Judgment Day

Slobodan Milosevic's humilation was by turns historic and pathetic. On Thursday afternoon the warden of Belgrade's Central Prison came to his cell and said, "Get ready, you're going." Where? "To The Hague, Mr. Milosevic." He was incredulous. "Come on, am I really going to The Hague?" He asked to smoke a cigarette: granted. He asked to call his wife: denied. Prison guards drove him to the helipad behind Belgrade's old secret-police headquarters. There they turned him over to three representatives of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, who read him his rights and part of the indictment against him. Milosevic interrupted angrily: "This is a farce. The Hague tribunal has come to the wrong address. The right address is NATO. There is a Hague for you, too."

Then Milosevic and his single small suitcase were searched, and resignation replaced anger. They confiscated hidden pill bottles, which Milosevic said were only nitroglycerine for his hypertension. He referred sarcastically to public speculation that he might commit suicide, as both his mother and father had done. "Don't worry, none of these medicines are poison." Aboard the helicopter he was handcuffed and flown to Eagle Base near the Muslim city of Tuzla in Bosnia. There U.S. Army peacekeepers bundled him onto a plane to The Hague. He spent the flight, said a source, staring "wistfully" out a window, and his request for another cigarette was turned down because the British Royal Navy plane was nonsmoking. By 1 a.m. Friday, Milosevic was in a 10- by 17-foot box in the U.N. wing of Holland's Scheveningen prison. From the bars of his cell window he could see only a blank wall.

No sooner were the cuffs off the former autocrat than commentators began to declare that justice was being done for Milosevic's murderous decade. Rights activists exulted that, for the first time ever, a former head of state will be tried by the international community for crimes against humanity. Milosevic is now accused of orchestrating "a campaign of terror and violence" against thousands of Kosovar Albanians during the 1999 war. But the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, is expected to file charges soon over his earlier wars in Bosnia and Croatia; altogether, more than 200,000 people have died in Balkan conflicts since 1991. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment, the maximum penalty.

Yet it will take a lot more than the trial of Slobodan Milosevic to purge the Balkans of those horrors. Many people reject the idea of "collective guilt," the notion that whole peoples should be held responsible for the criminal acts directed by their leaders. The tribunal, by assigning personal guilt, is designed to avoid precisely that outcome. But Milosevic's long and malevolent shadow obscures a multitude of sins by others who have escaped a reckoning. In Serbia he had many willing executioners behind him. And nearly everywhere else in the Balkans, his virulent ethnic nationalism still has many enthusiastic imitators today.

Just last week in Macedonia--one of the former republics of the old Yugoslavia--it was as if the calendar had flipped back to 1991. Slav paramilitaries began prowling the streets of Skopje, the capital, putting up posters warning ethnic Albanian Muslims to flee or die. Mobs of Macedonian Slavs chanted, "Albanians to the gas chambers." Led by rogue policemen, they sacked the Parliament building and chased the president from his office for the offense of negotiating peace with the enemy. Then rioters hunted Westerners on the streets, mostly aid workers and journalists, and beat a dozen of them senseless. The lobby of the new Holiday Inn, a hopeful investment in a young country's future, was splattered with the blood of a BBC cameraman.

The mob violence was set off by unwitting U.S. NATO troops. On June 25 a convoy of U.S. Army 101st Airborne vehicles had escorted 450 Albanian guerrillas out of besieged Aracinovo. The town overlooks Skopje's airport, and the guerrillas' mortars seriously threatened NATO's vital lines of supply into Kosovo, just 25 miles north. The Macedonian Army's efforts to dislodge them militarily had been a dismal failure. But Macedonians saw NATO rescuing a defeated enemy. An American soldier working in the defense attache's office at the U.S. Embassy was shot and wounded by Macedonian forces, though not seriously. President Bush tried to tamp down the anti-U.S. hysteria by freezing the bank accounts and visa rights of Albanian "terrorists." He wouldn't rule out sending more American troops to Macedonia.

Milosevic's extradition also had a steep political cost to the stability of Yugoslavia. When his lawyers won a stay of his extradition in Yugoslavia's highest court, the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, ignored it. Djindjic claimed the court was packed with Milosevic appointees. The Yugoslav prime minister resigned in protest, and the government collapsed.

Few people beyond a gaggle of Serb supporters doubt that Milosevic is getting what he deserves. But most Serbs have not truly confronted the reality of what their nation did. A recent poll by Radio B92 found that Serbs still rank Milosevic as the fourth greatest Serb of all time. And the Serbs aren't the only offenders in the region. While the world's attention was on Milosevic and Bosnia, Croatia methodically ethnically cleansed those of its sizable Serb minority who remained. Even with Milosevic gone, pulling NATO troops out of Bosnia would still mean war. Kosovo is equally unstable. The province's Albanian majority, who once endured Milosevic's oppression, won't condemn the systematic murder of the few elderly Serbs who haven't fled. As the idea of a Greater Serbia lies discredited, Albanians privately aspire to an ethnically pure Greater Kosovo.

NATO itself is not free of complicity. The West loudly demanded that Serbia send Milosevic to The Hague--the United States threatened to hold up aid if he wasn't--but it has ignored the tribunal's second and third most wanted men: Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Bosnian Serbs, and Ratko Mladic, the Serb general, both of whom were indicted for the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia. NATO troops were long ago ordered to arrest those two men on sight, but they move freely through their NATO-occupied territory. "It is equally important they be brought to account," says Richard Holbrooke, the former U.N. ambassador and Balkans negotiator.

Milosevic's trial, by publicizing the evidence against him, will help bring a fuller reckoning. And today, at least, the region's leaders are on notice that they can no longer run amok as he once did. As "Hoxha," an Albanian rebel in Aracinovo, puts it, "Now hopefully others like Milosevic who think they are kings of the world will realize that they can't get away with killing people." It's a strange thing to hear from a man brandishing an AK-47 and getting ready for a new offensive against Macedonia's democratically elected government. But perhaps it is true.