Milosevic: Yugoslavia's unresolved problem

More than two months after a mass uprising forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to step down Oct. 5, he doesn't seem to have noticed.

The indicted war criminal continues to occupy the presidential palace built by Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito. Mr. Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, still attends sessions of the federal parliament, where she represents their home town of Pozarevac.

Last month, Milosevic was reelected chief of his Socialist Party, and on Tuesday a private Belgrade television station broadcast a defiant two-hour interview, in which he claimed the uprising - which forced him to recognize defeat in September's tainted presidential elections - was a "coup."

Milosevic insisted he had "struggled to preserve peace" and denounced the United Nations war-crimes tribunal as an illegitimate institution that is "one of the means for carrying out genocide against the Serb people.

"I can sleep peacefully, and my conscience is completely clear," he declared.

The appearance was another reminder for the government of new President Vojislav Kostunica, of the lingering problem his predecessor represents, and the need to sweep away remnants of the former regime. Though he no longer poses the kind of security risk that he did immediately following the revolution, Milosevic still wields a degree of influence in the judiciary and police, say analysts. Many business leaders also owe their positions to Milosevic.

More worrisome, say members of the new government, is that Milosevic remains an international liability. "Though Milosevic is no longer a security threat, he and others are a moral and political liability in dealing with the international community," says Zarko Korac, a leader in Kostunica's ruling coalition. "It does not help the country's new democratic image to have an indicted war criminal appearing on television and involved in the country's political life," says another coalition leader, who requested anonymity.

Despite Milosevic's denials that he was campaigning, the interview came as Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, prepares for elections Dec. 23. Though Milosevic is not a candidate, his party is the largest opposition to Kostunica's 18-party coalition. It is not expected to fare well, according to opinion polls.

The Hague war crimes tribunal wants Milosevic arrested and extradited, and strongly objects to his casual public appearances. "It's unbelievable to see someone who is under an international arrest warrant appearing so obviously," says Florence Hartmann, a spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte.

Milosevic may be hoping for an eventual comeback, fueled by discontent over recent price hikes, say analysts. "Is there anyone who does not see how much worse it is now than it was at the end of September?" Milosevic asked during Tuesday's interview. Prices for many staples have risen between 30 and 50 percent.

The overwhelming local reaction to Milosevic's first post-revolution TV appearance was that the fallen leader had lost touch with reality. "When someone speaks for two hours about his successes, contrary to all objective facts, something is wrong with that personality. He has a difficult time understanding the problems he's created," says Ratko Bozovic, a political author.

Corruption investigations of Milosevic officials began this week, including the former head of customs and three members of the federal election commission, which opponents say tampered with September's elections results. In Pozarevac, Milosevic's son, Marko, is under investigation for alleged assault.

The West's priority so far has been to stabilize Kostunica's uneasy coalition, but local leaders and Western diplomats say next year pressure will be applied to deal with war criminals. "I think aid will eventually be conditioned on a Milosevic trial and trials of other indicted war criminals in Belgrade," says Mr. Korac.

What kind of trial remains to be seen. A corruption trial would beg the moral issues surrounding the former regime, say critics. "According to Milosevic, nothing wrong has happened. Unlike this view of the world, the country has to ask what has happened over the past 10 years," says Bozovic.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.