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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 17:18 GMT
Serbian press split on Milosevic trial
Slobodan Milosevic
Serbian newspapers view the trial from every angle
After getting off to a slow start, debate on Slobodan Milosevic's trial in The Hague is heating up on editorial pages, if not in public.

In some papers there was praise for Slobodan Milosevic's performance, which caused revulsion in others.


Journalists must forget everything they know about Milosevic and not be led by their emotional and personal attitudes

Centrist daily Danas
Most report a lack of public interest - which some commentators see as lamentable.

Notably absent from the debate is Politika, the biggest and oldest daily in Yugoslavia.

Once considered one of Mr Milosevic's most powerful propaganda tools, the traditionally pro-government paper is notably abstaining from editorialising on the issue.

One of the most vocal is the internationally-minded daily Danas, which sees the trial as a challenge for Serbia, both its people and its press.

It heads a comment "A test for the public and journalists" and says that Mr Milosevic's past must be forgotten when viewing the trial.


Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic charges
  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • Violations of the laws or customs of war

    Click here for a full list of charges

  • "This trial is a real test for journalists, since they must forget everything they know about Milosevic and not be led by their emotional and personal attitudes towards him," the newspaper wrote.

    Journalists should "treat him as if he were a complete stranger", it said.

    Brilliant defence

    The former president may be far from an unknown quantity, but he is showing hitherto unseen sides during the trial.

    "A brilliant defence without preparation?" Glas Javnosti asks in the headline of a report looking at Mr Milosevic's courtroom performance.

    The paper has "numerous questions" about how the one-time lawyer is preparing for the cross-examinations and wonders if he speaks Albanian, referring to his correction of a court translator.


    Judge May wants a completely fair trial. No-one should be surprised if he is replaced

    Nacional
    "How is Milosevic preparing the questions for witnesses if he is not reading the court documents?" it asked. "Does he speak any Albanian or did someone phone him to say that the interpreter had made a mistake?"

    The preparation issue was taken up elsewhere, with a lawyer telling Danas that domestic institutions could well be helping Mr Milosevic - with or without government consent.

    A Danas report, however, characterized his courtroom demeanour as "demonically cold" and said he is "gifted for twisting facts".

    The paper described Mr Milosevic's "utter insensitivity" in disregarding the mention of victims, but also noted his human side.

    "He was deeply shaken, and showed it in the courtroom, when he heard that his wife had not obtained a Dutch visa", it said.

    Scoring points

    A Glas headline puts Milosevic a goal to the good - "Milosevic vs. Tribunal - 1:0", it said - while Vecernje Novosti applauds the former leader's tactics in court.


    It is amazing up to what level the propaganda concerning this trial endeavours to maintain the state of apathy

    Sociologist Latinka Perovic
    The widely-read tabloid noted that Milosevic is "making a clear distinction" between the tribunal and the prosecutor's office, which initially he had treated equally.

    The daily, once slavishly loyal to Mr Milosevic's policies, wrote that "this could be seen in the way he addresses the three judges, with whom he is very polite".

    Nacional has also recognized the tribunal's impartiality, praising Judge Richard May and quoting a source close to the tribunal as saying that he could be replaced.

    "Judge May wants a completely fair trial," the paper said, warning that "no-one should be surprised if he is in the meantime replaced by a judge with more understanding for Western interests".

    Public apathy

    It could be the sense that Mr Milosevic is guilty until proven innocent - pushed by the defendant in court - that has kept public interest low.

    At the trial's outset, comments such as "I follow the trial, but not much" or "I have better things to do" characterized public comments in the electronic media, and little has changed two weeks in.


    Weather forecasts interest me far more than the trial, because that is what could interfere with my plans to build the first Serbian golf club

    Potential witness Captain Dragan
    A sociologist interviewed in Danas blamed the apathy on the authorities, lamenting that something "this important for us is being trivialized".

    Latinka Perovic fears that this could prevent the Serbian people from thinking about itself and its responsibility.

    "It is amazing up to what level the propaganda concerning this trial endeavours to maintain the state of apathy," she said.

    "Such a state suits authorities, because apathy's result is a tolerance every authority would wish."

    More in tune with public opinion was the first commander of the Krajina armed forces, Dragan Vasilkovic, whose everyday life took precedence.

    A potential witness in The Hague, "Captain Dragan" told Nacional that "Weather forecasts interest me far more than the trial, because that is what could interfere with my plans to build the first Serbian golf club."

    BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Justin Webb
    "The court has to decide whether these are genuine witnesses who can shed light on the case"
    See also:

    20 Feb 02 | Europe
    Kosovan tells trial of murder
    19 Feb 02 | Europe
    Milosevic's legal manoeuvring
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