Denial and death

March 14, 2006

If the world is in fact witnessing a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, it's worth remembering that one of the most significant blows was struck in the 1990s by Slobodan Milosevic as he whipped up Serbian wars against Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians. His legacy was a poisonous one that had ramifications far beyond the borders of even the old Yugoslavia - which is why it was so much in the interests of the international community to see him receive justice at the tribunal in The Hague. Now he is dead; justice will not be served; his poisonous legacy will live on.

The Serbian government has announced that Mr. Milosevic can be buried in Belgrade, despite fears that his funeral will be turned into an emotional and potentially dangerous demonstration by Serbia's nationalist parties. Over the course of his four-year trial in the Netherlands, his popularity at home had doubled and Serbs had come to admire his defiance of the rest of the world.

A belief that he was murdered appears to be widespread in Serbia, and this makes it considerably less likely that Belgrade will turn over the two most-wanted war criminals still at large, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, by an April 5 deadline set by the European Union. That means further talks on Serbia's entry into the group of nations will be put on hold. But it also means further delays in justice, and further delays in coming to terms with the deadly finale to Europe's 20th century.

Sarajevo is Mr. Milosevic's monument. It was at Sarajevo that a violent radicalism found its footing, and that death for death's sake became a norm, a way of conduct. Others have absorbed Sarajevo's lesson. It was where the 21st century got its start.

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