LONDONSlobodan 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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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?
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
"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.
"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