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Serbia and Montenegro: Milosevic Laid To Rest

Milosevic supporters in Belgrade on March 16 (epa) Slobodan Milosevic, who was found dead of a heart attack in his prison cell on March 11, will be buried near Belgrade today. Supporters are gathering to pay their respects to a man whom they call a Serbian nationalist hero but who is better known to the rest of the world as a war criminal.

PRAGUE, March 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) – Milosevic’s supporters come from many parts of what he regarded as the Serbian homeland.

To him that meant not just Serbia and Montengero, including the disputed province of Kosovo, but also Serbian-populated areas of the neighboring states of Croatia and Bosnia.

His support for Serbian nationalists in these enclaves played a major role in the four wars in the Balkans that he helped to unleash. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result and millions more were made homeless by ethnic cleansing.

Supporters Remain Adamant

But for some Serbian nationalists, Milosevic remains a hero. Milos Lazarevic, in Pale -- the capital of Bosnia’s Serbian entity during the war there -- voiced his support for Milosevic.

"I think that he fought bravely for Serb people and Serbia as whole," Lazarevic said. "That's why they had indeed killed him, psychologically and physically."

Lazarevic spoke as he boarded a bus in Pale this morning for the drive to Milosevic’s hometown of Pozarevac for the funeral today.

The burial, on the grounds of Milosevic’s family home, is scheduled for 4 p.m. local time.

Milosevic’s party remains strong in Serbia and has sought to give him all the honors of a former head of state, including a state funeral.

Today, thousands of people gathered to view his body displayed on a podium outside the federal parliament building in Belgrade.

The farewell ceremony in the capital – organized by Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia -- includes a giant screen showing a portrait of the former Yugoslav president.

The Serbian government – dominated by pro-Western democrats who ousted Milosevic in 2000 – has refused to allow Milosevic anything more than a private funeral today.

Party Hopes For Popular Send-Off

But Milosevic’s supporters hope huge turnouts today in Belgrade and at the burial site will provide the highly public sendoff they want to give him.

Milorad Vucelic, vice president of the Socialist Party of Serbia, told Reuters on March 17 in Pozarevac that the party expects a large turnout.

"We are expecting tens of thousands of people in Pozarevac," Vucelic said. "The largest number of 300,000 people will surely be in Belgrade, but a lot of them will come to Pozarevac after they see him off in Belgrade."

Opponents of Milosevic say such expectations for a turnout are wildly exaggerated. They call Milosevic a criminal who should be buried without ceremony.

Opponents Publish Condemnation

One group published a "letter" to Milosevic on March 17 to remind the country of his bleak legacy.

“Thank you for the deceit and theft, for every drop of blood shed by thousands, for the fear and uncertainty, for the failed lives and generations, the unfulfilled dreams, for the horrors and wars you waged in our name, without asking us, for all the burdens you've placed on our shoulders," the statement said.

Milosevic's widow and son are not expected to attend the funeral. Mirjana Markovic would have faced possible arrest on fraud charges if she entered Serbia.

"Because of controversial statements by the authorities in Serbia regarding security of the family of Slobodan Milosevic during the funeral and especially because of threats and blackmails addressed to Mira Markovic, the family was prevented from coming to the funeral and will not be present at the funeral," Vucelic told Milosevic supporters in Belgrade today.

RFE/RL Balkans Analyst Comments

RFE/RL Balkans Analyst Comments

DECADES NEEDED TO OVERCOME HIS LEGACY: RFE/RL Balkans analyst PATRICK MOORE comments on the funeral of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and what it says about Milosevic’s legacy in his homeland.

RFE/RL: Things have gone quietly for Milosevic’s funeral today despite the fact there was a potential for violent confrontations between Milosevic’s supporters and opponents. Is the calm surprising?

Patrick Moore: Part of the reason we didn’t get violence, or at least have not had it so far, is that the kind of people who would be most likely to engage in such behavior are precisely Milosevic’s supporters, and they are the ones who right now have an interest in a peaceful funeral. The kind of people who turned out half-a-million-strong in 2003 for the funeral of [assassinated] reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic are probably looking on all this with disgust and would not see any reason to turn out and would otherwise go about their business.

RFE/RL: The media attention today was on Milosevic’s supporters and their efforts to give him a hero’s sendoff. Why do his supporters feel so strongly he was a good leader?

Moore: In any society, when you have someone who at one time stood at the helm and went through several wars, then this person will always have a certain kind of following, and this is certainly true in Milosevic’s case. He fooled a lot of people for a long time, people’s selective memories take hold, and I heard some Serbs commenting today that their standard of living was higher under Milosevic. Well, in fact, Milosevic had one of the highest inflation rates in modern Balkan history. So, this is a selective memory working here; there is a bit of a nostalgia element.

RFE/RL: Most of the world sees Milosevic as a war criminal who was on trial for four years at The Hague before he died in prison before he could be judged. How would you sum up his legacy for Serbia?

Moore: He contributed to, reinforced, a very negative element in Serbian political culture that is narcissistic, that is engaged in blame and denial -- [the attitude that] the entire world is to be blamed for Serbia’s problems, just Serbs are not. More importantly, he left his own people, the Serbs, a legacy of poverty, crime, corruption and a democratic deficit. It’s going to take them years ,if not decades, to overcome this.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, click here.

Of related interest:

RFE/RL Special: The Collapse Of Tito's Yugoslavia

RFE/RL Special: Yugoslavia's Democratic Revolution