For anyone closely following events in Yugoslavia since the elections
that brought down Slobodan Milosevic last year, the timing of his
arrest didn't come as a great surprise. The raid on his luxurious
villa in the posh suburb of Dedinje began just hours before the
deadline set by Washington, which demanded that the government arrest
Milosevic or face losing $50 million in U.S. aid and access to hundreds
of millions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, prominent politicians
in Yugoslavia warned the country would face severe economic consequences
if Milosevic were not arrested. But many analysts say the U.S. threats
would not have materialized and that Serbia's leaders were aware
of that. "The arrest was not just an effort to do the bidding of
the United States," says Ljiljana Smajlovic, an expert on U.S.-Yugoslav
relations for the Belgrade magazine NIN. "By arresting him
on the hour set by Washington, it was meant to demonstrate an extraordinary
zeal to do this bidding."
Government officials deny any connection between the timing of
the arrest and the
U.S. demands, but the average person on the street sees that as far
too great a coincidence. "They got their marching orders and they
carried them out," says Milos Obradovic, a street vendor on Belgrade's
busy Knez Mihajlova. "I support the arrest, but not because George
W. Bush or the U.S. Congress say so."
Masked police battle withMilosevic's
at his compound outside Belgrade.
Milosevic is currently being held in the Belgrade Central Prison
on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Representatives from
The Hague war crimes tribunal recently delivered an arrest warrant
for the former leader to the Yugoslav Justice Minister. Now the
stage is set for a major battle over his extradition to the tribunal
to face charges of crimes against humanity during the Kosovo war.
The ruling coalition is divided on the issue, with the pro-West
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic advocating a handover and
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica opposing it.
Many in Serbia want Milosevic prosecuted in Belgrade for what they
view as his crimes against the Serbian people. Mirjana Savic, a
35-year-old postal worker says, "The Hague won't just put Milosevic
on trial. It would turn into a witch-hunt against all Serb people."
The current Yugoslav constitution forbids the extradition of its
citizens. But Washington is once again attempting to call the shots.
In a three-page document delivered by the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade
to Kostunica and Djindjic, Washington "suggests" that following
Milosevic's arrest, the government should draft a new law on cooperation
with The Hague that "must not assert that the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia or Serbian courts have superior authority over the ICTY
[The Hague]." The document, obtained by In These Times, also
appears to call for stripping Kostunica's authority over extraditions.
"The law should regulate only the procedures for cooperation," it
says, "which must not be subject to executive or political approval,
Washington's demands on Yugoslavia stand in sharp contrast to U.S.
policy opposing the establishment of an International Criminal Court.
Nonetheless, pro-West legislators in Belgrade said recently they
have finished drafting a law that would pave the way for Milosevic's
transfer. They handed a copy of it over to a Hague delegation visiting
Belgrade in early April, despite the fact that it has not been debated
publicly in Yugoslavia. This was taken by some analysts in Belgrade
as an indication of the country's depleting sovereignty.
Most officials close to Djindjic concede they do not have the political
consensus to pass the law, largely due to opposition from Milosevic's
allies in the federal parliament from Yugoslavia's smaller republic,
Montenegro. The Socialist People's Party (SNP) won all of Montenegro's
seats in last September's federal elections because the government
of President Milo Djukanovic boycotted the elections. The SNP has
vowed to block passage of any law that would permit extradition.
(However, some argue that no change in the law is necessary, since
the tribunal is in international U.N. territory and thus not a foreign
Much in Yugoslavia will hinge on the outcome of the Montenegrin
elections on April 22. Djukanovic has vowed to hold a referendum
on independence should his separatist-minded coalition emerge victorious.
If Montenegro breaks from Yugoslavia, Kostunica says new elections
should be called in Serbia because the federation would cease to
exist. "In that event, Serbia would represent a new state," he said,
"making elections a logical outcome."
But Djindjic, who has quickly consolidated his power while winning
great praise from the United States and Western Europe, is adamantly
opposed to the idea. Djindjic fears that Kostunica, out of a job
as federal president, could threaten his grip on power. New elections
would undoubtedly give Djindjic much cause for worry with his personal
popularity ratings hovering in single digits. Kostunica, who now
enjoys mass support, would certainly beat him in any fresh polls.
For now, public sentiment in Serbia remains against The Hague,
despite the documentaries on Milosevic's crimes and the infomercials
for the tribunal broadcast regularly on Serbian TV. Such broadcasts
were encouraged in Washington's memo to the Yugoslav government.
"Help educate the Serbian people of the crimes against humanity
committed by Milosevic and others," the document said. "Broadcast
regular summaries of what goes on in trials at the ICTY."
Milosevic's supporters have launched a campaign of demonstrations
outside the central prison. They have vowed to continue their protests
as long as the possibility of extradition lingers. As the political
power struggle plays out in Yugoslavia, Milosevic remains at the
center of the stalemate from an 8-foot- by-8-foot jail cell.