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02 Oct 17

These Blasts From Serbia’s Past Scare Me

Dejan Anastasijevic

As members of Slobodan Milosevic’s old guard come out of the woodwork to reclaim power, one by one, it’s time to get worried.

Slobodan Milosevic, ninetis leader of Serbia. Photo: The Central Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia

Maybe I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, or maybe I’m just getting old, but lately I’ve been experiencing a series of highly unpleasant flashbacks from the not-so-recent past.

Those flashbacks take me back to the era of Slobodan Milosevic, which was marked by wars, sanctions, and repression.

Milosevic’s reign ended on October 5, 17 years ago, but every once in a while, bits of it keep on coming back to haunt me.

The latest episode was triggered by the appointment of Dr Milovan Bojic as the new manager of the Dedinje Heart Clinic, a prestigious state-run institution on the outskirts of Belgrade.

Dr Bojic is well known to all of us old enough to remember Milosevic (God, has it been that long already?). For most of these bad old days, he occupied the same position at the helm of the Dedinje clinic.

But he was so much more: as a close associate of Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic, and as a high official in her JUL party, Bojic was a vice-premier in Milosevic’s government.

In the last months of the old regime, he was at the forefront of the crackdown against the opposition and the free media. He led the purge of Belgrade University and initiated criminal charges against journalists.

After Milosevic was ousted, so was Dr Bojic, both from the government and the Dedinje Clinic. It turned out that a vast sum of money had gone missing from the hospital, and he was charged with embezzlement.

His lengthy trial ended two years ago with an acquittal: the judges decided that the evidence against him was insufficient, despite the fact that it turned out he had a secret bank account in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, he got a top position in the far-right Serbian Radical Party, led by Vojislav Seselj, who was tried (and acquitted in the first degree) for war crimes at the international court in The Hague, the ICTY. Dr Bojic is also Seselj’s personal physician.

Now he has one of his two former jobs back. I wonder if he’s about to reclaim his second one as well, and join the government.

Then you have Milorad Vucelic, the former vice-president of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia. Apart from that, Vucelic was a long-time head of Serbian state television, which churned out poisonous propaganda during the Nineties.

When Milosevic died in The Hague during his war crimes trial, Vucelic led a group of hardliners who tried to take over the party.

They failed and Vucelic was reduced to running a small weekly magazine called Pecat (Seal), mostly promoting pro-Russian content and conspiracy theories.

However, last month, Vucelic was suddenly appointed editor-in-chief of Vecernje Novosti, a large state-owned evening newspaper.

The paper now promotes the claim that NATO deliberately poisoned hundreds of thousands of Serbs with depleted uranium during the 1999 bombing campaign. (In reality, a very small amount of DU ammunition was used, and there is no evidence it had any effect on general health.)

Bojic and Vucelic are just the latest examples: Aleksandar Vulin, who was also close to Milosevic’s wife during the Nineties, now heads the Ministry of Defence. Goran Trivan, who spearheaded the first wave of media purges in the early days of Milosevic, is the Minister for Environmental Protection.

I can go on and on. It seems that every day more and more of Milosevic’s old buddies are being reinstated.

It could be pointed out, rightly, that this should be no cause for surprise. Wasn’t Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s current President, a one-time ally of Milosevic’s? And wasn’t Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister, a former spokesman for Milosevic’s party?

Both Vucic and Dacic publically renounced Milosevic’s nationalist agenda before they got their present positions. But Bojic, Vucelic, Vulin and others remain unrepentant to this day: they are true to the old Greater Serbia shtick.

So why is Vucic, who has sworn he will reform Serbia and lead it into the European Union, increasingly surrounding himself with people that most democratically-minded Serbs would rather forget?

I don’t know. It could be a part of some intricate internal political maneuvering. But it could also be a prelude to return of the bad old days. All I know that, as a veteran of the struggle against Milosevic, I feel scared.

As I like to finish my blogs with a quote, here’s one from William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Talk about it!

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