Even in death, Miloševic wins again
by Nerma Jelacic
The death of Slobodan Milošević has put a smile on many Bosnian faces, but I am sad. Not because the man, whose actions earned him the title 'the butcher of Belgrade', has my sympathy, but because he has not lived to be punished in a court of law. Because he will not answer for his crimes and because thousands of victims will not get the long-awaited sense of closure on their usurped lives. They will not see justice done.
This is why I cannot share the elation of my countrymen. Their reaction is confusing, especially when their ecstatic messages and calls to me came from the UK, the US, Germany, the Netherlands, the countries they have had to make their new homes because of this man's politics .
The same man's official and paramilitary forces expelled me from my home in Visegrad, the town which borders what at the time was Milošević’s Serbia. I was 14 when I was ethnically cleansed. But before I fled, I watched my country being ravaged, my people killed by his thugs. I was robbed of my childhood by, among others, the Yugoslav National Army, the same men I had been taught in whose trust I should place my safety and my life.
The strategy was replicated throughout eastern Bosnia in 1992. It continued in other parts of the country for three more years, culminating with the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
Milošević's actions in what was a bloody decade scarred me and my people's lives at regular intervals. When I was 10, he started inciting ethnic hatred in Kosovo; by my 13th birthday, the Yugoslav army was destroying Vukovar and the monuments of Dubrovnik. When I turned 14, his troops made my family stateless. When I reached my 21st birthday, it was only to read about the dead of Kosovo. Aged 25 I, alongside millions of Bosnians, Croats, Kosovars and Serbians whose lives he ruined, finally got to see him in the dock, at the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
The final chapter had been opened by the Hague prosecutor's office and we were all waiting for its conclusion, a conclusion which would have put three trump cards in our hands: truth, justice and reckoning.
But Milošević’s trials showed that truth was slippery, justice slow and the reckoning evasive. Ever the showman, even in the dock, he refused to play the game by the rules. He was good at it. As he settled in for the second year of his life in the Hague's comfortable detention unit, I returned to Bosnia to find a country struggling to patch itself up after the force he unleashed on it.
While the world's leading doctors checked out his failing health in The Hague, I met thousands of refugees who were not able to afford food, let alone basic medicines. I befriended survivors of the most abhorrent crimes imaginable struggling to live on for one reason only ... to find the bones of their children, husbands, parents.
Although he was not the one who pulled the trigger on their families, all of them held Milosevic responsible for their ruined lives. For it was he who rallied the masses, blinded them with hatred and encouraged the animal within to wreak havoc.
He seemed invincible. Instead of being toppled and arrested, he played the peacemaker. He shook hands with the leading politicians of the world, then moved on to start another war. Milošević did not know how to lose. The fact that the survivors will never get to see justice makes him a winner again. History will not be honoured.
Nerma Jelačić is a director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This comment appeared in The Observer (London), 12 March 2006