March 11, 2006

“Martyr Milosevic” overshadows Djindjic memorial

By Douglas Hamilton

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The sudden death of Slobodan Milosevic
created a new martyr for some Serbs as the country on Sunday
marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Prime
Minister Zoran Djindjic, the man who ousted him.

Milosevic's death in detention at the Hague war crimes
tribunal could prove a political gift to hardline nationalists
who despised Djindjic as the traitor that sold out their hero
and who swore never to forgive pro-Western liberals.

In a society with a victim complex and lingering suspicions
of the West, Milosevic's death seemed sure to tug Serbia in two
directions in a crucial year which may see the loss of Kosovo
province and partner state Montenegro.

The neighbors he waged war against in a vain bid to
preserve Serb hegemony in a crumbling Yugoslavia -- Croats,
Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians -- said they felt cheated
of justice by his sudden passing before he could be convicted.

But Serbia's opposition Radical Party, the strongest in
grassroots support, and Milosevic's rump Socialist Party said
the former president should get a national hero's funeral --
which ironically could mean burial near Djindjic.

Their rhetoric in reaction to news of Milosevic's death was
strong, eventually capped by an allegation that Milosevic was
poisoned by his jailers.

But pollster Srdjan Bogosavljevic said although some 50
percent of Serbs oppose cooperation with the tribunal there was
no great potential for spontaneous protests over Milosevic.

"A political party would have to exploit this," he said.

Serbian reformists kept their heads down. The centrist
government, under huge pressure from the West to deliver top
war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic to The Hague in the
next four weeks, sat on the fence.


If the state had been planning the arrest of Mladic in time
to prevent the European Union from suspending association talks
as Brussels has threatened, fear of the impact of Milosevic's
death could make it pause, analysts said.

Failure to make a move on the Bosnian Serb wartime
commander resulting in a freeze on the EU talks would hand the
hardliners a political victory over the pragmatists without
having to risk an election. But the aftermath would be

"The Hague tribunal killed Slobodan Milosevic by not
letting him go to be treated in Moscow while knowing what a
serious condition he was in," said Radical Aleksandar Vucic.

He blamed The Hague and its "domestic minions here in
Serbia who kidnapped (Milosevic) and handed him over" -- an
obvious reference to the late Djindjic who was shot dead by a
rifleman believed to have been hired by ultranationalists

"I think the political consequences will be that we who
fight against those who want to destroy Serbia will have even
more arguments," Vucic said.

In a carefully balanced statement, Svetozar Marovic, the
president of the union of Serbia and Montenegro said the
passing of Milosevic in such a manner was a "big test for the
moral authority of the Hague tribunal."

But he added: "Milosevic has gone and I hope finally also a
time of suffering, division and evil will end as well."

There has been no word on when Milosevic's body, which must
be examined by pathologists, might be returned to Serbia for
burial and no reliable information on when and where the
funeral will take place.

The court said an autopsy and a toxicological examination
had been ordered for the 64-year-old, who suffered from a heart
condition and high blood pressure.

Milosevic lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic told reporters in The
Hague that the ex-strongman of the Balkans feared he was being
poisoned in prison and wanted Russian protection.

The tribunal swiftly turned down Tomanovic's request for
the autopsy to be carried out in Moscow.

(Additional reporting by Beti Bilandzic and Nicola Leske in