Opponents of Slobodan Milosevic issued a reality check to Serbia on Friday to counter diehard loyalists lauding him as fallen hero who “battled like a giant” and would “sleep with the angels.”
“Thank you for the deceit and theft, for every drop of blood shed by thousands, for the fear and uncertainty, for the failed lives and generations, the unfulfilled dreams, for the horrors and wars you waged in our name, without asking us, for all the burdens you’ve placed on our shoulders,” they said in a memorial published on Friday.
“We remember tanks on Belgrade streets and blood on the pavements. We remember Vukovar. We remember Dubrovnik. We remember Knin and Krajina. We remember Sarajevo. We remember Srebrenica. We remember the air strikes. We remember Kosovo. We’ll be remembering that one for a while. And dreaming of it.”
The hard-hitting commentary was published in the daily Politika, among dozens of traditional death notices extolling the former Serb strongman who died in detention in The Hague last Saturday of heart failure.
“We remember those who were killed, and those who were injured,” it said. “We remember the suffering ones, the refugees. We remember our destroyed lives.”
Milosevic ignited and stoked a virulent, racist form of Serbian nationalism in the 1990s that turned the might of the Yugoslav army loose on Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians as they fought free of Serb dominance.
His regime used state television to portray the enemy as monsters who gouged eyes and pitchforked children.
A sizable section of the public backed him while he funneled big guns to the fronts and piled national treasure onto the altar of a Greater Serbia that never came to pass.
Day of judgment
He was ousted by street protests on Oct. 5, 2000, after his bid to gain re-election by gross fraud had failed. His body came home this week for burial on Saturday in the courtyard of the family home in a provincial town.
Efforts by his Socialist party and the ultranationalist Radicals to secure a state funeral for Milosevic failed to sway the pro-Western government. But his coffin, on view in Belgrade since Thursday, attracts a steady stream of tearful believers.
Wary of a bid to rewrite history for the old guard still in denial of his role in the breakup of Yugoslavia, young democrats issued a call by mobile phone text message for a counter-rally in the capital at the moment he is laid to rest.
“See you on Saturday in the central square,” it said, urging Milosevic opponents to “bring a balloon.”
The conventional death notices for Milosevic were replete with patriotic sentiment intended to shore up a legacy which elections and opinion polls show most Serbs no longer credit.
“Slobodan, I’m proud you were my president. You are a heroic defender of Serbia and a fighter for the truth.”
“Rest in peace. You have set an example of how a Serb fights for Serbia and brother Serbs! History will remember that!” “May your long-suffering soul rest with the angels.”
In the teeth of all evidence to the contrary, some said death had cheated Milosevic of the moment when he would disprove the grave war crimes charges which brought him before the United Nations tribunal five years ago, radiating defiance.
“For five years you fought a giant’s fight against false accusations. You died at the moment when it became clear that those accusations were collapsing...”
Some commentators lament that Milosevic’s death cheated justice and history of the guilty verdict he deserved, one that would give Serbia the sobering catharsis it needs.
The reality is that no foreign established fact, no documentation, no verdict, no video, no testimony has ever swayed the minds of the bedrock minority of Serbs who see their nation as a bullied victim and Milosevic as its tragic martyr.