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Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Serbs adjust to new reality
Supporters of Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic supporters: vocal support but waning influence
By Alix Kroeger in Belgrade

There were several thousand of them gathered in front of Yugoslavia's federal parliament in Belgrade - committed supporters of Slobodan Milosevic, Serb nationalists all.

They shouted, "treason," and "betrayal," as the Serbian turbo-folk music pumped through the crowd.


It is a shame for Serbia. We should hold our own trial here. We're becoming a colony of the West.

Belgrade resident
Flags from the ultra-nationalist Serb Radical Party fluttered above the crowd as they listened to speakers denounce the Hague tribunal and the international community.

But these days, the ultra-nationalists are on the fringe. Yugoslavia is moving on.

Even those - and there are many - who dislike the war crimes tribunal as an institution, think Mr Milosevic should face justice before his own people.

Shame

For the last three months, ever since his arrest on 1 April, he had been in Belgrade's Central Prison, awaiting trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

"It is a shame for Serbia," one man told me. "We should hold our own trial here. We're becoming a colony of the West."

Support for Slobodan Milosevic
Support for Mr Milosevic...
For years Mr Milosevic manipulated laws and institutions to maintain his hold on power.

First he was president of Serbia; then, when his mandate ran out, he moved to become president of Yugoslavia instead.

Power followed him as an individual; the office he occupied was more or less irrelevant.

A sign reading 'Send Him To Texas', referring to the US state where the death penalty is legal
...and support for his extradition
He even changed the Serbian constitution, putting in a national-interest clause which allowed him to override the Yugoslav federal government if its decisions went against the interests of the Serb people.

Ironically it was this clause which finally put him in The Hague. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic used it to get round a ruling of the Yugoslav constitutional court which would have blocked extradition for another two weeks.

But in doing so, Mr Djindjic has adopted his opponent's means to achieve his own ends.

He has also split the fractious DOS alliance which controls the governments of both the Yugoslav federation and the Republic of Serbia. The Yugoslav Prime Minister resigned in protest.

This complicates matters considerably. The Prime Minister is a Montenegrin, from a party which formerly supported Mr Milosevic.

Montenegro's republican government is already restless within the Yugoslav federation. Any further upheavals within Yugoslavia will only strengthen the desire for independence.

Under the constitution, the Yugoslav Prime Minister's resignation should trigger the dissolution of his government, moving the country one step closer to fresh elections.

Misery of war

But this is the Balkans, and anything can happen. For now the country and the government are taking stock - a fresh round of political horse-trading and negotiation will begin on Monday.

Graves at the Belacerka cemetery in Kosovo of 67 ethnic Albanians
War crimes: no longer dismissed as Western propaganda
For all the wars and misery and suffering which Mr Milosevic has caused, it is the recent events in a Belgrade suburb which have swung public opinion towards support for a war crimes trial.

Forensic investigators working in Batajnica have uncovered a mass grave containing 36 bodies, some of them children.

They came from the Kosovo village of Suva Reka, victims of Yugoslav war crimes.

Their bodies were moved in a deliberate effort by their killers to cover their tracks and hamper investigation.

The discovery has profoundly shocked the people of Serbia, who had tended to dismiss allegations of Yugoslav war crimes as Western propaganda.

And it has brought events in Kosovo home to the people in Belgrade in a way The Hague tribunal never could.


At The Hague

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29 Jun 01 | Europe
27 Jun 01 | Business
28 Jun 01 | Europe
29 Jun 01 | Business
29 Jun 01 | Europe
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