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Balkan Report: March 28, 2006

28 March 2006, Volume 10, Number 3

SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC'S LIFE AND LEGACY. Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his cell at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on March 11. He had spent more than four years in The Hague on trial for 66 charges that included genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during the wars he launched in Croatia (1990-95), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-95), and Kosova (1998-99).

The autopsy suggested he died of a heart attack stemming from a long history of high blood pressure, a range of other cardiovascular problems, and diabetes, all of which seem to be related to a generally sedentary lifestyle. His medical problems had led to repeated interruptions in his trial.

Although there is a history of suicide in Milosevic's family, several commentators at the tribunal and elsewhere pointed out after his death that he had not seemed suicidal in the preceding weeks and appeared to be enjoying his role as his own defense attorney. Some of his supporters suggested that he was poisoned, but no medical evidence has emerged to support that claim.

His funeral took place in Belgrade on March 18, and he was buried a few hours later near his family home in Pozarevac, his home town. His wife and son, who live in Russia, did not attend, perhaps fearing arrest by the Serbian authorities. His daughter boycotted the event to protest the decision to bury him in Serbia and not in the family's ancestral home in Montenegro, where she lives.

About 80,000 people attended the ceremony in Belgrade, and another 20,000 were present in Pozarevac. No serious incidents were reported. The crowds were smaller than the organizers from the Socialist Party of Serbia hoped for and compared poorly with the half-million turnout for the March 2003 funeral of assassinated reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Milosevic never accepted the tribunal's authority over him, putting up a robust defense of his presidency and launching fierce attacks on the court itself and on the international community.

He argued that "this trial has as its purpose the justification of the war crimes committed by the NATO pact in Yugoslavia," meaning the bombing of Serbia in 1999, an action taken to stop what was widely seen as Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosova. Milosevic argued he was responding to a terrorist campaign in the province, which was predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians.

In reactions to his death, many commentators inside former Yugoslavia and abroad noted that Milosevic's passing before the conclusion of the trial means that justice will not be carried out. Croatian President Stipe Mesic's office said in a statement that "it is a pity that Milosevic did not live through the trial and get his deserved sentence."

Similar comments came from Sarajevo from Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of Bosnia's three-member presidency. A spokesman for Kosova's President Fatmir Sejdiu called Milosevic an "unrepentant criminal," while Kosova's Prime Minister Agim Ceku argued that Milosevic's death offers Serbia "the chance to build a new democratic future and to redefine its relationship with its neighbors."

But what is his overall legacy to former Yugoslavia? Trained as a banker in the communist system, Milosevic rose to power in the late 1980s as the protege of Serbian leader Ivan Stambolic, with whom he would later split and for whose abduction and murder in 2000 many believe Milosevic was responsible.

Milosevic was an opportunist rather than a convinced nationalist, but he used Serbian nationalism to win votes. He played upon many long-standing Serbian grievances over what many Serbs saw as their second-class status in a country for which they had fought in two world wars.

Regardless of the merits of those grievances, they were widely held and provided him with a strong electoral base, particularly among the Serbian minority in Kosova, who felt politically, economically, and demographically threatened by their ethnic Albanian neighbors. Famously, he promised Serbs in Kosova in 1987 that Serbia would never abandon them. "I want to tell you: Don't be concerned. Don't be afraid. We will never give up Kosovo," he said then.

Milosevic was, moreover, in the words of one observer, "the only Yugoslav politician to realize that [former communist leader Josip Broz] Tito was dead," and that a power vacuum had been waiting to be filled since Tito's passing in 1980.

To fill that vacuum, Milosevic became head of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1986 and within four years had consolidated his hold over Serbia -- including Kosova and the multiethnic province of Vojvodina -- and Montenegro.

In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia left the Yugoslav federation rather than accept unity under his domination. Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were the next to opt for independence rather than become Milosevic's subjects.

He manipulated the ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with slogans like "all Serbs in one state" and "Serbia will give us weapons," and by using the Yugoslav People's Army for his own ends.

In 1995, with Serbian forces defeated on Croatian and Bosnian battlefields, and civilians fleeing to an uncertain future in a Serbia that did not recognize them as citizens, the international community sought him out as a peacemaker.

Milosevic took on that role with enthusiasm. He later complained in The Hague that if he were a criminal as described in the charges filed against him, then why did so many prominent foreigners engage him and negotiate with him?

He ultimately lost any international respectability or status with the 1998-99 campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosova, which led to NATO's intervention. His eventual ouster in Belgrade in October 2000 was the result of street protests in Serbia and a careful realignment of some of the forces in Serbian public life that had previously supported him but now cut deals with his opponents.

When Milosevic was finally extradited to The Hague, in June 2001, the massive demonstrations on his behalf that many had predicted or feared never materialized. For most Serbs, he was already yesterday's man.

Milosevic left behind an impoverished country and thousands of refugees from his wars. Most will probably never go home.

In the late 1980s, many thought that Yugoslavia would be eastern Europe's first member of the European Community, the predecessor of today's European Union. Instead, thanks above all to the divisive nationalist policies and wars of Milosevic, almost all of Europe's formerly communist states have joined the EU ahead of almost all of the Yugoslav successor states. (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVA: TOP MILITARY MAN BECOMES PRIME MINISTER. Kosova (Kosovo) now has a new prime minister and speaker of the parliament in what some media have described as a political upheaval, albeit one that was long overdue. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the changes is the nomination of General Agim Ceku as prime minister in a move that takes an already very influential figure out of the wings and onto center stage.

Bajram Kosumi of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) announced his resignation from the post of prime minister in Prishtina (Pristina) on March 1, saying that this was the only "correct and ethical action" for him to take in order to preserve the governing coalition's legislative majority and the confidence of the international community. The parliament confirmed his choice on March 10.

In what was seen as a parallel move aimed at revitalizing the governing coalition, the larger Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) of the late President Ibrahim Rugova announced its decision to sack Nexhat Daci as speaker of the parliament and replace him with Kole Berisha, who has been the de facto head of the LDK since Rugova's death in January.

The two changes have some elements in common. The coalition has been weakened by a prolonged dispute in 2005 over control of the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry that reflected badly on the leaderships of both parties. Both Kosumi and Daci have been tainted by scandal and accused of arrogance, and not just by the opposition.

Kosumi in particular came under fire for accepting favors from private businessmen fairly early in the one year since he replaced Ramush Haradinaj as head of the government after Haradinaj, who founded the AAK, voluntarily went to The Hague to face war crimes charges. Kosumi eventually lost credibility within his own party and has also been criticized by some members of the international community, including Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK).

Some commentators in Kosova have suggested that a further reason for the ouster of the two men is a general dissatisfaction with the progress of talks on Kosova's final status, which began on February 20 in Vienna. This view is not universally held, however, and Kosumi cited the progress made towards independence so far as one of his accomplishments when he delivered his resignation speech.

In any event, several Kosovar political leaders and Martti Ahtisaari, who is the UN's chief negotiator for the status talks, made it clear that the changes will have no adverse effect on the negotiations. Ahtisaari said that the latest political developments in Prishtina are a matter for the Kosovar leadership itself and that he expects the talks to move ahead.

President Fatmir Sejdiu, who recently succeeded Rugova and also belongs to the LDK, called the changes "part of a normal [political] process" and pledged to work together with everyone concerned. Hashim Thaci, who leads the opposition Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), said that Kosova's future does not depend on individuals but on institutions.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the changes is Ceku's emergence from the sidelines of political life on to center stage. Like Haradinaj and Thaci, he was a commander of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), but unlike them he still wears a uniform, this time as head of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK). That body consists mainly of ex-UCK guerrillas and is widely seen as the nucleus of the army of a future independent Kosova. Ceku has nonetheless said repeatedly that he does not rule out going into politics and has sometimes spoken out on important issues of the day.

Unlike many in the former UCK leadership, Ceku, who is 45, did not begin his military career as a guerrilla. He was an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) when the conflict began in Croatia in 1991 and joined the Croatian army. Many Serbs have accused him of war crimes against Serbian civilians there, and a court in Nis convicted him in absentia in 2002 of "genocide" against the Serbian minority in Kosova.

It is thus not surprising that Serbian reaction to the news of Ceku's nomination as prime minister was negative. Goran Bogdanovic, who is a leader of the Serbian List for Kosova and Metohija party, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that a man with Ceku's particular military past cannot be expected to serve as a representative of all citizens. Bogdanovic argued that Ceku's appointment "is not good, above all for Kosova, for all citizens of Kosova, and especially for the Serbs. I can't imagine...who of the Serbian [leaders] would take part in a government headed by Ceku."

In Belgrade, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, who heads the Serbian government's coordinating team for the status talks, said that "the proposal that Ceku should take over such a big and important political role is a sign that the ethnic Albanian side is losing their composure and opting for radicalization." (Patrick Moore)

RECENT QUOTATIONS: "I never thought he would be a free man again. I didn't think he should be [free]. He started four wars, he wrecked Southeastern Europe. Over 300,000 people died, over 2.5 million homeless because of Milosevic, and he paid the price, and although he won't serve out many years in jail, he paid the price by ending his life in jail." -- Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Quoted by RFE/RL on March 12.

"We express our regret at [Milosevic's] passing. We also regret that his untimely death has deprived, not only him, but indeed, all interested in parties of a judgment upon the allegations in the indictment. His death terminates these proceedings." -- Judge Patrick Robertson, closing the Milosevic trial in The Hague on March 14. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"Experience shows that it is easy to invite foreign troops, but it is a lot more difficult to get them to leave after that." -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Quoted by RFE/RL in Moscow on March 14.