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Serbs Ready To Face Milosevic

October 25, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In the aftermath of Slobodan Milosevic’s fall from power, many Yugoslavs appear anxious to blame the ousted president for their nation’s misery.

Few seem ready to entertain the notion that their own Serbian nationalism played a role in the disastrous Balkan wars. Many Serbs hailed Milosevic’s attempts to prevent the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and turned against him after the conflicts sapped the nation.

``That piece of garbage has cost us so much, sucked us dry,″ said housewife Milica Stojanovic, 50, as she leafed through pages of a Belgrade newspaper. ``He really deserves to be packed off to The Hague court,″ referring to the U.N. tribunal that indicted him for war crimes.

Despite such rhetoric, few Serbs seem ready to see Milosevic in The Hague.

In a survey conducted Oct. 14, the weekly magazine Nin found that 53 percent of 2,000 people questioned said Milosevic should not stand trial for war crimes anywhere. About 30 percent said he should face charges at home.

Only 9 percent favored sending him to The Hague.

Milosevic’s successor, Vojislav Kostunica, has avoided any commitment to send the former president to The Hague. However, in an interview broadcast Tuesday night by CBS TV’s 60 Minutes II, Kostunica acknowledged for the first time that ``crimes″ were committed by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

``I am ready to ... accept the guilt for those people who have been killed,″ he said, avoiding identifying victims by ethnicity. Asked if he thought Milosevic would stand trial someday, he replied only: ``Somewhere, yes.″

Many Serbs, however, would just as soon forget the past and concentrate on building a future.

``For me, it’s enough that he is finished politically,″ says art student Luka, 20, who would give only his first name. ``Why should I care about wars he started or how much he destroyed?″

Reflecting a widely held view, economist Slobodan Krivokuca believes Yugoslavia’s democracy is ``too fragile″ to withstand a Milosevic trial. ``Serbs should not be made out as the only guilty side.″

Milosevic, condemned in the West as the ``Butcher of the Balkans,″ exploited Serb nationalism, which rose up in the final years of the Cold War, as the base of his rise to power.

Those nationalist sentiments of Serbs who never accepted what they considered a subordinate role in the multiethnic patchwork of old Yugoslavia carried Milosevic through four wars in the last decade, all of which he lost.

After World War II, the Nuremberg war crimes trials forced Germans to begin the painful task of accepting national guilt for the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s regime.

However, Hitler had committed suicide before the war ended. Law professor Kosta Cavoski, a hardline Serb nationalist and Kostunica ally, believes that if Milosevic went to The Hague, the entire Serbian people would in effect be on trial.

``The Hague would put Milosevic on trial as a head of state and our entire nation would have to take responsibility for what he did,″ Cavoski said. Many Serbs, including Kostunica, consider the current tribunal an instrument of U.S. policy and flawed by anti-Serb bias.

Psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin believes it’s wrong to force Serbs to confront their past too soon. He compared the problem to individuals who have suppressed painful feelings so deeply that a sudden revelation would shatter their psyche.

``You first have to build up a person’s confidence and defense mechanisms before he is strong enough to face subconscious truth,″ Trebjesanin says.

Mirko Klarin, a Serb political commentator who lives in Belgium, believes the process is beginning. This week, a major Belgrade television station, Studio B, broadcast tapes of actual proceedings at The Hague to demystify the proceedings.

Klarin said that under Milosevic, such material was broadcast only rarely and by small, rural stations under the control of the ousted strongman’s opponents.

For the moment, the United States and its allies are not pressing Kostunica on the war crimes issue, accepting the new government’s view that to do so would create a backlash among the population.

``But in a few months, this will all change and no one in the West will have patience with Serbs’ extraordinary touchiness regarding war crimes perpetrated by Yugoslav army, Serbian troops, paramilitaries or criminal gangs,″ said Serb human rights activist Natasa Kandic.

``If we are ever to join Europe’s family of nations, we have to abide by international norms,″ she added. ``And that leads to The Hague.″

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