It is a gray, cold Saturday, and I am glad that I don’t have to go out. I will read a book and drink a warm cup of tea, I think. Just then the telephone rings, piercing the silence of a quiet day. Slobodan Milosevic seems to be dead. Seems to be? I check the website of Belgrade’s Radio B92. The news, that he was found dead in his cell in the Scheveningen detention center in the Netherlands, is indeed not confirmed. I don’t know whether I should believe it or not. I can do nothing but wait.
I have a clear memory of the first time I saw Milosevic. It was four years ago, in the courtroom of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Of course, I had seen his face a million times before; he had been omnipresent in the media for decades as the president of Serbia, the president of Yugoslavia, the main politician linked with Serbian nationalism and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, with the sieges of Vukovar, Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica, the Dayton Accords and, finally, as an accused war criminal at the tribunal. A person larger than life, you believe, if you have been brought up in the tradition of the personality cult–as I was, as we all were in Yugoslavia. When Tito died in 1980, a popular Socialist Party slogan was repeated endlessly: “And after Tito–Tito.” Tito was dead, but the personality cult was not. Indeed, Milosevic was the Serbian heir of that cult, in a way. As if in response to the fact that people in Yugoslavia were not capable of living without a father figure, he was turned into one.
Looking at him in that courtroom, a mixture of feelings engulfed me: relief, and satisfaction at the thought that there was, after all, a chance to bring such a person to justice. Milosevic sat perhaps ten yards away from me, behind bulletproof glass. Dressed in a dark blue blazer, a white shirt and a tricolor tie, he carefully scanned the audience. Maybe he was looking for familiar faces, maybe just calculating how many journalists were there to follow his performance. This was at the very beginning of his trial, when the attention of the world media was focused on him. I stared at him as if he were a ghost, not a person. I remember how surprised I was at that moment–and how angry at myself, at my own surprise. This is what happens to a person brought up in an adolescent country, I realized: She is surprised that such a person can be brought to justice.