NEWS ANALYSIS Hasty Transfer Causes Yugoslav Shock Waves
Steven Erlanger New York Times Service
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Delicate Moment for Democratic Reformers
 
LONDON Slobodan Milosevic is finally being brought to trial for crimes against humanity he is accused of committing in Kosovo, providing a new system of international law with the major test it has demanded.
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A trial of Mr. Milosevic could last years, especially if he is later indicted in connection with his role in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, and his testimony is likely to embarrass a number of the Western leaders who negotiated with him and coddled him for much of his rule.
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The West later turned against Mr. Milosevic and went to war with Serbia over Kosovo. Western leaders were swift to applaud Mr. Milosevic's transfer to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and to promise new aid to Belgrade. As a Serbian government adviser said, "Milosevic became too expensive to keep."
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But the manner and haste of the transfer of Mr. Milosevic to The Hague will also have significant repercussions for the democratic reformers who defeated him in elections last October and arrested him in early April.
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Their decision to shed themselves of Mr. Milosevic in the face of international pressure - on the eve of a meeting Friday at which international donors planned to pledge aid to Belgrade - appears to have broken the democratic coalition apart and cause the new federal government to fall, perhaps forcing early elections.
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The Montenegrin members who opposed Mr. Milosevic's surrender said Friday they were quitting their posts, with some suggesting that the fragile Yugoslav federation of Montenegro and Serbia will disintegrate.
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Thursday was Vidovdan, the 612th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo in 1389, when the Serbs found their national myth in their glorious defeat by the Turks. Gavrilo Princip killed Archduke Ferdinand on this day, setting off World War I, and Mr. Milosevic made the most important speech of his career on this day in 1989 in Kosovo, promising to defend the Serbs there and riding Serbian nationalism to power.
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For Westerners, the day will mark a fitting and ironic arc for Mr. Milosevic's career, with his manipulation of patriotism bringing blood and death to many thousands in Bosnia, Croatia and finally in Kosovo itself.
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But for many Serbs, Mr. Milosevic's transfer will only underline his reputation as a defender who is suffering martyrdom for the beleaguered nation as other heroes have done.
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On one level, the transfer of Mr. Milosevic is a crucial and necessary step toward the reconciliation of Serbia with the rest of the world - and the rest of the region, broken apart in the wars of Yugoslav secession.
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But on another level, the quick transfer of Mr. Milosevic by the Serbian government, in defiance of a Constitutional Court ruling and without bothering to inform the elected federal president, Vojislav Kostunica, will be seen by many Serbs as a craven response to international blackmail, further undermining the country's independence and damaged legal system.
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It is not that many Serbs will shed tears for Mr. Milosevic, whom they once revered. They voted against him in large numbers in October, in part because they were sick of the isolation and penury he had brought them. And recent revelations about mass graves in Serbia containing Albanian corpses spirited from Kosovo have made it harder for Serbs to pretend that they did not commit any of the crimes for which the world has condemned them.
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But the transfer to The Hague on Thursday is likely to be seen by many as less about justice than about money, and the way large, victorious nations get their way over small, defeated ones. It is money that the desperate Serbian economy needs, and it is money that the Serbian government must have to try to dampen criticism that its electoral victory has brought few tangible benefits to ordinary people.
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Yugoslavia is seeking about $1.3 billion in aid on top of more than $400 million already committed, including more than $140 million in budget support, to pay salaries, pensions and unemployment benefits. They received pledges Friday of $1.28 billion.
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"We sold him for money, and we won't really get very much money for it," said Aleksa Djilas, a Belgrade historian and political scientist. "The United States is the natural leader of the world, but how do you lead? This just feeds the worst American instincts, reinforcing this bullying mentality." But some will also see the transfer of Mr. Milosevic, without a domestic trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power, as a kind of easy washing of hands: Let Mr. Milosevic and a few of his cronies pay the price of Serbia's guilt, scapegoats for a nation's responsibility, avoiding any larger process of national self-examination or investigation.
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Mr. Djilas also shares this view. "This is also disastrous for Serbian self-flagellation, which is also necessary," he said. "In a way we avoid responsibility for what we have done. We should have put him on trial here first, and dug out all the evidence ourselves, in both the literal and metaphorical sense."
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For the tribunal, the transfer of Mr. Milosevic is a major victory, but also a challenge. Mr. Milosevic has not been indicted for genocide, but for lesser charges, and not yet for Bosnia, where most people consider his real crimes lie. Is the chain of evidence there to convict him? How much might it depend on secret intercepts from the very governments that bombed Serbia? Will this be real justice or victor's justice? No NATO commander has been indicted for the use of cluster bombs and other munitions, and no Kosovar Albanian for the killings and expulsions of Serbs from Kosovo. And how to defend a trial when the U.S. government itself is so adamantly opposed to an international court that might one day try Americans?
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Mr. Milosevic is the first elected president to be indicted and transferred to international justice, and he is likely to be alone there, given the peaceful death in office in 1999 of Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian leader, with whom Mr. Milosevic conspired to carve up Bosnia, and who was never indicted for Croatian crimes against Muslims and Serbs.
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"From the Serbian point of view, Mr. Milosevic will be the only leader from all these rascals to face the tribunal," Mr. Djilas said. "Tudjman not only died peacefully in his bed but had cancer treatment at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. So did his defense minister, Gojko Susak," Mr. Djilas said.
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"People will feel that if Milosevic had just signed the treaty in Rambouillet he'd be getting treatment for his high blood pressure in Washington, too, instead of going to The Hague," Mr. Djilas said, referring to the town outside Paris where peace talks were held in early 1999.
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