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Slobo Street? Serb Nationalists Redouble Efforts To Honor Milosevic

A woman touches a bust of late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at his grave in the town of Pozarevac. (file photo)
A woman touches a bust of late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at his grave in the town of Pozarevac. (file photo)

Since the United Nations' war-crimes court convicted Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide in March 2016, Serbian nationalists have launched at least three initiatives to honor Slobodan Milosevic -- Belgrade's main leader during the wars of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia who died in UN custody before his own war-crimes trial was completed.

Milosevic's supporters claim he was exonerated in the verdict against Karadzic from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Armed with that interpretation of the Karadzic ruling, they've redoubled their efforts to honor Milosevic with street names, a monument in Belgrade, and an "honorary citizen" title.

The latest initiative -- an attempt to name a street after Milosevic in the country's second-largest city, Novi Sad -- is part of persistent efforts by nationalists in the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).

Filed with Novi Sad's city council on March 13, the proposal says the plan would "recognize that Milosevic was killed by torture at The Hague prison" during his trial for crimes against humanity.

Novi Sad's Commission of Public Services has yet to rule on the proposal.

Milosevic died on March 11, 2006, in his ICTY detention cell while on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. An internal ICTY inquiry "confirmed that Mr. Milosevic died of natural causes from a heart attack."

The Serbian Radical Party in Novi Sad first submitted a "Milosevic Street" proposal in 2012, but it was rejected.

Nationalists from Milosevic's former Socialist Party of Serbia put forward a similar plan for Novi Sad in 2006, just months after Milosevic's death. Their plans were also rejected.

Exoneration Claims

Such proposals are condemned by opponents of Serbia's nationalists and have been repeatedly rejected by both local and national authorities.

Disputes over the latest attempts to honor Milosevic reflect ongoing divisions within Serbia about his legacy.

In November, a member of the Serbian Radical Party called on Leskovac's city council to designate Milosevic as an honorary citizen -- a title bestowed by the municipality in 1999 but stripped from him in 2001 after his fall from power. Municipal lawmakers rejected the move.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague in 2004
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague in 2004

In August 2016, a politician who co-founded the Socialist Party of Serbia with Milosevic called on the city of Belgrade to erect a Milosevic monument in the central Slavija Square and to name a street after him.

Milutin Mrkonjic, now a member of Serbia's parliament, is among those who claim the ICTY's ruling on Karadzic exonerated Milosevic. He says Milosevic should be honored as a hero in Belgrade.

But Belgrade city officials also rejected Mrkonjic's proposal amid a storm of ridicule on social media -- including the suggestion that a 500 billion-dinar banknote, a reminder of hyperinflation during the 1990s, would more suitably represent the Milosevic era.

Death Before Verdict

The war crimes charges against Milosevic were related to atrocities carried out in Kosovo during 1999, Croatia in 1991 and 1992, and in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 -- including the massacre of thousands of civilians at Srebrenica in 1995.

International investigators established early on that Serbian troops were involved in ethnically motivated killings and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

What the UN tribunal was attempting to determine was whether Milosevic ordered such atrocities, or at least knew about them and failed to stop them.

His death came just weeks before a scheduled verdict, so Milosevic was neither found guilty nor acquitted of the charges against him.

Later, in its Karadzic genocide ruling in March 2016, the ICTY said evidence presented during Karadzic's trial was insufficient to prove that Milosevic "agreed with the common plan" to create territories ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs.

Milosevic apologists and war-crime deniers seized on the language in that paragraph to claim that the ICTY exonerated Milosevic.

But in fact, the ICTY did not make any determination of Milosevic's guilt.

In a statement sent to RFE/RL about claims of Milosevic's exoneration in the Karadzic case, the ICTY said: "The Trial Chamber found earlier in the same paragraph that 'Milosevic provided assistance in the form of personnel, provisions, and arms to Bosnian Serbs during the conflict.'"

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service

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