Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. -- Winston Churchill

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. -- Galileo Galilei

I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell. -- Harry Truman

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Legacy of Slobodan Milosevic

The death of Slobodan Milosevic may turn out to be nearly as controversial as his life. The former Serb leader died in the Hague while still under trial at a war crimes tribunal. The first question that arose is whether he died of natural causes. He had a heart condition, and illness often forced delays in his trial. His body will be autopsied at the Hague, after refusing a request from his attorney that it be conducted in Moscow.

No matter what the results prove, many in Serbia will claim foul play. His death comes just six days after a fellow Serb prisoner at The Hague, Milan Babic, committed suicide. Babic testified against Mr Milosevic in 2002.

The term Balkanization originated with the factional splitting and map redrawing of the Balkan wars in 1912-1913, which were a precursor to World War I. That area lives up to the word again, with the former Yugoslavia now divided into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovenia. Here's a link to a map. Kosovo and Montenegro may soon get independence from Serbia, further splintering things.

The successive wars that Milosevic started in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo – and the campaign of ethnic cleansing – leave him a legacy in which some Serbs still regard him as a hero and now a martyr. Many others feel cheated that he died before he could be convicted and sentenced.

In another twist, his death may help two people who remain at the top of The Hague's most wanted list, former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Pressure had been mounting on the Serbian and Bosnian governments to arrest and turn them over. Now some think the governments may be even more resistant, out of fear of arousing internal unrest among their supporters.

Both of Milosevic's parents and an uncle died by suicide when he was young. His wife's mother was executed during World War II. The story has several versions. She was a Nazi collaborator shot by other partisans, a partisan who was tortured by the Gestapo and gave up her fellow resistance members and was shot anyway, or a brave partisan shot by the Gestapo. All records of her death disappeared after Milosevic's rise to power. Either way, it is a family with a tragic history that went on to inflict tragedy on thousands of others. Lets hope the violence ends with him.

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