AIM: start

SAT, 16 FEB 2002 02:14:55 GMT

On the Eve of the Trial to Slobodan Milosevic

Profit for the Socialists from The Hague

A few days before the beginning of the "trial of the century" in Belgrade everybody still seems to be happy because Milosevic is far from home and somebody else is dealing with him. Despite this "happy combination of circumstances” awareness seems to be gradually growing in Democratic Opposition of Serbia that this trial by far exceeds the limits of Milosevic's private war with The Hague and Carla del Ponte. For the first time since the former president of FRY had arrived in the Hague, it is possible to hear even in DOS for the first time that the ruling on Milosevic will in fact include the official evaluation of the history of the past decade which may have far-reaching consequences for FRY

AIM Belgrade, February 6, 2002

Of all the big platforms which he has for years climbed on and which enabled him to get on to the front pages of world known newspapers, the only platform the former president of FRY Slobodan Milosevic can still appear on is the one he has never dreamt of - the one in the Hague. When on February 12 (if nothing happens in the meanwhile) the trial that is sometimes announced as "the trial of the century" begins, at least for a little while, Milosevic will again appear on the front pages of the world newspapers and the central news of global TV stations, this time, as the man whose political destiny is quite certain and one could say - cemented. This, however, does not mean that in his last great performance Milosevic has given up the ambition to damage this Tribunal as much as possible, to humiliate the Prosecution, blame NATO for everything and show that he is in fact the victim of an international conspiracy and power-wielders who are through him putting the whole Serb people on trial.

And while on the eve of this trial lawyers are mostly arguing about the effectiveness of the tactics of former president of the federal state not to recognize the Hague Tribunal, and the politicians are increasingly stressing that this trial cannot be just his “personal affair” because “FRY as a state is part of the indictment”, Milosevic’s Socialists are gradually overcoming their internal party conflicts expecting that from the platform in the Hague their former sacrosanct boss will bring back a part of the voters they once could count on. That they quite seriously count on Milosevic and what he says in the Hague was evident last week when the Socialists at one moment left the session of the Assembly of Serbia for two hours. They did it in protest because state TV did not carry Milosevic’s half-hour speech to the Appellate Council of the Tribunal. According to the assessment of the Socialist Party of Serbia it was a “brilliant” political appearance of their imprisoned boss and something state TV must put on its program.

On February 9 they will organise a protest gathering downtown Belgrade from which on the eve of the trial they will protest against the Hague Tribunal and most probably send supporting telegrams to Milosevic with messages to persist and bravely fight with the head prosecutor Carla del Ponte. All similar gatherings have so far ended up with two or three thousand people present and reluctance of even some leaders of SPS to appear in city squares and publicly express support to Milosevic.

It seems that Milosevic’s position within the party is stable again and that a consensus of different factions in SPS was reached that re-evaluation of the absent party boss and his deeds can wait. One faction among the Socialists (the “hardliners” close to the Yugoslav United Left) claimed that Milosevic must not be tampered with and that nothing of what he has done and left behind can be questioned. The second faction (unofficially headed by Ivica Dacic) was aware that with Milosevic as the party sanctity cannot get them far, but at the same time advocated that re-evaluation of his heritage be postponed for a while, at least until it becomes clear what the beginning of the trial in the Hague will be like. The third party faction was headed by Branislav Ivkovic who openly demanded that Milosevic be proclaimed the honorary president of the party and be sent to history, and that a convention be organised where SPS would elect new leadership and try to come out of Milosevic’s shadow.

The debate on this topic died down a few weeks ago when it became clear that Slobodan Milosevic’s trial might bring the Socialists a certain political profit. Some internal public opinion polls also showed that even in the Hague Milosevic was by far more popular than his party which is, apart from political bankruptcy announced on October 5, 2000, increasingly haunted by a very serious possibility of financial bankruptcy. The same investigation showed to the current leadership of SPS that the thinned out ranks of the sympathisers of this party believe that Milosevic is courageously behaving in the Hague and “successfully defending himself and the state”. This, of course, automatically resulted in the conclusion that this was not the best moment to let the “boss” sink.

How much the man whose political destiny has definitely been sealed will mean in the future in this space and whether he might serve as a symbol to certain political forces does not depend on the wishes of the Socialists alone. In his previous appearances in front of the judges of the Tribunal (and cameras of world TV stations) Milosevic persistently tried to present himself as a victim of legal violence of the international community. He skillfully used every opportunity (and there have been quite a few) offered to him by the persons in the team of the Hague Prosecutor and their imprecise, improvised, sometimes even stupid stands. A trial that would not be founded on sufficiently convincing evidence, but on unreliable witnesses and dubious theses of the prosecution such as the one that Milosevic was creating “Greater Serbia by trying to annex Kosovo to Serbia” could help the former president of FRY to create an image of a “martyr and hero” in a part of the public.

In creation of such an image possible refusal of the Tribunal to call as witnesses in this trial many once influential world politicians with whom the former president of FRY negotiated and made certain “deals” during war years could play into Milosevic’s hands. Their failure to appear at this trial would strongly suggest the impression that by the order of a part of international community, the Hague Tribunal is perhaps trying to conceal certain historical facts, in other words that it is not a neutral judicial institution of the judiciary, but a creation of politics of global power. Both Milosevic and those who are accusing him are aware that the struggle for the credibility of the Tribunal still has not been won. Any violation of the rules of a fair and honest trial and evading of the highest legal standards, as well as avoiding potential criminals from other groups will automatically increase Milosevic’s chances to ensure the halo of a martyr who was allegedly “sold” by the new DOS authorities to the Hague for a handful of dollars.

A few days before the beginning of the “trial of the century” in Belgrade everybody still seems to be happy that Milosevic is far from home and that somebody else has to deal with him. Despite this “happy combination of circumstances” within DOS awareness is slowly starting to grow that this trial by far exceeds the framework of Milosevic’s private war with the Hague and Carla del Ponte. For the first time since the former president of FRY had arrived in the Hague it can be heard from DOS that the court decision on Milosevic will include the official evaluation of the history of the previous decade that may have far-reaching consequences for FRY.

As concerning the Socialists, they seem to be quite convinced that their imprisoned “boss” is capable of fighting the Tribunal and defending both himself and the state. Although they do not wish to publicly admit it for the Socialists Milosevic is much more valuable in the Hague prison than at home. In the Hague he might make a certain political profit for them. At home they just lost points because of him.

Nenad Lj. Stefanovic