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Escaping court's verdict but not history's
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


March 13, 2006

The Butcher of the Balkans is dead. Slobodan Milosevic, 64, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday in his jail cell at The Hague. There were ambiguities about his death - perhaps linked to a medicine he was taking surreptitiously - that Dutch and international doctors should quickly resolve, as the former Serbian dictator's part of the world is too prone to conspiracies already.

Milosevic had been on trial for war crimes and genocide, crimes for which there really was not much question of his guilt. He launched four wars in the Balkans and lost all of them, but not before some 200,000 to 300,000 people had died and his regime had given the world the phrase "ethnic cleansing."

The Balkan unrest of the '90s is fading into history. But Europe should not forget that it has seen Milosevic's ilk before, a police-state dictator playing on his aggrieved people's sense of victimhood with the shrill themes of extreme nationalism and ethnic superiority.

Nor should Europe forget that until his 13 years of depredations were brought to an end - by the spectacle of NATO bombing a European capital - he had come close to launching a broader conflict, drawing in Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Muslim jihadists and even Russia. He was truly a danger.

His trial showed both the positives and negatives of an international court. The proceedings were agonizingly slow - over four years; hugely expensive - over $200 million; and in the end, moot, although a verdict was expected this summer.

But the record of his crimes as laid out by 295 witnesses is irrefutable and an antidote to the Balkans' unfortunate willingness to rewrite history to accommodate perceived injustices and expiate guilt.

Even so, Serbia should put all that behind it by turning over the remaining indicted war criminals, cooperating in a solution to the problem of Kosovo and joining the European Union and with it, modern Europe.

Milosevic is still capable of controversy. His wife and son, exiled in Russia, need waivers from international arrest warrants to retrieve his body and attend the funeral. And even the place and manner of his burial - Serbia, Montenegro or Russia - remain in dispute. Even in death, he remains divisive.



Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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