Saturday, March 18, 2006

Milosevic Buried Without Incident; Doctors Say Not Poisoned

I've been waiting to post on Milosevic again until all the smoke cleared over how he died and what went down at his funeral. A lot of things could have happened that didn't (like nationalist riots or a finding that he was poisoned), but it should still be remembered that this is not what the International Criminal Court or the victims of Serbia's aggression were hoping for. If the court had been able to pass a formal sentence, rather than Balkan wonks now having to satisfy themselves with the scope of the public record that most people will never read, it would have been a much more meaningful statement and capstone on this hugely important trial. While there are a few big fish left to fry, such as the still-elusive Gen. Ratko Mladic and his political boss Radovan Karadzic, this trial will now go forward somewhat in the manner of the proceedings against Iraq's former regime without the presence of Saddam Hussein. You can establish guilt, you can question everybody you want, but at the end of the day if the dictator himself isn't called to account, it's less a victory for true justice than an attempt to tie up the loose ends.

It's odd to look at the pictures of people walking solemnly along as his hearse drives by, or wailing over his coffin -- this guy didn't have anything like the diabolical charisma of Hitler, and yet he gets his own bunch of mythologizers and well-wishers even though he destroyed his own country and everything around it. He literally drove Serbia to ruin and made it an international pariah, and still he has a (fairly modest*) legion of supporters who think he made it alright to be Serbian again, or some such nonsense. If there's a book out there that explains this phenomenon, please recommend it in comments and I will take a long look.

And just for the record, there is no evidence the Hague prosecutors poisoned him. Rumor has been that he was secretly taking pills full of a drug called rifampicin that he knew would impair his heart medication and allow his physical deterioration to delay the trial, a tactic that worked several times without anybody figuring it out. The autopsy did not discover traces of rifampicin but doctors note that it degrades quickly in the body and the possibility can't be ruled out.

* - If you want to know how the Serbs really feel, look no further than these two paragraphs from the funeral story linked above:

Serbian authorities refused to approve an official ceremony, but Saturday's farewell — organized by the Socialists and technically private — had some of the trappings of a state funeral.

Still, though larger than many had expected, the crowd in Belgrade was far smaller than the 500,000 who turned out for the 2003 funeral of assassinated Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, who had turned Milosevic over to the U.N. tribunal two years earlier.


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