Serb Nationalists Rally as Milosevic Is Laid to Rest
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Former Serbian strong man Slobodan Milosevic was buried on the grounds of his provincial home this evening. Earlier, his diehard supporters rallied in Belgrade to hail the man who presided over four disastrous wars following the disintegration of Yugoslavia. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Belgrade.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
Serbia's pro-Western government denied him a state funeral, but Slobodan Milosevic was given a sendoff worthy of an old Communist-style dictator.
(Soundbite of crowd)
POGGIOLI: Tens of thousands of supporters, Socialists and ultra-Nationalists of the Radical Party were bused into the city from all over Serbia. Mainly middle-aged and elderly, they chanted Slobo, hero of the fatherland, and blamed his death on the international tribunal in The Hague, where Milosevic was on trial for war crimes.
(Soundbite of man yelling)
A man dressed in Montenegrin costume intoned a wail of mourning, an old tradition in Milosevic's homeland. This is the last farewell to Slobodan, he shouted. Historians and poets will celebrate you in the future. You are a son of Serbia. You are a legend above all legends.
The mourners crowded every corner of the square in front of the Federal Parliament building, the same square where, in October 2000, hundreds of thousands of Serbs overthrew Milosevic in a massive show of people power. Today, it was the revenge of the old guard. Socialist party official Zoran Anjocovic(ph) could not hide his satisfaction.
Mr. ZORAN ANJOCOVIC (Socialist Part Official): (Through translator) Well, the message is that the love for fatherland has not died; that all those who tried to prevent this funeral were wrong because this is a question of citizens simply wanted it this way, and they are now expressing how much they respected him at the time he represented them in the world.
POGGIOLI: Party leaders took turns standing next to Milosevic's coffin, which was covered with a Serbian flag. Speakers included Communist representatives of the Russian Duma. There were many retired generals, who, in a breach of longstanding Serbian law, were decked out in their full dress uniforms.
The solemn event lasted two hours, then the coffin was placed in a hearse and driven 40 miles to Pozarevac, Milosevic's hometown. There, after another series of speeches, he was buried in the garden of his old home under a linden tree he was said to be fond of. No one from his close family was present. His son, Marko, and his widow, Mira Markovic, remained in Moscow, saying the government hadn't given sufficient guarantees Mira would not be arrested on charges of corruption pending against her.
(Soundbite of funeral music)
POGGIOLI: An old Russian song accompanied the lowering of the coffin into the grave. It was his favorite tune.
(Soundbite of funeral music)
POGGIOLI: While tears were being shed in Pozarevac, in Belgrade a joyful crowd marched through the streets. Waving balloons, they chanted their old anti-Milosevic slogan, he is finished. Twenty-five-year-old Yoban Adabchar(ph) explains why they were there.
Ms. YOBAN ADABCHAR (Marcher): Because we want to show, once again, that this is the other serbia. We want to send more beautiful picture to the world that there are still here some normal, educated and open-minded people in this country.
POGGIOLI: There were far fewer anti-Milosevic demonstrators than supporters earlier in the day, but Nemad Sebek, who heads the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe, says the goodbye rally had been carefully prepared over three days, while word of the protest was spread by cell phone text messages.
Mr. NEMAD SEBEK (Executive Director, Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe): None of the current crop of democratic politicians in Serbia actually decided to organize an anti-Milosevic rally, so what you see here, these one and a half thousand people, they're here completely spontaneously. Nobody bothered to sort of organize and bring them. This is not a reflection of the political strength of one or the other side here in Serbia, and whatever effect Milosevic's death has, as I said, it'll be a very, very short-term thing. Milosevic is dead and gone, thank God.
POGGIOLI: Yet, even in death, Milosevic is able to polarize Serbian society.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Belgrade.
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