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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 19:41 GMT
Milosevic's legacy of discord
By Tim Judah
Balkans analyst

Slobodan Milosevic was once dubbed by the Western media "the butcher of the Balkans".

Massacre at Racak, Kosovo
Thousands died in the wars Slobodan Milosevic started, and lost
In one of his early speeches, in 1988, before hundreds of thousands of Serbs, he declaimed: "We enter every battle... with the aim of winning it."

But, in the end, the Serbs lost all their wars. They lost in Croatia, in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

The Croatian war claimed some 20,000 lives, the Bosnian war 100,000 and the Kosovo war some 10,000.

Millions of lives were shattered. The region is still far from overcoming the legacies of the wars, which he was so instrumental in starting.

And yet, to judge from the reactions from across the region, few are happy that Milosevic has gone. Indeed, there is anger. And this is understandable.

Saint or sinner

Since 2001, Milosevic has been in court at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. His trial was nearing its end. His death means that he has escaped judgement.

Now there will never be a judgement from outside the region, which former Yugoslavs might one day be able to look to as impartial
This single fact is a tragedy. It means that, for some, Milosevic will remain a virtual saint, who set out to save the Serbs from their enemies - while for others he will remain a force for evil who destroyed Yugoslavia and set out to commit genocide.

His death means that now there will never be a judgement from outside the region, which former Yugoslavs might one day be able to look to as impartial.

In the region though, and in the short term, the passing of Slobodan Milosevic will make little difference.

Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and to a lesser extent other parts of the former Yugoslavia, are all still struggling with the legacies of the Yugoslav wars.

The international status of Kosovo and Montenegro remains to be settled, quite apart from the long-term devastating economic fallout of conflict.

Martyr claim

Milosevic was not, contrary to what many believe, a nationalist. He was a political opportunist.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic's contribution to history will forever be disputed
Ever since his fall in 2000, he has also been a figure from the past. He no longer had any significant political influence in Serbia or the rest of the Balkans.

Some of his former political allies will certainly seek to capitalise on his death, by claiming him as a political martyr.

They are already pointing out that the tribunal recently refused to let him go to Moscow for medical treatment.

Indeed, as Ivica Dacic, a leader of Mr Milosevic's now tiny Socialist Party of Serbia has said: "It is of major importance for the future of our country that through his defence and the fact he died without being convicted, Milosevic had managed to defend national and state interests."

Shock today

Many Serbs may reflect though that their country remains impoverished thanks to his policies - and soon Kosovo, which they regard as the cradle of their history and culture will probably be awarded its independence, against Serbia's wishes.

Slobodan Milosevic shaped the lives and times of all of the people of the former Yugoslavia. But his time was gone.

Today they will be in shock. Tomorrow will be life as normal.

But, his death means his legacy will be forever disputed and always a potential source of discord between former enemies.

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia and Kosovo: War and Revenge, both published by Yale University Press.

A look back at the rise and fall of Slobodan Milosevic

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