When the end came, in the cool dawn of a Serbian spring, it came quickly. Four, five shots in the gathering light. A convoy rushing past the gates of the white fortress where Slobodan Milosevic had retreated since his ouster from power last fall. And it was over. Milosevic, the man who had terrorized the turbulent Balkans for a decade, was wrapped in the arms of the law. It was a victory for so many things. A victory for the idea that it was possible to pressure nations into democracy. A win for those Serbs who had fought to make Milosevic go. Here, finally, a monster was subdued. There were shivers in that Serbian dawn last Sunday when the police jammed their way into Milosevic's house. But not all the shivers came from the cold.
To understand the strands of guilt that eventually bound him into a web from which he could not escape, it is necessary to recount his crimes. He was a man who levered his way from small-time communist hack to political power by tapping into the most potent vein of historical juice in the Balkans: nationalism. Elected President of Serbia in 1990, he set out to unify the odd and unstable jumble of nationalities that crowd the Balkan peninsula--not by propagating a compelling vision for the future but by broadcasting a kind of radiant hate that warmed some Serbian hearts and, by reflection, brought out the worst in some Croats, Muslims and others eager to defend themselves from his baleful ambitions. In four wars, he fought to expand his control beyond Serbia. In the end, he oversaw the rape of thousands, the murder of tens of thousands and the death of millions of hopes.
The fate he is likely to face may be a kind of compromise. Instead of a trip to the Hague on war-crimes charges, he may only face domestic courts on counts of stealing money from the government and resisting arrest. He will face his accusers, be judged and serve his time, if convicted, in a Serbian jail.
For a couple of days at the start of last weekend, it looked as if even jail might be out of the question. The quandary of whether to arrest Milosevic, 59, had been haunting the new Serbian government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and President Vojislav Kostunica. Their arrival in power last fall, spurred by a popular revolt against Milosevic's final attempt to steal a presidential election, was not a complete clean slate. Both men are reluctant to send Milosevic and other indicted war criminals to the Hague. Both men too had troubling records of their own. Kostunica, hailed as an improvement on Milosevic, was seen in in 1998 before the election waving an AK-47 in Kosovo with an eerie glee. An improvement over Milosevic, perhaps, but the West was uncertain how much of one he represented.