Balkanalysis on Twitter

Milosevic Dead; Second Serbian Prisoner in Six Days to Die in Hague Captivity

March 11, 2006


This morning, Serbia’s B-92 announced that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has died in captivity. The news went around the world in minutes. Apparently his failed plea to seek medical attention in Russia was not the joke or stalling tactic that Western media caustically and constantly derided it as being.

In rejecting Milosevic’s request of 24 February, the Hague voiced fears that he might not come back, and argued that good enough medical care was available in the Netherlands.

B-92 reported that when Milosevic’s body was found, he “had already been dead for several hours.” The general secretary of the Serbian Socialist Party which Milosevic once led, Ivica Dacic, angrily stated that “Milosevic didn’t die in Scheveningen [Prison]- he was killed in Scheveningen!” However, he did not provide evidence of how or why Milosevic might have been assassinated.

Another party official, Zoran Angelkovic, said that he wouldn’t want to make official comments until the results of the investigative procedure are known.

The possibility of suicide, however, has been ruled out: “Steven Kay, one of the court assigned lawyers, said he had spoken to his client about suicide recently. “He said to me a few weeks ago, I haven’t fought this case for as long as I have with any intention to do any harm to myself,’ Kay told BBC television.”

Ironically, the pro-intervention, anti-Milosevic IWPR had just reported on 10 March that Milosevic was “almost out of time.” They didn’t know how right they were.

According to the report from the Tribunal, the defendant had as of Friday only “around 40 hours of court time left in which to finish presenting his defence case,” according to “an internal court memo published this week… the document says that Milosevic has used up just under 89 per cent of the 360 hours originally allotted to his case, in line with how long it took prosecutors to present evidence against him.”

However, IWPR adds, “the remaining hours do not include time allowed to prosecutors for cross-examining witnesses, which, judging by how long this has taken to date, could be expected to take up a further 28 hours. It also excludes time spent dealing with administrative matters.”

Milosevic’s death comes almost immediately after the “suicide” of Milan Babic, indicted for war crimes in the formerly Serbian enclave of Krajina, now in Croatia. The media to a man reported that Babic had committed suicide last Sunday, but there is circumstantial evidence which indicates that Babic was killed.

Babic had become a valuable tool of the prosecution after expressing contrition for abetting the expulsion of 80,000 non-Serbs from the territory of the briefly-existing “Republic of Serbian Krajina” from 1991-1995. The RSK lasted only until a US-organized ethnic cleansing campaign, Operation Storm in August 1995, saw the Croats drive approximately 200,000 Serbs out of Krajina. It was the single biggest act of ethnic cleansing since Hitler’s reign, yet one that was conveniently ignored by the West.

Now, one of the principal commanders of the operation, Kosovo Albanian war criminal Agim Ceku, has been appointed prime minister of Kosovo with the full blessings of the province’s UN minders – something that will doubtless pour more fuel on the fire of the looming showdown over Kosovo’s final status.

The cause of Milosevic’s death is as yet unknown, though it seems more likely given his heart and high blood pressure problems that he would have died of natural causes than would Babic, who was younger, fitter, and showed no signs of suicidal tendencies before his supposed suicide. Indeed, Babic had been intending to testify in three further war crimes cases; IWPR lamented his passing as “a blow for prosecutors.” According to the report of March 10:

“Babic was due to take the stand again today to continue his testimony against Milan Martic, another Croatian Serb leader who eventually ousted him from the RSK presidency. He was reaching the end of his cross-examination by Martic’s defence counsel, Predrag Milovancevic, who described him as the trial’s “most important prosecution witness…

Babic was expected to return to The Hague to testify in the trial of Franko “Frenki’ Simatovic who founded and was the first commander of a special operations unit formally known as the Red Berets, allegedly responsible for ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He was also due to give evidence against Jovica Stanisic, former head of the Serbian state security service, and Serb ultra-nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj.”

That said, it is a surprise that no one has questioned the official explanation, which in any case is perilously thin on details. Only Belgrade’s Beta news agency reported that Babic “used a belt and a plastic bag” in killing himself.

But there may be more to Babic’s death than meets the eye. Unconfirmed input from a source with close contacts to the Tribunal stated for the following advice: “don’t go digging too deep into the Babic affair,” because of the strong indications of foul play perpetrated by powerful interested parties. Whether or not these would include the circles of any of those Babic was scheduled to testify against is not clear.

Now, only hours after the latest Serb death, Serbs are already reflecting on it and dark rumors are starting to spread. On B-92’s online message board, one Serb avers that Milosevic was “slowly being poisoned” by his captors and that this is why he was not allowed to go to Russia. Another mocks, “what will Carla [Del Ponte] do now?” A third notes that “11 and 12 Mach are very bad dates for the great people of our history,” referring to the dates on which died Milosevic and, three years earlier, Zoran Djindjic. However, many Serbs have also expressed indifference at the former leader’s death.

Now, the real question is how this will affect the Hague, the Kosovo negotiations and the future of international justice. The death of Milosevic ? who had recently demanded once again that former US President Clinton be forced to testify- slams the book shut on the history of the Yugoslav wars of secession. If it is a truism that the victors write the history, it is irrefutable that even more fundamentally, it is the living who write the history.

Milosevic’s untimely death will leave many unanswered questions. For better or for worse, everyone who believes they or their kin were wronged by him will get to enjoy forever the bittersweet righteousness of seeing justice denied, and their own victimhood thus prolonged eternally.

Yet while the peoples of the Balkans will now never achieve closure on the subject of the wars that divided them, the Western media and powers-that-be are already rushing to drive the final nails into the coffin of the former Yugoslav leader- and so, uphold their own legacy and moral authority.

Indeed, as we write, the BBC in all seriousness is asking its (British, of course) correspondent to speak on behalf of the Serbian people, and state how Milosevic will be remembered by them: “will there be a sense of celebration that he is dead?” the news anchor is actually asking.

The correspondent answers that the reaction would probably be one of “relief,” now that Slobo can no longer “wave the flag” and thus remain an “embarrassment” for Serbia.

Yet the real relief over Milosevic’s death is likely to be felt in the Hague, now relieved of the pressure of what likely would have been an embarrassing failure to set a precedent with a genocide conviction. But they could, after all, always just convict Milosevic in absentia.

His death, it seems, is going to give new life to the spectacle of the Balkans as a theater of the absurd on the world stage.


2004-2009 Back Archives