan conflict. Milosevic began his career with rallies, and is now ending it with them.

Never in the history of the Balkans has someone been accused of organising such heinous crimes, whose consequences have been so destructive, so deep and so difficult to heal. But Milosevic appeared oblivious and even indifferent to the charges against him. He unleashed accusations, refused to cooperate - a bizarre performance, richly enjoyed by the world's media.

Leaving the courtroom, Milosevic looked at his watch and said to himself rather enigmatically, "fifteen minutes". No doubt, history will record these fifteen minutes as some of the most important in the Balkan tragedy. But no less important are the many dramas, frustrations, ironies, and hidden truths which lay behind Milosevic's appearance in court.

Throughout the last decade, Milosevic duped us time and time again - and it looks as though he may have done so again. True, he did end up in the courtroom, but there's a prevailing sense that justice and truth have not triumphed. Those who packed him up and sent him off to The Hague did not do so out of a sudden acknowledgement of the crimes he is alleged to have committed.

For the moment, then, everyone, bar Milosevic of course, seems fairly happy with the way things are panning out.

Serbia has got rid of Milosevic and many of its citizens now believe that they have paid for the misery their leadership inflicted on the rest of the former Yugoslavia. They now feel cleansed, ready to embark on a happy future, with the help of the billion dollars worth of aid they received for sacrificing their former leader.

The tribunal and Carla Del Ponte are content as their cause has clearly been strengthened immeasurably. But they shouldn't be too pleased with themselves. The indictment against Milosevic, extraordinarily, does not include the crimes he is alleged to have committed in Bosnia and Croatia. And two of the most notorious Balkan war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Maldic, are still at large. We are told that this is for 'technical reasons'.

Watching the conspicuously arrogant Milosevic, dressed in a blue suit and tie, one could not help but consciously or subconsciously wonder who is the winner here.

Zlatko Dizdarevic is a senior columnist at Sarajevo's Dani magazine

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