Milosevic Funeral Divides Serbia

The burial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in his Serbian hometown creates fresh political turbulence. He died an indicted war criminal, accused of choreographing bloody Balkan wars and ethnic cleansing.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Coming up the Aryan Brotherhood on trial. But first...

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

WERTHEIMER: We're hearing sounds from Belgrade earlier today where the body of Slobodan Milosevic lay for public viewing at Serbia's Parliament. One week after Mr. Milosevic died in his cell at the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, the former Serbian strongman will be buried today in his hometown southeast of Belgrade. Mr. Milosevic died of an apparent heart attack four years after the start of his trial for war crimes during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Belgrade. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: What's been going on today? We're hearing about a huge turnout.

POGGIOLI: Yeah, there's been certainly tens of thousands of old diehard Milosevic supporters, members of his Socialist party or ultra-nationalists, and they've been gathering in front of the Parliament, the same place where in October 2000 in a massive show of people power, hundreds of thousands of Serbs overthrew Milosevic, yelling he's finished. Well, it was a kind of almost revenge scene today. The numbers were, of course, much smaller, but there was a huge crowd. They were chanting tough slogans, Slovo, Son of Serbia, our hero; Pride of Father Land; yelling he was murdered by fascists in the Tribunal in the Hague. They promised that the fugitive war criminal Ratko Mladic would never be handed over, nor would Kosovo ever become independent.

The slogans were certainly reminiscent of the old Communist mindset, the last remnants of the post-World War II ideology, and certainly the people who were here represented an older generation of mainly elderly and middle-aged old nostalgics for an old Yugoslavia.

WERTHEIMER: Surely of course there are plenty of Serbs who are not in the plaza and are not mourning Mr. Milosevic.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. There's another Serbia which is indignant that the government allowed any kind of celebration for this former dictator. And they are gathering already centrally in another square and word of this -- it will be a silent rally. People have been called to come with balloons and the word was spread on the grapevine through cell phone text messages, people were urged to come and sort of be present, to be counted. The youth movement that fueled the Milosevic overthrow made an appeal that all citizens of Serbia resist the hysteria that threatens to make a leader and saint out of Milosevic.

But you know, the most striking anti-Milosevic declaration was tucked inside the newspaper, Politika. Next to a few emotional condolences and tributes for the late leader, there was one bitter paid death notice that said, Thank you for all the deceits and thefts, for every drop of blood shed by thousands, for the fear an uncertainty, for the failed lives and generations, the unfulfilled dreams, for the horrors and wars you waged in our name without asking us, for all the burdens you've placed on our shoulders. We remember those killed, wounded, bereaved, the refugees. We remember our destroyed lives.

In fact, there's a whole younger generation of Serbs here who really don't want to look at the past, they don't like what's happened this past week. They want to just look at the future.

WERTHEIMER: So even in death, Slobodan Milosevic appears to remain a figure who represents division among the Serbs. Thanks very much, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Linda.

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