LIANE HANSEN, host:
Slobodan Milosevic was buried yesterday on the grounds of his estate yesterday. In the days since the former Serbian leader's death in prison, he has been compared to Hitler and Stalin.
Commentator Kevin Cullen says that gives Milosevic more credit than is due.
KEVIN CULLEN reporting:
Slobodan Milosevic was not a head of state who behaved like a genocidal maniac, so much as he was a gangster who happened to be a head of state, a hectored mob boss who had more in common with Tony Soprano than Adolph Hitler. He sought not world domination, but to keep his little slice of turf: Serbia, the North Jersey of the Balkans, and to somehow maintain order in a home that was as dysfunctional as anything Eugene O'Neal could dream up.
Milosevic was a chameleon. He rose to power as a Communist. But when it suited him, he reinvented himself as an ultra-nationalist. Had he believed he could retain power by becoming a Scientologist, Milosevic would have invited Tom Cruise to become the nation's chief psychologist.
But Milosevic was always and forever a gangster. He ruled through fear, intimidation and, quite often, murder. He subcontracted criminals to do his dirty work. He effectively leased the private sector to cronies who paid him tribute. His family and his pals got rich while the standard of living for ordinary Serbs plummeted.
Yet, for all he did for the family, he was constantly harangued by his wife Mira. Nothing he did was ever good enough for her. Poor Slobo: a hard day at the office committing crimes against humanity, and he had to come home to this? Mira was more than a shrew. In 1999, after she complained about a crusading newspaper editor who was writing embarrassing things about the family, the editor was shot to death on his Belgrade doorstep.
For someone properly described as the Serbian strongman, Milosevic was pathetically weak. After launching the wars that killed a quarter-million people and made refugees of several million others, he promised Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo he would never abandon them. But he did. He warned NATO he would never bow to their bombs, but he did. He vowed he would not recognize the legitimacy of the election that ousted him; but after Serbs took to the streets, he did.
And when police surrounded his Belgrade villa in the spring of 2001, he promised to kill himself rather than surrender. But he gave up. During a surreal, 26-hour standoff, Milosevic (unintelligible) around, a cigar on one hand, a big handgun with a 25-shot clip in the other, launching into a soliloquy about dying with honor.
Outside the heavily fortified walls, a few hundred loyalists, many of them drunk, urged their hero to hold out to the bitter end, chanting, Slobo, Slobo, Slobo! When the cigar wasn't in Slobo's mouth, the gun was, and he threatened to use it on his wife, his daughter and himself.
His daughter, Maria, was packing not one, but three guns that night. And when her father dropped his bravado and his piece, she ran from the house, hysterical, firing wildly. Luckily, she's as bad a shot as her father was at keeping promises.
Mira, big hair and big mouth, was furious that her husband gave up without a fight. Alas, their son Marco could not be present for the festivities as he had already fled to Moscow to avoid being killed by rival mobsters.
Last week, the former first family of Yugoslavia fought with each other again, this time over where to bury their patriarch. They are scattered now, like so many wise guys on the lam. Mira is wanted on corruption charges. Maria still has that little matter of shooting at the cops to settle up. And Marco? Well, let's just say that if Marco ever returns to any of his old haunts, he is likely to be greeted as his dad's favorite war criminal (unintelligible) was one day six years ago in the lobby of Belgrade Intercontinental Hotel when someone cheerfully called out his name, then shot him in the face.
HANSEN: Kevin Cullen is a reporter for the Boston Globe. He covered the war in Kosovo, as well as, the downfall, arrest and initial court appearances of Slobodan Milosevic.
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