In mid-February, during the opening days of the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, I spent a week in Belgrade talking about him to friends and experts, politicians and victims. I asked them about their reactions to his trial and what effect they thought it was having on their country. My notebook slowly filled up with dozens of contradictory and confusing views, most of them, it must be said, critical of the trial in one way or another. When I went to get a haircut, Branko, the barber, summed it all up in the space of five minutes. As the scissors skimmed around my left ear he said, “Milosevic is innocent.” As he moved up to the top of my head he declared, “Milosevic is guilty, but then so were Izetbegovic and Tudjman.” When he reached my right ear he said, “Under Milosevic things were great. Now the government will privatize our shop and then we’ll lose our jobs.” By the time Branko had got to just above the nape of my neck, though, doubts began to set in. He stood up straight and with a sharp jerk of the scissors declared, “Fuck Milosevic!”
It is not surprising that Serbs are confused.
On February 14 Slobodan Milosevic began his defense before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague. He stands accused of sixty-six counts of war crimes—including ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, the murder of civilians and prisoners, and, gravest of all, genocide in Bosnia. Predictably, Milosevic rejects these charges. He says that everyone else was to blame, especially NATO, that he either knew nothing about the crimes or had no influence on the people that committed them, and that the accusations are lies in any case. Indeed, with an eye perhaps to aligning himself with anti-globalization protesters, Milosevic shrewdly told the court on February 18 that Yugoslavia had been a victim of a Western “strategic concept in realizing global control.” It was, he said, the West that was
subjugating countries throughout the world [and] causing…conflicts between the Slav and Muslim nations in the hope that they will kill each other respectively or at least weaken each other so much that control may be established over them in such a weakened state. Kosovo and Chechnya in that respect are undoubtedly a link in the same chain….
On one of my first visits to Belgrade, in June 1991, I was held up at the airport because the police were blocking the road for James Baker, then US secretary of state, who had come to plead with …