Béla Lugosi is Dead
(Peter Murphy, "Bauhaus" in "Béla Lugosi is Dead")
How art thou sunk in darkness down, Son of the morning, from the skies!
Arrested? Ostentatiously arrested as a propaganda ploy to placate the Americans and secure Western aid? Someone may have been whisked away in a stained glass windowed car to a courtroom. That someone may have been arraigned. That someone may have been Milošević. Meanwhile, the latter appeared to a small crowd, alive and cheerful and then granted an interview to a former subject of his censorship, radio B92.
A few warped minds must be thinking: wouldn't everyone be better off if Slobodan Milošević were to die? Mysteriously, of course, in a serendipitous car accident, as is the habit in these parts. Or, mercifully and less obtrusively, in a sudden onslaught of lethal pneumonia, in line with his advanced age. Imagine the sighs of palpable relief in his own camp, to which he has become a political albatross and a nagging embarrassment.
Never before could so many quandaries be resolved through an orchestrated stroke of luck. It is quite a temptation and, in Eastern Europe, it may be irresistible.
His retinue reduced by law to one ageing personal secretary and one,
potentially traitorous, bodyguard, Milošević effetely wanders the very land
he once reified. A sickly and sickening apparition, a reminder of an age
best forgotten, the repressed guilt of millions, he also constitutes a
threat to the high and mighty. He knows too much about too many. He is
whiningly weak, paranoidally pensive and mawkishly lachrymose. This is
the stuff of turncoats and informers. His continued life is a luxury few can
afford even in Serbia's "new" political elite.
Rival gangs move in
Yugoslavia's political scene is best understood in terms of primitive crime
gangs fighting it out, Chicago-style, for control of the territory and its
attendant smuggling rackets. The Milošević family has lost to the rival
gangs. The winners will now be at each other's jugular for turf and pelf.
But they are all related by blood—familial and spilled. The only things
separating his ragged men from their share of the spoils is ancient
They cannot extradite him to The Hague, not due to a misguided
sense of nationalistic pride but because omertà and vendetta—the twin
deterrents of snitching—are powerless there. Free to talk, he might and if
he does, there is no counting how many heads will roll—"reformist",
"democratic" and "law abiding," as well as "genocidal" and "criminal."
The distinctions that the West draws between the orthobiotic current lot and
their fungible predecessors are mere delusions. In the desert that is the
Balkans, the mimetic fata morganas of democracy and structural reform are
useful implements. They serve to tranquillize those pugnacious Serbs who
authentically strive to modernity and meritocracy. And they are great at
securing a larger share of the dwindling generosity of the West. Milošević
threatens all this.
In a land of overpowering fatalism—bred by centuries of maleficent
oppression, refractory mismanagement and romanticized recklessness—untimely death is perceived as both inevitable and a legitimate tool of
policy (as is backstabbing). Political assassinations serve to resolve long
standing conflicts, to remove the obstinately undesirable, to rectify
perceived injustice, to further a political goal, to redistribute rights and
wealth and to turn a new, blood-stained page. Politicians, businessmen,
journalists and vociferous intellectuals assume this risk as a matter of
The new-old Serbia
Milošević knows all this. What is he doing to protect himself? It would be wrong to write him off. He still maintains an iron grip (though weakening by the day) on the shredded Socialist Party of Serbia and, though uxorious, on his wife's political organization, as well. His philistine confidants and collaborators have metastasized and penetrated every social cell, political and economic.
The police, the secret service and, to a lesser extent, the army, are flooded with his loyalists and cronies—as are recently privatized state firms. After a spastic bout of revanchism in which some Milošević-era managers were removed from their lucrative posts and the boards of some media outlets replaced, the "new" politicians succumbed willingly and assimilated the old, infected structures and position-holders (with the exception of a few, rather symbolic and hitherto futile, arrests).
The New Serbia is very old and disturbingly familiar. Milošević—through extortion or promotion—can still make trouble.
The more the reason for his opponents to get rid of him. Don't be surprised
to open your morning paper and read about his irreversible misfortune. Serbs
are infamous for reckless driving. There is an epidemic of the flu in
Belgrade. Demented gunmen roam the land. Perhaps a vengeful and avenging
Kosovar or Bosnian Moslem can be persuaded to effect this parricide. Or,
there might be another conveniently successful suicide. Alas, the shameful
day may well be near.
Sam Vaknin, 30 March 2001
The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
DISCLAIMER: I do not condone, nor do I encourage the murder of Slobodan Milošević. I am appalled by the very possibility. This article was meant as a warning and an alarm. Too much blood has been shed. Milošević should be tried and, if found guilty, punished severely. Assassination—whatever its motivation—is vile and abhorrent. And, yet, alas, it is a distinct possibility. All men of conscience must oppose it openly. To do so, they must first discuss it and
bring it to the open.
Assassination is as vile and abhorrent as denial. The Serbs committed war crimes on a massive scale, as did the Croats and, to a lesser extent, the Bosnian Moslems. The tendency to protect one's home-bred monsters is not a Serb phenomenon. Witness the demonstrations in Zagreb against the extradition of their lot of mass murderers.
In this lies the absolution of this wretched region: in renouncing the horrid past and in adopting a reformed future. Neither can be effected without facing the truth. The truth about who the people of the Balkan are and what they did to each other and what they go on doing to each other. Trying Milošević in a court of law would be a cathartic act. Murdering him would be a vile and sinful addition to an already thoroughly besmeared conscience.
After the Rain:
How the West Lost the East
Sam Vaknin's book on sale from CER as a print book and as an ebook