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Slobodan Milosevic: The End of an Era

Men surround cofin.

Party comrades of Slobodan Milosevic's Radical Party stand by his coffin.

Slobodan Milosevic and Lou Reed arrived in Belgrade on the same day. Reed's concert was not so bad, and he took off the next day for Prague, continuing his tour. Milosevic will stay forever -- buried in the backyard of his family house in Pozarevac.

Reed's performance coinciding with Milosevic's return home in a casket felt appropriate. During the 15 years that Milosevic was running my country into the ground and wreaking havoc in the region, I was taking some comfort in Reed's jagged pop tunes.

In his death, as in his life, Milosevic split Serbs apart. But in his death, he even divided his own family.

His mother and his son, Mira Markovic and Marko Milosevic, stayed in Moscow, fearing their arrest, and his daughter, Marija, demanded he be buried in Montenegro. When he wasn't, she refused to attend the funeral.

It's now clear that Milosevic's death literally and symbolically marked the end of one era and that Serbia, with or without radicals, cannot go back to Milosevic's time.

If we put all the facts together, it looks like this: Slobodan Milosevic, the deposed Serb ruler, was buried in the backyard of his old house, late in the afternoon, with darkness approaching and not a single member of his family in sight. The Orthodox Church, once a cornerstone of Milosevic's power, refused to preside over a religious ceremony for a man who died in his jail cell in The Hague while on trial for war crimes. No priest showed his face. The ceremony was organized and directed by Milosevic's old Party comrades, who were trying to stir the embers of their burned out glory.

"They buried him, like a canary, in the yard," said one young lady from Pozarevac.

And once again, probably for the last time, the ex president of Serbia and Yugoslavia and ex Hague prisoner attracted all the world's media to Belgrade.

In front of BBC, CNN and SKY cameras, Milosevic's supporters showed themselves in their worst light -- probably worse than they really are. That face of Serbia has been shown to the world often, backed up by prejudices that have followed this country for more than a decade. There's a popular quote here: "Serbs have no bigger enemy than themselves."

Foreign television crews that settled in front of the Museum of Revolution hired bodyguards to avoid insults and even physical attacks from Milosevic's supporters. It wasn't all personal anger. Some was simply the fact that Milosevic's Serbia does not like its own image in the mirror.

Line of mourners wait to pay their respects.

People wait in long lines to show their respects to the former president.

The masses that showed up for the funeral had hidden themselves for six years in the Serbian political underground. They showed up when elections were organized, and they voted mostly for Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, just as Milosevic had ordered from The Hague. The "losers of the transition," as other, more progressive Serbs used to call the radicals, want to show that they are still around and still a threat.

But they have failed. It's now clear that Milosevic's death literally and symbolically marked the end of one era and that Serbia, with or without radicals, cannot go back to Milosevic's time.

Serbia simply does not have the strength that it had at the beginning of and during Milosevic's power. The country is exhausted financially, morally and politically. It's a threat to no one anymore.

The most that Milosevic's supporters can achieve, encouraged by the illusion of some massive support, is to put down the government of Vojislav Kostunica. But before that, they have to finish the battle among themselves of who will be authorized to take over the mantle of Slobodan Milosevic.

Of all Milosevic's sins, maybe the biggest is how he managed to kill humanity, morality, compassion and consciousness in people.

As things stand now, Kostunica is in control of the government. He seems to have a good understanding with the leaders of Milosevic's party. Reliable sources in Serbia are basing this understanding on negotiations to hand over Ratko Mladic. The assumption is that Mladic will not be sent to The Hague until April 5, which is the deadline set by the European Union as a condition for Serbia to move a step closer to membership.

Mladic's case is viewed as evidence that the whole world is against Serbia -- that the world does not see the Serbs the way the Serbs see themselves.

On the other hand, it's clear that most of the world and whole sections of the Serb community think that Serbia has not been punished enough for the wars that Milosevic orchestrated in its name. Serbia is standing in front of demands to admit defeat and to do it loud and clear -- and to accept all the consequences of that defeat. But about 1 million people in a population of 8 million will never do that when they think that they are the main victims. And the rest of the young population thinks the wars had nothing to do with them -- so why should they pay other people's bills?

Whether we want to or not, we will have to wait for a new generation who can see the past from a totally different perspective. But despite that, present attitudes have to change immediately.

Of all Milosevic's sins, maybe the biggest is how he managed to kill humanity, morality, compassion and consciousness in people. His supporters -- and there are many of them -- wanted to emulate him. But he was a rigid, arrogant, intolerant and despotic leader distanced from people and also distanced from common sense. The price of that collective arrogance was huge. Humbleness is something that Serbia has to get used to.

Rade Rankovic is a Serbian journalist and cameraman living in Belgrade.

REACTIONS

Adrian Popa - Bucharest, Romania
It is very interesting how many people judge the situation in the Balkans. Interesting comments from Americans (which by the way are not judged by the international court), part of a nation that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians worldwide "bringing the peace or democracy" or "helping nations respect human rights." For example, see Vietnam War, Chile Panama intervention, Iraq war. At least have the decency to look deeper in the concept of justice, not only at the circus that is the International court of Haga.

melbourne, victoria
I believe that all Slobodan was doing was protecting his country. People have taken the wrong side of Serbia. He deserves to be buried in respect and honour. Others say Serbia did not care but I say they did.

DaveO - San Jose, CA
It gives me hope to see the rejection of Milosevic by the people of Serbia. I look forward to seeing the continuing divisions between ethnicities and religions in the world erased. When will we stop looking at each other for what we are instead of who we are?And the media must take responsibility for encouraging this division. So much news is focused on these divisions. We are constantly being given stories which seek out the race, religion or ethnicity of a person. Why do they focus on the 'black' vote? The 'Muslim' perspective? Does that really matter to the story or are they just trying to 'reach' a demographic?

(anonymous) - San Francisco, CA
It's good to be reminded that many Serbians rallied to topple the Milosevic regime, and that unlike the ultra-nationalists, many Serbs would like to see Mladic and Karadzic on trial for war crimes.

London, UK
Milosevic's funeral says more about the Serbs than about Milosevic. He was for good or bad, the democratically elected President of a Sovereign State and should have been buried as such. It is well known why the family did not attend. Just as with his medical treatment, keeping his family away by fair means or foul is another indication of who calls the shots in Serbia today. Pity.