His arriving coffin was left in the rain while airport officials signed paperwork. Its muted public display has drawn a mere fraction of the huge crowds he commanded in his heyday.
Slobodan Milosevic’s memory and legacy are being unceremoniously snubbed by countrymen who blame the late Serbian leader for ruining the republic.
“Thank you for all the deceits and thefts,” read a bitterly worded newspaper death notice published Friday, the eve of his burial, amid several pages of tributes in the pro-government daily Politika.
It also “thanked” Milosevic, who died of a heart attack March 11 while on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity before a U.N. tribunal, “for every drop of blood spilled for you by thousands, for the fear and uncertainties, wasted lives and generations, for dreams we never realized, for the horrors and the wars which you — without asking our permission — led in our name, for all the burdens you placed on our shoulders.”
“We remember the tanks on the streets of Belgrade, the blood on its pavement,” it said. “We remember those killed, wounded, bereaved, the refugees. We remember our destroyed lives.”
Protest planned for funeral day
Opponents of Milosevic were sending a flurry of cell phone text messages Friday calling for a rally Saturday afternoon on Belgrade’s Republic Square, where massive student-led demonstrations led to his ouster from power in October 2000. The rally was being timed to coincide with his funeral and burial in his hometown of Pozarevac, about 30 miles southeast of Belgrade.
Officials said his widow, Mirjana Markovic, who lives in self-imposed exile in Moscow, was unlikely to attend because she fears arrest on charges of abuse of power during her husband’s 13-year rule. At her request, gravediggers dug a double-wide pit for Milosevic in the backyard of the family estate — beneath a beloved linden tree where the couple first kissed — so she can be reunited with him when she dies.
Some 70,000 weeping supporters have filed past Milosevic’s flag-draped coffin in Belgrade, and thousands more were expected to be bused by Milosevic’s Socialist Party to the capital for a “final farewell” ceremony Saturday and to Pozarevac for the burial.
But the turnout has been muted in comparison to the masses who cheered him a decade ago, and many of the mourners are elderly leftists who espouse a nostalgia for Milosevic not widely held in Serbia.
Left in the rain
The public repudiation was foreshadowed by the coffin’s ignoble return to Serbia this week: The plastic-wrapped casket emerged from the plane’s cargo hold behind a baby stroller and a jumble of suitcases, then sat for 10 minutes in an icy rain while documents were signed.
Milosevic’s family was not granted permission for a state funeral in Belgrade, leaving his Socialists to scramble to make the most dignified arrangements possible. Serbian television, however, broadcast only a few live snippets of the coffin’s display before switching back to midafternoon soap operas.
“The whole chain of events is becoming a farce,” said Brace Grubacic, a political analyst in Belgrade.
“Politically, Milosevic died five years ago when he was sent to The Hague. From that point on, he was history,” he said. “He destroyed his own state, he destroyed his own family and in the end he destroyed himself.”
Lingering dispute over death
Responding to allegations that Milosevic may have been poisoned, the U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands said Friday that an autopsy and tests found no evidence of toxins or drugs in concentrations that could have killed him. Milosevic’s former legal adviser, Branko Rakic, denounced the report as a “huge array of falsehoods.”
Underscoring how Milosevic’s warmongering legacy still affects ordinary Serbs, disabled military veterans of the 1990s wars he started in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo staged a rally in the capital Thursday to protest spending cuts that are making it difficult for them to get artificial limbs, wheelchairs and health care.
Among those scorning Milosevic was Nedjeljko Canak, 57, a one-time staunch supporter until he wound up as a refugee twice — once when he fled Croatia in 1995 for sanctuary in Kosovo, and again in 1999 when he had to flee Kosovo.
Today, he sells socks, cheap cigarette lighters and other bric-a-brac at an open-air stand in a gritty, communist-era block of apartments in Belgrade.
“Why would I go to pay tribute to that monster? He and his thieves were directly responsible for my ordeal,” Canak said.
“He does not deserve a funeral. He deserves to be disposed in the garbage dump of history.”