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Summoning The Specter Of Milosevic

A woman touches a bust of the late Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at his grave in the town of Pozarevac.
A woman touches a bust of the late Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at his grave in the town of Pozarevac.

To many outside Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic is still "the butcher of the Balkans," a man accused of organizing and overseeing genocide and other crimes during the 1990s wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo.

Inside Serbia, however, the picture is more complicated. A decade after he passed away in a detention cell in The Hague, former Serbian leader Milosevic remains a brand name among a certain segment of voters in Serbia. The country holds parliamentary elections on April 24 and Milosevic's former party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), is hoping his ghost will help them improve on the 13 percent they polled in the 2014 vote.

The fact that Milosevic left this world before The Hague tribunal could deliver a verdict is seen by his supporters as proof of his innocence. The SPS has never dissociated itself from Milosevic, although in the past it has played down the link with the party's founder.

No longer. Milosevic's 17-year-old grandson, Marko, and his daughter-in-law, Milica, were guests of honor at the SPS convention in Belgrade on April 10. Party leader Ivica Dacic, who is also foreign minister, said that, although he invited Milosevic's relatives, it should not be taken as a sign his party supports the policies of the 1990s.

But many people aren't convinced. This is how cartoonist Predrag Koraksic Corax depicts Dacic's relationship to the ghosts of Serbia's past:

Dacic's hope that Milosevic's legacy can boost his campaign might be an indication of his despair. In an interview with RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau on April 16, Dacic said he will resign if his party gets less than 10 percent. Asked if his association with Milosevic's relatives is an indication of his attitude toward the former leader, Dacic gave a telling answer:

"There is nothing to pardon him for. He was never convicted. What's more, even if [the charges against Milosevic] were true, they have nothing to do with his grandson. And one more thing, he was the president of the Socialist Party of Serbia, and he is part of the history of our party. My position is quite delicate. If I do not mention Milosevic, I am accused of distancing myself from him. If I do mention him, I am accused of misusing him [to gain votes]."

In accordance with Serbia's "middle-road" policy, Dacic has been equally pro-European and pro-Russian. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party is expected to win the elections again. But it will be interesting to see how much Milosevic's ghost is able to help Dacic and how far he will go in summoning the spirits of the past.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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