Milosevic leaves legacy of death, destruction

Detained dictator sacrificed Yugoslavia for `Greater Serbia'

April 10, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Slobodan Milosevic, the imprisoned former strongman of Yugoslavia, would not have to walk far from his jail to see what calamity was wrought by his decade of bloody-minded nationalism.

Less than 100 yards from the iron gates of his prison, he could walk on a potholed street, cluttered with crumbling houses that provide the unmistakable signs of poverty in a shrunken state $13 billion in debt.

Nearby, a police car, a rusted Yugo painted blue and white, is occupied by a couple of police officers whose mere presence only a few months earlier would have struck fear into the heart of almost any citizen under Milosevic's regime.

At the bottom of the road is the Obilic soccer stadium, home to a championship team once owned by the notorious paramilitary leader Zjelko Raznjatovic. Known as Arkan, the gangster reaped infamy and riches as a warlord in the ethnic battles unleashed by Milosevic and died with a bullet in the eye.

This is Milosevic's legacy.

Deposed in a popular uprising in October, arrested April 1 after a two-day standoff with authorities, Milosevic lives in a specially created cell and is said to spend much time pacing and smoking cigarettes while receiving daily visits from his wife, Mirjana Markovic.

Even the first book he is reported to have asked for in prison evokes his failed dreams, historic sense of mission and the long, lonely stretch that lies ahead: Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

Serbs want to put Milosevic on trial locally on corruption and abuse-of-power charges, with the possibility he could eventually be linked to politically inspired murders as authorities investigate the gutters of his regime. At the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, prosecutors are seeking Milosevic's extradition to face charges that he committed crimes against humanity in his campaign to carve out an ethnically pure greater Serbia in Kosovo, with investigations continuing in Bosnia and Croatia.

The final accounting of Milosevic, a summing up of his crimes and place in history, will take years, perhaps even generations, to digest by judges, politicians and intellectuals, let alone the ordinary people for whom Milosevic launched his battles for a "Greater Serbia."

"There is a long way to go before a complete catharsis but there is also a long time to go, too," says historian Aleksa Djilas.

Under Milosevic, multi-ethnic Yugoslavia - a federation of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Macedonia - destroyed itself during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, leaving more than 200,000 people killed or missing, and 2 million displaced.

Wars were fought in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The words "ethnic cleansing" entered the modern European lexicon as a euphemism created by the West, because genocide required action the outside world was not prepared to take.

Croatia's medieval port city of Dubrovnik was damaged. Ancient Vukovar was leveled. Sarajevo was besieged and ruined. At Srebrenica, supposedly a United Nations safe haven, Serbian units killed thousands of Muslim men and boys, a brazen act that highlighted Western impotence in the face of the violence unleashed by Milosevic's brand of nationalism.

Three years of full-scale fighting left Bosnia a wreck.

The Serbs held the Krajina region of Croatia for three years but lost it all in four days in 1995 as at least 200,000 Serbian refugees fled, a retreat that illustrated the bankruptcy of Milosevic's policies.

International war crimes investigators were deployed to root through atrocities committed in villages where neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds had lived side by side for generations.

Slovenia and Croatia gained independence. Macedonia negotiated its freedom but never truly solved its ethnic problems between majority Slavs and minority Albanians, problems that threaten to produce a fifth Balkan war.

To bring peace to war-ravaged Bosnia, the West flung down a few bombs and negotiated the 1995 Dayton Accord that left Croats, Muslims and Serbs sharing power and for a time held up Milosevic as a guarantor of regional stability.

Kosovo, where Milosevic rose to power in the 1980s by proclaiming to local Serbs that they would never be beaten, led to his political destruction.

He dueled verbally with the West during a 78-day air war in 1999. He survived the bombing and clung to power as his people grew more agitated. After trying to steal a presidential election in the fall, he was shoved from office as well-organized demonstrators set fire to a parliament building in Belgrade.

To the new democratically elected president, Vojislav Kostunica, Milosevic's arrest was the "second act of revolution." The first act was the toppling of the dictator on Belgrade's streets.

"We lived in a country where there was no rule of law for such a long time," Kostunica said last week.

Milosevic destroyed more than the rule of law.

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