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HOW TO REMEMBER MILOSEVIC. LAST WORDS

March 20, 2006

HOW TO REMEMBER MILOSEVIC.
Last Words

By: Mark Vlasic

Today, Slobodan Milosevic will be buried. His funeral will be solemn and respectful–exactly unlike the final moments for so many of his victims. For the last week, his Serbian nationalist supporters have eulogized him the way he would have wanted to be eulogized: They have celebrated his life by ignoring or whitewashing his crimes. One assumes they will do the same by his graveside today.
But the world should not be fooled. I served on the prosecution team that built a case against Milosevic at The Hague. During that time, my colleagues and I heard from hundreds of witnesses. All had stories that they carried with them from every corner of the former Yugoslavia to share with the tribunal. Many risked their lives to testify against Milosevic. Needless to say, their stories will not be told during his funeral.
No one will speak of Witness B-1701, a kind and elderly man who traveled from his small village of Glogova, Bosnia. B-1701 described a peaceful town, where Serbs and Muslims (Bosniaks) lived in harmony for decades until Yugoslav Army soldiers arrived in 1992. Facing Milosevic in the courtroom, B-1701 testified to the horrors of May 9 of that year, when his undefended town was attacked, Muslim houses were burned, and men and boys were rounded up. He recalled being forced at gunpoint, along with his Muslim friends and neighbors, to walk towards the river. And then on a riverbank, on a beautiful Bosnian summer day, Serb forces opened fire, murdering the men in his group. B-1701 described watching his friend’s head explode from the gunfire and remembered, like it was yesterday, the feeling of another man’s brains being splattered on his body. The old man from Glogova was the only survivor from that massacre and spent hours in the river, pretending to be dead, while surrounded by the remains of his friends and neighbors.
Milosevic appeared untouched by B-1701’s pain and trauma. Instead, he argued politics with this man who had lost everything. But in response to Milosevic’s cross-examination, B-1701 confronted the once-powerful leader of Yugoslavia. “We lived as brothers in the old days, when we used to say Comrade Milosevic,” he said. “Everything changed when you came to power.”

There will be no mention today of Slobodan Lazarevic, the Serbian spy who testified that Milosevic used the war in Croatia as a way to divert Serbian attention from dissatisfaction over political and economic matters at home. According to Lazarevic, Belgrade was not interested in solving the “Krajina problem” (which referred to the Serb population in Croatia). Rather, Milosevic wanted the problem to stay in the public eye so that his constituents would remain preoccupied with the “suffering of the Serbs in Croatia.”

Lazarevic described a Serbian “anti-terrorist” unit that was tasked with “dirty jobs,” such as terrorizing villagers and creating disturbances to undermine the peace process. The group’s work included killing Serbs, Croats, and Muslims alike–for instance a local official merely because he called for peaceful coexistence between Serbs and Croats.
No one at Milosevic’s funeral will mention Lazarevic’s description of the murder by Serb forces of over 250 people from Vulkovar Hospital. Nor will they speak of the Serb-Croat body exchange that occurred in early 1994. During his testimony, Lazarevic explained that he needed 100 bodies for a body exchange, but he was 10 short. When he asked for the assistance of a Serbian police unit, he was directed to a mass grave where he found four decomposing bodies, their hands still tied with wire. But he was still six short. For additional help, he turned to members of a Serb paramilitary unit, but they only had live prisoners. Not to worry, they said, come by tomorrow. The next day Lazarevic returned to find more bodies, and they were still warm: The prisoners had been murdered to help improve the count.
This was the Yugoslavia that Milosevic created–a place where prisoners were killed to inflate body counts. But that Yugoslavia won’t be spoken of today. Indeed, it is likely that the war’s greatest crime–the Srebrenica genocide–will not even be mentioned. It was after the fall of Srebrenica that 7,500 Muslim men and boys were executed and dumped into mass graves.
No one will mention their deaths, and no one will mention the testimony of Dragan Erdemovic. A Bosnian-Serb solider assigned to the Tenth Sabotage Detachment, Erdemovic testified to the links between Serbia and the conflict in Bosnia; but he also testified to the mass executions of July 1995, and admitted to being one of the perpetrators of the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. He described buses arriving at a military farm outside of Zvornik. He knew the buses had prisoners from Srebrenica. With Milosevic watching from across the courtroom, he told the judges what his superiors ordered him to do with the prisoners: “We were supposed to execute them.”
“I personally couldn’t understand why it was going on. I couldn’t believe it,” Erdemovic said. “They first started mistreating people they recognized, then they started killing them all over the field.” Many of the men and boys were blindfolded, their hands tied behind their backs. According to Erdemovic, they were first shot in groups of ten, with automatic weapons, but, since automatic weapons are designed to mutilate and maim, the soldiers were forced to finish some prisoners off one by one, with single shots. From ten in the morning until two in the afternoon, Erdemovic and his unit executed approximately 1,200 people, ages 16 to 60.
At Milosevic’s funeral no one will speak of the lives he ruined or the communities he destroyed. But the final verdict on Milosevic’s legacy should not go to his supporters. Perhaps instead it should go to Witness B-1701, whose words in the courtroom concisely and ably summarize the Serb leader’s role in history: Everything changed when he came to power.
Mark Vlasic is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He served on the Slobodan Milosevic and Srebrenica prosecution teams at The Hague and has taught at Georgetown University Law Center.


Mark Vlasic is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He served on the Slobodan Milosevic and Srebrenica prosecution teams at The Hague and has taught at Georgetown University Law Center.

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