- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

There are some folks one just would not miss if it they should disappear and vanish without a trace. President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia comes to mind. It may not be very nice to speculate about such matters, but it is honestly hard to think who would shed any tears over the loss of Mr. Milosevic if he should somehow manage to fall off a mountain or otherwise get lost. Indeed a lot of people have spent the better part of the 1990s, wondering how to achieve some such outcome.
The past few weeks have seen some stir of discussion, again, of how to remove Mr. Milosevic from power. Visitors from the Balkans bring with them a sense of hope that Serbia may at long last be on the brink of political change. And former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic has been making the rounds in Washington to promote the idea of offering Mr. Milosevic asylum somewhere, anywhere. He might even be allowed to bring with him some of his ill-gotten gains if he would just agree to step down. Granted, Mr. Panic has been attempting to sell this solution since 1992 when he was prime minister. The result back then was that Mr. Milosevic ousted Mr. Panic, a Serbian-born American businessman, from power instead. Still, the idea remains worth considering.
Like bad pennies dictators are hard to get rid of by other means. They are practically impossible to kill because they are brilliant at protecting their own skin. Adolf Hitler survived a bombing by his own generals through sheer luck, and became even more paranoid as a consequence. All of Germany lay in ruins, and Russian troops were closing in on the Fuhrerbunker in April 1945 before he finally gave up and committed suicide, thus denying the victorious Allies the satisfaction of judging him in Nuremberg. Whether they would ever actually have done that is an open question. British Prime Minister Churchill's instructions to his troops was to deal with Hitler at their discretion should they find him as they entered Berlin, according to contemporary newspaper accounts.
Josef Stalin was equally durable. Curtains in his rooms at the Kremlin were cut off around knee-height, to give a full view of the boots of potential assassins lurking behind the drapes. Stalin was never brought to justice either, even though he inflicted the most horrendous loss of human life on the Soviet Union.
Numerous others come to mind, who have escaped rightful justice. Indeed, it is surely the exception more than the rule that the people at the top are brought to face the punishment meted out to lesser servants of the state. While East German border guards stood trial for shooting East German citizens attempting to flee, the man at the top and his lovely wife, Erich and Margot Honecker, fled into exile first in Russia and later in Brazil. It is only in the rarest of cases that a dictator gets what he deserves, as in the case of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and then it was the result of a power struggle at the top.
All of which could lead one to conclude that the best we can do with dictators is get them out of the way, and thereby permit their countries to move forward. Clearly, this in no way satisfies the human need and desire to see justice done. However, it may be necessary.
In the case of Mr. Milosevic, he is holding not just a nation hostage by clinging to power in an ever shrinking country he is blighting an entire region. Unless Serbia participates, the Balkan Stability Pact will have no chance of real success insofar as Serbia is the geographic center through which roads and transit in the former Yugoslavia must pass. Until Mr. Milosevic leaves office, Serbia will be subject to sanctions, unable to participate. "In my native country, the problem is Slobodan Milosevic," wrote Mr. Panic in a op-ed article in The Washington Post. "He has meant little more than violence, lawlessness and political repression for Serbia and for the other peoples of the Balkans. Since returning here after serving as prime minister of Yugoslavia nearly a decade ago, I have maintained that efforts to negotiate with Milosevic were at best misguided and at worst an aid to his maintaining his authoritarian hold on power. Today, however, Milosevic may be the solution. This is a perverse result of his having been declared an indicted war criminal, subject to arrest if he sets foot outside Serbia. And Vladimir Putin can make it happen while also bringing renewed prestige to his own battered country."
Mr. Panic appears to be thinking along similar lines as some U.S. administration officials, quoted in the New York Times. And at least one French diplomat I asked about the idea said he would welcome a Milosevic exit in a flash.
Beyond the problem of getting the Serbian strongman to agree, of course, there is the problem of who would take him in. "No one has agreed," says Mr. Panic, not even the Greek government, which is friendly with the Serbs. "Everybody has enough problems of their own." It is too bad the British government is dead set against the idea of offering Mr. Milosevic a way out. Otherwise the island of St. Helena would make an excellent choice.
Email: bering@washtimes.com.

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