Serbia has buried its former president Slobodan Milosevic. Many Serbians believe that the country laid itself to rest in lieu of an authoritarian ruler.
“How on earth are we going to live without you, our dear father?” the old woman Milica weeps profusely as stands on her knees in the sleety snow on a murky Belgrade afternoon.
There are no grown children nearby to help her get up. Milica is a refugee from Kosovo. Her two daughters were killed by an Albanian sniper for no particular reason, just for the hell of it. Some onlookers rush to help the old woman but she brushes them aside. Milica strikes a match and sets fire to a slim yellow Serbian Orthodox candle stuck in her trembling hand. Then she puts it in the snow strewn with flowers. Milica begins to cross herself earnestly.
The atmosphere inside the funeral hall where Milosevic lies in state is even more mournful. The former president’s body is in a tightly closed coffin – a circumstance that gave rise to plenty of rumors and speculations. Nobody doubts that “Slobo” has been murdered, the mentioning of any other version of his death is frowned upon. Hundreds of people are patiently standing in line to kiss the picture of the former president. They kiss the picture solemnly as if it were an icon. A special girl wipes off a glassed frame of the picture with a rag every hour. Half of the mourners are persons of advanced age, the other half look younger and display crew cuts and a military bearing. They must be the former members of the Serbian paramilitary units. They wait for their turn to approach the coffin and salute it silently.
My cell phone rings as I step outside for a breather. The people around me listen to words in Russian being spoken. Soon I am surrounded by dozens of people. All of them want to shake my hand. I take a glance over the long line of mourners that stretches for at least two kilometers.
“Hey, you Russian brother, just look how many of us showed up here,” says the 45-year-old Velimir. “According to reports broadcast by our TV, this square is empty,” adds he.
The dribbles of wax from thousands of melting candles run along the wet asphalt patchily covered with petals from the roses, which die away lying in the snow. A sharp florist unveils a placard that says: “Did you bring your bouquet to Slobo?”
As for the rest of Belgrade, you can not see any signs of mourning. City dwellers have fun in the cafes, shoppers fill the stores, and couples make out in the parks. Most of the Belgrade residents just ignore the death of Milosevic.
“I don’t feel any grief at all,” says Milena, the owner of a small souvenir store. “He is to blame for those horrible times we went through seven years ago. The international sanctions were imposed against our country, the U.S. aircraft were bombing the city, and I had to buy gasoline and food on the black market,” says she. “Strange as it may seem, I don’t feel any joy either. Milosevic was the last one who tried to rescue Yugoslavia in his own way but his cruelty made him an enemy of the world. It was incredibly stupid of him to try and take on Bosnia, Croatia, Albanians, and NATO. There is only eight millions of Serbs so how the hell could we win in that war? He lost, and the whole country lost too,” says Milena after a short pause.
The woman is right. The war-torn Serbia is falling apart at the seams like a bad patchwork. In May this year Montenegro is going to conduct a referendum on formal separation from Serbia. The United Nations is handling the issue of Kosovo’s independence.
Rumor has it that Vojevodina, a region populated by ethnic Hungarians, will join Hungary. The whole country will shrink down to its capital.
“Milosevic? I don’t give a damn about him!” the 20-year-old Svatozar is obviously fuming as he spits out his words to describe his attitude to the late president. The young man stands in a long queue of mourners near the Museum of Revolution where the dictator lies in state. “I’m not going to pay homage to the late man, I’m here to bid farewell to the last dream of a unified Serbia. The dream died along with Milosevic. Five years ago I was building barricades in Belgrade , I was hurling stones at the police. I thought that we were losing Kosovo because of Milosevic’s stubborn stupidity. I remember I could not buy a box of chocolates for my younger sister because our national currency would plummet every day. As it turned out, the West doesn’t give a damn about us. We accepted all the conditions but they keep tearing us up. I wish we could live in a unified country even if we had to go starving for the purpose,” says Svetozar.
In contrast with Belgrade’s round-the-clock discos, Pozarevac, Milosevic’s home town, looks plunged into deep mourning. The streets in this sleepy, eastern Serbian town are deserted, nearly all of its residents are out on sidewalks waiting for the arrival of a vehicle with the body of the former president. Thousands of people begin chanting: “Russia! Russia!” after they spot a TV journalist holding a microphone with a Russian tricolor on it. We take a bow, and a huge crowd follows suit. Can you imagine things like that happen in any other country?
“It’s all very Serbian, we alwaysdo it this way,” a nearby policeman speaks out acrimoniously as he watches more latecomers join the crowd. “ Russia is always Serbia ’s best friend when times get rough. But we simply forget about Russia when we are doing fine. We should have been together all the time. Maybe they would have never bombed us in that case,” says he.
The crowd goes wild as a hearse comes up. The women kneel before the vehicle and cover its dirty wheels with kisses, a shower of flowers hits the road and the flowers get trampled under foot. The police try to seal off the area, a stampede in their biggest concern. The police make a serious effort trying to hold back the mourners but to no avail. The crowd prevails. The people stroke on the limo’s doors shouting: “Slobo, please stand up!” But the late president can not hear the calls. The vehicle pulls into the patio of Milosevic’s family house, and the gates with wreaths of roses close with a loud slam. The residents of Pozarevac sit down on the asphalt and burst into tears. However, they admit to having plans for tomorrow, which include TV shows and a motion-picture theater. Tomorrow is still a weekend. Life must go on.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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