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 Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 23:41 GMT
Milosevic plays the underdog
Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic is keen to cast himself as a victim
Jon Silverman

If a trial is supposed to be a notionally equal contest between two camps, this trial probably does not qualify.

On one side of the court is a battery of lawyers, backed by the investigative resources of the United Nations.

On the other, sitting between two UN guards, is one man, unrepresented and unloved almost everywhere but Serbia.

Judge Richard May
Judge May has control of Mr Milosevic's microphone
But if the main event can appear one-sided, there is a trial within a trial which is never less than engrossing.

And that is the battle of wills between Slobodan Milosevic and Judge Richard May.

As an hors d'oeuvre to the main dish - the Milosevic defence - it was certainly tasty enough.

Legal tactics

While it is impossible to know with any certainty what Mr Milosevic's tactics are, six pre-trial hearings have given a glimpse of them.

To present himself as the underdog, facing a bullying prosecution and a hostile bench, is probably top of the list.

Carla Del Ponte
Carla Del Ponte is accused of conducting a trial by media

And nothing is more symbolic of his "victimhood " than to have his microphone switched off in mid-flow.

It has happened before and sure enough, it happened again.

Judge May literally had the last word with his crushing retort that Mr Milosevic would have been aware that his arguments had already been dismissed if he had taken the trouble to read the court's decisions.

But by that time, the defendant had already planted the Serbian flag on the moral high ground.

Emotive language

His choice of words to describe his contempt for the prosecution may also have been deliberate.

Talking of a parallel trial being conducted by Carla Del Ponte through the media, one of his phrases was translated by the interpreter as a " lynching process ".

As a blow aimed at his nemesis, the United States - where lynching was a blot on the social landscape for a century - this could hardly have been more telling.

Now that the prosecution has finished its opening, the shape of the battle is becoming clear.

Differing accounts

They say that the Serb crimes and excesses committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo did not happen by accident or chance but as part of a plan whose author was Mr Milosevic.

And in Kosovo, where the command responsibility may more easily be traced back to Belgrade, their case certainly looks eminently provable.

For his part, Mr Milosevic will portray himself as a defender of his people and a peace-broker whom the US and its allies were, at one time, happy to deal with.

His version of the Kosovo conflict has the Serbs responding to Nato aggressiveness.

It will be a legal fight to the bitter end.

At The Hague

Still wanted



See also:

12 Feb 02 | Europe
11 Feb 02 | Politics
11 Feb 02 | Europe
12 Feb 02 | Europe
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