AIM: start

THU, 05 APR 2001 01:21:03 GMT

The End of a Story

The Arrest of Slobodan Milosevic

A drama with singing, shooting, rumours, beating and negotiations much more than the developments of October 5 marked the definite end of everything Milosevic had represented. He alone has remained the same: after maximum doggedness, when he was faced with extreme consequences, he agreed to everything

AIM Belgrade, April 2, 2001

In a transversal narrow street in Dedinje (elite part of Belgrade), around midnight on March 30, an elderly gentleman asked whether "People's Guard" of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) were still guarding Slobodan Milosevic. Reporters which were in a hurry to the Justice Palace because rumour circulated that former president of FR Yugoslavia had just been taken there, replied with a counter-question: "Haven't you heard that he has just been arrested?", and in the following couple of moments they witnessed tumbling down of an entire world in the eyes of the old man.

However, at that moment, Milosevic still was not locked up. Only after 36 hours of drama with singing, shooting, rumours, beating, pushing, swearing and negotiating it finally happened around 4.30 on April 1. Nevertheless, this whole spectacle, much more than the developments on October 5, 2000, marked the definite end of everything Milosevic had represented.

The month of March, indeed, does not seem to have been marked by anything else but great expectations of the "arrest of all arrests". Several days before March 31 - the date President of the USA George Bush Junior and the Congress had set as the deadline by which official Belgrade was supposed to begin cooperation with the Hague Tribunal if it counted on getting American aid and a significant sum of money from the donors' conference - impatience had reached its climax. The new administration was caught in a very delicate situation: on the one hand there was the demand for the arrest and extradition of Slobodan Milosevic (the essence of American conditions), and on the other denials and acceptance of the Hague Tribunal and the division within the ruling coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) because of it. Momentary and unquestioning meeting of the demands of Washington was assessed by the authorities as the best way to acquire the image of "NATO yes-men" what the former regime had constantly accused them of, and nothing to say about the continuation of never-ending and unlimited pressure; should they refuse, the country would be left without foreign aid and in fact Milosevic's policy of "absolute sovereignty", isolation and opposition would continue.

A solution was found at five minutes to twelve. An indictment was prepared for the former president of FR Yugoslavia for major abuse of power and financial embezzlement. He would be arrested not because of the American threat, but for violation of domestic laws at the request of the judiciary which is not at all bad, if for no other reason because majority of the public is in favour of that, anyway. However, in pretending that they were uninformed in connection with the embarrassing "coincidence", certain ministers and politicians were simply insulting for the common sense.

That Milosevic is "this time certainly" "packing" was whispered on March 28; just a day later - everybody knew; on March 30, around 20.00 h - at least for media - everything began.

The starting signal was sounded by Branislav Ivkovic, head of the SPS group of deputies in the Assembly of Serbia. About 19.00 h on March 30, the Socialists left the session of the parliament because, as Ivkovic had informed them, jeeps with members of special police units had appeared in front of number 11 Uziska street where Milosevics are living at the moment. There were two intentions: first, that Milosevic be summonsed to appear in front of an investigative judge; and second - in order to do that, it was necessary to replace his bodyguards. As Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic explained, that was enough for the beginning. Later, once this was done, a real arrest would follow.

However, nothing went as planned. Milosevic was neither summonsed, nor were the guards replaced. Only police general Senta Milenkovic, who had accompanied Milosevic for years as head of his security, left his former employer when he was told that the Administration for personal security he was the head of had been dissolved. Another 16 workers of the former administration accepted new jobs in the State Security Department. According to the words of the Republican Minister of internal affairs Dusan Mihajlovic, only one of them had stayed with Milosevic. But former president of FR Yugoslavia was not at all naive - he employed private bodyguards. This brings us to the most significant dispute over whether some persons from the Army of Yugoslavia had tried to prevent the arrest or not. Djindjic and Mihajlovic claim that they did: "For 12 hours, from the morning of March 30, MUP (Ministry of Internal Affairs) was trying to carry out inspection, but members of the Guards of the Army of Yugoslavia would not let them enter" (Djindjic); "An agreement was reached at the meeting in MUP with generals of the Army of Yugoslavia Djakovic, Bojovic (commander of the Guards' brigade which guards the estate) and colonel Kovacevic. They prevented the workers of the State Security Department to enter the estate and take over the job of securing it and practically took orders from unauthorised persons in the service of Milosevic. Colonel of the Army Cosic has prevented us from carrying out this duty from Friday afternoon until a few hours after midnight... And then one of the soldiers handed the keys of the gate to the persons in Milosevic's security service" (Mihajlovic).

Head of the General Staff, general Nebojsa Pavkovic, claims that the Army did not "in any way prevent the work of the persons in charge", but just "guarded the complex of several facilities in the jurisdiction of the federal state, but guarding of the former president of FR Yugoslavia is not in its jurisdiction". If what Pavkovic says is true, the generals should explain how the arms and the explosives got into the estate they were guarding. It seems rather that persons with high ranks in the Army were waiting to see how firm the authorities would be, weighed the relation of forces and only after they had realised that they had nobody to rely on, they withdrew.

On March 31 there were about 200 Milosevic's fans and least that many journalists on the spot. The police was arriving in large numbers. The fans were singing, quarreling with the journalists, warming up around the fire made on the pavement and actually nothing was happening, with the exception of the rumour that Milosevic was arrested and through some secret passage taken to the Justice Palace. Were the authorities trying to cause disorientation of both the media and the "People's guards" in order to carry out some swift action? The rumour was denied by Milosevic himself who appeared in front of the gate of the residence, and nothing could stop an avalanche of speculations: that there was a serious split between the Republican Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and President of FR Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica, that everything was done clumsily and in a disorganised way, that the authorities simply had neither the power nor the courage for such an arrest...

Around three o’clock, on March 31, a short action film took place. First the police in uniforms pushed away Milosevic’s supporters. Then a white van swiftly approached the gate followed by jeeps. In a flash, from the vehicle jumped men in jeans, leather jackets and black masks (the description corresponds to perpetrators of professional murders in Belgrade) armed with long automatic weapons, and through the broken window of the doorman’s booth, entered the yard of the compound... At the same time, shots were heard from the inside – individual and in bursts. The epilogue: one injured newspaper photographer, two wounded members of the special police unit and their withdrawal.

At the head of the already mentioned Milosevic’s bodyguards was Sinisa Vucinic. This very fact illustrates best how low the once most powerful man in Serbia has sunk. Sinisa Vucinic is a marginal politician, self-proclaimed “duke” who bragged in 1992 that he killed prisoners of war and then went from one newspaper to another begging them to publish his denial; the man who advocated kidnapping rich Jews in order to pay the citizens back the foreign exchange savings accounts they had been robbed of; the founder of the phantom “Golden Hand”, terrorist organisation aimed at liquidation of Western politicians... A day after becoming a member of the police party called the “Nikola Pasic” Radical Party he became its president and then, practically simultaneously became a member of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) of Mirjana Markovic, defending all the time the personality and actions of the President of its Board (Mrs. Markovic) by means fair and foul. Should anybody be surprised that, as claimed, when he was taken into custody Vucinic had with him plans for an armed rebellion in April?

Mihajlovic described Milosevic’s bodyguards as a company of drunkards and mercenaries with four times higher income than members of MUP. Regardless of what they are like it is a fact that they were well armed and opened fire at the police. Mihajlovic said that when he met Milosevic after the shooting, the special police commander saw Vucinic who was drunk and also a certain number of people armed with AK-47, two light machine-guns, two mortars and a number of bombs. It must not be forgotten that the house in number 11 Uzicka street was built for Josip Broz Tito as a building which can be successfully protected and which has air-raid shelters, underground exits, etc. The information from the investigation carried out after Milosevic’s arrest speak of an arsenal found inside the compound: apart from heavy machine-guns there were two armoured vehicles (it was not said where they were located).

The second day of the arrest of the former president of FR Yugoslavia passed in the quarrel of a hundred odd of his fans with the journalists and all those who wished to see him finally behind bars (there were also some kicks and blows) and negotiations. The SPS cracked: despite the ritual support, to anyone with a little brains in that party it was clear that their president could not defy the law any more. It was simply impossible to get the support of the citizens for any radical moves. There was noone of any significance abroad either who would back the “symbol of resistance of freedom-loving nations to the new world order"”

What was it like in number 11 Uzicka street? Surrounded, with no electric power supply, no water, with cut telephone lines, Milosevic, his wife Mirjana Markovic and daughter Marija, practically abandoned by all friends and associates, must have experienced difficult moments. Certainly the most difficult in their lives. Having been left with only armed dubious characters, like Vucinic who SPS had denounced about twenty days ago when he threatened with “fifty thousand long guns”, Milosevic must have gradually lost hope. The authorities state that the key role in his peaceful surrender was that of the facts that he was informed that he was not arrested by order of the Hague Tribunal and pursuant its indictment, and that the police was resolute to arrest him by force -–if it could not be done in any other way. The fact that the very same policemen did not beat Milosevic’s supporters with their rubber batons like in previous years they had beaten much more numerous and peaceful opponents of his, should not be interpreted as their weakness. And there is another thing: the hope that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia would split concerning this issue, that Kostunica and Djindjic would definitely come into conflict and split, disappeared after the session of the top Federal and Republican officials. In his statement, the President of FR Yugoslavia demonstrated in the best possible way that strict legalism which many reproach him for is the best choice in all such and similar situations: “Whoever shoots at the police must face justice. The person who is summonsed by an investigative judge must respond to the summons. Who obstructs the authorities in implementing the law must answer for it...” Djindjic and Kostunica even embraced for the public.

At 4.30 h on April 1, Milosevic was taken out of the house and the column of cars set out towards the Central Prison. Marija Milosevic made sure to cause a scandal after all by shooting a few bullets in the direction of the car of Cedomir Jovanovic, head of the group of DOS deputies in Serbia’s parliament and negotiator on peaceful surrender of her father. Soon after that Milosevic was questioned, it was decided that he be detained, and lawyer Toma Fila who simply could not hide pride for having been entrusted with this “case of his career”, announced that he would lodge an appeal, but he also said that he was not an optimist that the decision would be favourable. Republican Minister of justice Vladan Batic says that former president of FR Yugoslavia would be treated humanely and justly, that his family would be enabled to visit him and everything in that sense.

This is where one story ends and another begins: indictments and their extension, search for evidence, questioning, trial, possible extradition to the Hague. There are opinions that Milosevic will not be tried in this country but that he will be held in custody for six months, until the law on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is passed and until the situation “ripens”, and then off to the airport he will go and to the prison in Scheveningen. However, one should wait and see. Over here things are rarely what they appear to be.

Not a single event in Serbia has been covered by the media like Milosevic’s arrest. For the first time, on all TV and radio stations, live, hour after hour, the citizens followed what was going on, and did not have to, like before, watch foreign programmes via satellite and listen to Radio Free Europe or BBC in Serbian. In such an atmosphere everyone has one’s own view of how Milosevic should have been arrested and what he should primarily be indicted for.

Of, course, Milosevic is not the only responsible person for everything that has befallen the territory of former Yugoslavia and Serbia while he was in power and he certainly lacked no support for all that; these are the cases which must be uncompromisingly and honestly opened, and that is what lies ahead for Serbia. Some of those who owe Milosevic for their careers and property and the media which just six months ago glorified and praised him are nowadays doing their best to make sure he will be indicted according to the principle “Let Pedro hang”.

Philip Schwarm