Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Death of Milosevic

Upon hearing of the death of former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, I have followed the developments with interest. How would local people respond to his death and why? Would it vary by age, location, education, or financial status? What did the local newspapers say was the cause of his death? Would the government allow Milosevic to be buried in Serbia? If so, would the funeral be a quiet, private one, or would there be some fanfare involved?

Citizen Responses
Responses of people are definitely varied. Some couldn't care less about the whole situation - why he died, the trial and verdict, where he should be buried, etc. Some Serbians are just fed up with the whole thing and just want to move on with their lives. Younger adults I spoke to often had strong opinions. Many expressed regret that Milosevic's death and subsequent termination of the trial meant that he could never be held accountable for all the harm he had done. This includes the economic and emotional scarring of Serbia's citizens, even right here in Belgrade. Those such as the families of those who lost males through genocide had looked to the trial as a possibility of retribution and closure – now that will not happen. A few were saddened by Milosevic’s death, remembering him for the nationalistic efforts of a greater Serbia, especially his desire to hold on to Kosovo – seen as the historical and spiritual heartland of Serbia. Surprisingly, not all of these people were of the older generation.

Although I haven’t gone downtown, others have told me that there are not signs of mourners, protesters, etc. True, there were a few loyalists who gathered outside of the headquarters of the Socialist party, lighting candles and kissing his picture in memory. Even the Serbian flag above the Federal Parliament building remained at its normal position – and not at half-mast.

Press Reaction
Many of the newspaper (I depend on others to tell me this, since I can’t read Serbian) headlines proclaimed that Milosevic was murdered. Even amongst those who didn’t care for their former leader, there tended to be a distrust of anything involved with NATO and the UN War Crimes Tribunal. It is generally felt among the population that these organizations (and even Western media) are biased against Serbia. Where are the Croat and Bosnian leaders and military generals who committed atrocities against Serb citizens – are they being tried? Will families, including several teachers from my school, ever be able to return to Croatia and reclaim their land forcefully stolen from them just because they were Serbs?

Burial Location
Although people generally didn’t respond as passionately to this issue, they still often had opinions. Some would prefer that me would be buried in Russia or elsewhere. Such an arrangement would avoid the potential sticky issues of Mrs. Milosevic returning to Serbia (there is an arrest warrant out for her) and any governmental recognition of the funeral. If there was to be a funeral in Serbia, many felt that a state-sponsored one would be inappropriate. When I asked one teacher why he, as former president should not receive an honorary funeral and compared it to that of former US president Ronald Regan, she once again expressed anger at all the harm Milosevic did. The last thing she wanted to see happen was have him made into a hero.

One individual (originally from a small town in Bosnia) found it unfair that while Milosevic's wife may be allowed to return to Serbia without being arrested, there are so many young men who have been unable to return to the country, fleeing after they said or did something against Milosevic's regime while he was in power. I'm sure those families would love to have their sons return to their homeland - will their safety be guaranteed?

It now sounds like Milosevic will indeed be buried in his hometown of Pozarevac, about 50 km from Belgrade. The government has denied requests by Milosevic supporters to have his body on public view in the Federal Parliament building. Instead, the public display will happen in Pozarevac.

Possible Outcome
I hope that the citizens and country of Serbia will be able to move forward. Will the government and/or those who know of the whereabouts of prominent wanted fugitives be emboldened to hand over those war criminals? Will Serbia be able to begin its entry talks into the EU? Will Serbia emerge from political and economic isolationism? Time will tell.

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