- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic is on trial in a court whose jurisdiction he does not recognize for masterminding crimes in wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that cost 200,000 lives. True to form, Milosevic is likely to use the court as his stage, to broadcast his place in history to his people back home. He plans to name international figures who were "involved in the Yugoslav crisis," such as Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, his legal adviser Dragoslav Ognjanovic said. Milosevic has accused the West of trying to destabilize the Balkans during his rule in order to control them. All of which will play into the Serbian people's sense of victimhood.

Throughout his reign, Milosevic trumpeted the message that the Serbs were victims of ethnic Albanians, NATO, Americans, the Kosovo Liberation Army, Croatian freedom-fighters and Bosnian Muslims. When Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic handed Milosevic over to The Hague, Serbs felt betrayed. Now many are skeptical of some of the 300 witnesses who will provide evidence in the trial. They view the Serbian officers who testify as turncoats who will do anything to protect themselves, and they will likely view any evidence as propaganda. Even the new president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, tried to prevent the dictator from being handed over and has denied Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte access to military records. Serbs want their former leader tried at home rather than in The Hague court, which they view as a tribunal controlled by the oppressive West.

Unfortunately, they are doing little to show that their judicial system at home is up to the job. When asked at a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times about two indictees for war crimes still on the loose Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic Mr. Kostunica said simply, "It's a very unpleasant question for me." Mr. Kostunica had supported Mr. Karadzic's brutal campaign almost 10 years ago for the Serbian part of Bosnia to break away, and Mr. Karadzic is still there. On Gen. Mladic, Mr. Kostunica would say only that his army was not hiding the general. Both had leading roles in terrorizing the civilian population of Bosnia and in the ethnic cleansing of its Serbian parts.

He also said he had no information of any progress by his government to investigate the death of Momir Gavrilovic. The former secret service agent was found shot dead in a parking lot Aug. 3 last year just hours after meeting with members of Mr. Kostunica's cabinet to give documentation of connections between the Serbian mafia and Belgrade authorities. "There are many such cases," Mr. Kostunica simply said.

Unfortunately, he is right. Yugoslavia can either see Milosevic's trial as another opportunity to cry victim or as a reminder to reform its own justice system. They can either choose the past or the future.

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