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Milosevic: Justice Delayed, Justice Denied?

Former President Slobodan Milosevic, considered by his victims the “Butcher of the Balkans” and by his supporters as a war hero, was buried in his hometown a week ago. He had died in his cell in The Hague, where he was on trial for war crimes. Milosevic has been blamed for sparking and losing four Balkan wars – in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Kemal Kurspahic, the former wartime editor of the Bosnian daily Oslobodjenje, said he thinks that, in the death of Milosevic, history was cheated because “justice has not yet spoken.” Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Kurspahic said that – although no verdict was rendered on the former Yugoslav president’s war crimes – there was “complete understanding” that Milosevic had primary responsibility for the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

And he noted, Milosevic changed forever the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic society that once was Yugoslavia. According to Kemal Kurspahic, the lack of a verdict on Milosevic makes it even more important for the families of the victims to see justice done regarding those who executed his policies, such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief Ratko Mladic.

But Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor-in-chief of Politika newspaper in Belgrade, noted that Milosevic’s place in Serbia’s political consciousness is complicated. His popularity among Serbs was at the 20-percent level throughout the four years of the trial. Furthermore, Serbs of nearly every political persuasion favor the Serbian version of wartime events to the Hague prosecution’s version. While the virulent nationalism of the 1990’s has been defeated, according to Ms. Smajlovic, the “nationalism of resentment” will remain a vibrant force in Serbia.

Croatian journalist Barry Brkic noted that many people in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo don’t trust the Hague tribunal either. Nonetheless, they see the death of Milosevic before the tribunal could render its verdict as justice denied. And despite a push to join Europe and surface-level cooperation, the peoples of the former Yugoslavia don’t trust one another.

That lack of trust is a legacy of the Milosevic era, according to Kosovar Albanian journalist Dukagjin Gorani of the Express newspaper. He said Slobodan Milosevic represented the epitome of injustice, “shattering homes, killing, and ethnically cleansing territories.” Kemal Kurspahic, formerly with the Bosnian daily Oslobodjene, says to achieve reconciliation, it is absolutely necessary for people to “acknowledge the suffering” and for the United States and the European Union to pressure Serbia to arrest and extradite the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief Ratko Mladic.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.