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Sunday, 18 February, 2001, 11:36 GMT
Milosevic plots to avoid prison
Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic: 'Playing the game he's always played'
By Misha Glenny in Belgrade

It is a peculiar feeling walking down Uzicka street in Belgrade.

With police kiosks dotted all along this gently majestic road, one might easily become confused.

Is that the American ambassador's residence, or indeed the British, or is it perhaps the home of Dobrica Cosic, grand old man of Serbian nationalist letters who struck the flint that lit the fire before being consumed by the flames?

Because many involved in the war between Serbia and Nato have their marker on or close to Uzicka - whether the cream of Serbian society or the highest representatives of Western powers who bombed Serbia into submission just under two years ago.

Like a Bond film

Is it not an irony of elites in conflict? They denounce each other using the most vituperative language, but they live hugger-mugger in the choicest neighbourhoods.

When he at last stands in the dock, Slobo may well be tempted to play his final ace - he might decide to sing. And if he does, he may just be in a position to compromise all his accusers

After you pass the garish neo-classical mansion built for the Karic brothers, the most prominent bankrollers of Serbia's decade-long nightmare, you come to the entrance of a building that puts you in mind of something from the Bond movies of the early 1960s.

I don't know why. but I always think of Emil Largo's grim establishment in Thunderball.

The gate stretches for 20 - maybe 30 - yards. It is an iron structure that blocks most of what lies behind. But you can see the central part of the building, still devastated from a Nato bomb attack in the spring of 1999.

And somewhere amid those ruins, as far as you know, sits or stands Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic.

There, just a stone's throw from the pavement, those two minds must be working overtime, wondering what their next manoeuvre must be.

As the core politician in Serbia, Slobo, as everyone refers to Milosevic, is finished. But if he is politically buried, he is still laughing from his misty grave.

Slobo, as Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian Prime Minister, insisted on Thursday, will be arrested any day now. He will not be taken into custody on charges of war crimes, as the international community demands, but as a man who robbed the Serbian people on a grand scale.

Economic catastrophe

A day in Belgrade is sufficient to prove that Milosevic is not uppermost in people's minds.

The economic situation is catastrophic. Unemployment is running at 40 per cent. Power cuts are still a part of daily life.

President Vojislav Kostunica
Kostunica: Believes The Hague is an American tool
And if the sheer poverty of this society were not enough, then there is the Albanian insurgency in southern Serbia to take one's mind off it.

This wart that grew from the settlement of the Serbian-Nato war in 1999 threatens to turn malignant every day and still has the potential to trigger another serious conflict in the southern Balkans.

Yet, despite all these troublesome affairs, Slobo will not go away. The outside world will not properly embrace Serbia until he is brought to justice.

Yet Serbia's new democratic authorities squabble over his fate.

President Vojislav Kostunica has made plain his conviction that the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague is a tool of American policy.

But Miroljub Labus, economics guru of the new government, says Slobo should be handed over straight away - otherwise Washington and the European Union will get nasty.

Both sides, the international community and the Serbian authorities, want rid of Milosevic but neither is prepared to allow this on the other's terms.

Preparing the defence

The upshot is, of course, that the much-needed and desired process of Serbia's re-integration with Europe is being slowed down to everyone's detriment.

Everyone's, that is, except Milosevic's. Without having to lift a finger, he is playing the game he has always played - divide and rule.

As I wander past his mansion in Uzicka, I think I know what Slobo's next manoeuvre will be. I think he is preparing his defence, be it in a Serbian court or in the Hague Tribunal.

Perhaps in anticipation of this Judgement Day, Milosevic was always very careful never to commit anything to paper. His guilt, indisputable in politics, may be hard to prove in a court of law.

Not only that - we must remember that for a long period Milosevic was considered the guarantor of peace in the Balkans by the international community. And almost every opposition politician in Serbia felt compelled at one time or another to strike a deal with him.

When he at last stands in the dock, Slobo may well be tempted to play his final ace - he might decide to sing. And if he does, he might just be in a position to compromise all his accusers.

In the wonderful sub-communist jargon of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic is no longer a 'relevant political subject'.

But such is his unswerving commitment to the amoral ideology of Machiavelli, do not be surprised if he is planning one final unscrupulous trick.

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See also:

31 Jan 01 | Europe
A broken man?
01 Feb 01 | Europe
UN stands by Milosevic indictment
26 Jan 01 | Europe
Serb Government breaks with past
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