International Papers

Hero, Victim, Schemer, Stooge

The press takes a final look at Slobodan Milosevic.

In death, as in life, Slobodan Milosevic inspired a range of emotions: hatred, awe, disgust, pride, loathing, admiration. The international press’ coverage is just as schizoid.

A Guardian dispatch from Belgrade described the mushrooming movement to bring the former president back home to Serbia for burial with state honors; some supporters are even petitioning the government to have him buried on the capital’s Avenue of Heroes, where Zoran Djindjic, the Serb prime minister gunned down by nationalists in 2003, is entombed. One Milosevic loyalist told the paper: “He deserves a resting place beside Serbia’s finest leaders and generals. The west killed him but we should be proud of him.” Mayor Nenad Bogdanovic nixed the idea: “Only people who left a positive, noble and humane mark on this city and in our country are buried in the Avenue of Heroes.”

The Guardian also runs a commentary from John Laughland, who claims to be one of the last journalists to have broken bread with Milosevic. Laughland not only found Slobo to be “polite and intelligent,” he also considered him to be a victim of circumstance and dismissed the trial: “[C]ivilised societies ought to be reluctant to condone criminal convictions based on hate campaigns. The fact is that Milosevic’s enemies have never been able to produce a single rabid nationalist, let alone racist, quotation from his mouth, while in the four years of his trial at The Hague not a single witness has testified that he ordered war crimes.” Laughland continued: “If the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were a proper court of law, the charges against him would have been dismissed long ago. Unfortunately, it is a highly politicised organ, created on the initiative of the very states which attacked Yugoslavia in 1999, and whose judges have disgraced themselves by bending the rules to facilitate the prosecution’s task.”

A Times op-ed by self-described former “peacenik” David Aaronovitch mocks some leftists for supporting Milosevic and wonders what they will do now that one of their causes célèbres is gone: “All that remains for them to do is to spread as many rumours as they can that the forces of imperialism done the old boy in, and then they can get down to the business of pre-emptively defending Kim Jong Il.” Still, Aaronovitch reckons that the world community owes Milosevic. Why? “[N]o Slobo, no Bosnia, no Kosovo, no fashion for intervention, no Iraq.” Milosevic’s reign “reminded too many of us that inaction can be as toxic and murderous as action. He prepared us—for weal or woe—for the new world.”

Milosevic suspected that someone was trying to do him in. The Daily Telegraph runs excerpts from a letter Milosevic wrote to the Russian Foreign Ministry venting his frustration and paranoia when officials denied his request to travel to Moscow last month: “I think that the persistence with which medical treatment in Russia was denied in the first place is motivated by the fear that through careful examination it would be discovered that there were active, willful steps taken to destroy my health throughout the proceedings of the trial, which could not be hidden from Russian specialists.” The Daily Mirror quotes Milosevic’s brother Borislav accusing officials of murder: “Everything was aimed at this outcome. It was a kind of murder. I am not ashamed to use that word.” An expert denies such claims, saying if there was any poisoning, Milosevic “had knowingly taken harmful medicines to improve his case for going for treatment to Russia, where his wife, son and brother live.”

The conspiracy gathers steam in Russia, where suspicion of the West reared its head when officials asked Russian experts to conduct their own investigation into the death. The St. Petersburg Times quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who believes that Hague officials slighted Russia when they rejected Milosevic’s travel request despite Moscow’s promise to send him back: “Essentially, they didn’t believe Russia,” Lavrov said. “In a situation where we weren’t believed, we also have the right not to believe and not to trust those who are conducting this autopsy.”