Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Milosevic's wife and son absent from funeral

THE OBSERVER , POZAREVAC, SERBIA

A supporter of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic cries at a memorial service in front of the federal parliament building in Belgrade on Saturday. At least 50,000 people rallied in central Belgrade to pay tribute to Milosevic, ahead of his funeral.

PHOTO: AFP

It was not the grandiloquent send-off he might have hoped for. Instead of a triumphal state funeral, former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic was ignominiously buried on Saturday in his back garden.

Milosevic's body was taken to Pozarevac, the small provincial town where he grew up. It was, by any standards, a bizarre final journey, more suited to a beloved family pet than a former head of state.

The garden where he was buried is supposed to be the place where Milosevic first kissed his teenage future wife Mira -- a woman known in Serbia as "Lady Macbeth" for her murderous intentions towards her husband's enemies.

On Saturday however, it became clear that Mira had failed to turn up to Milosevic's funeral. His son Marko did not make it either. Mira Milosevic had stayed in self-imposed exile in Moscow, officials from Milosevic's Socialist party said, rather than return to Serbia, where she faces corruption charges.

In the absence of the former president's family, it was left to thousands of elderly Milosevic supporters to pay their last respects.

The West may regard him as a monster, but to Serbia's nationalist minority he is still a hero.

"I run a business. Today things are catastrophic," said Milodrag Antic, 54, mourning Serbia's economic decline.

"Things were much better under Tito and under Milosevic. We used to go on holiday and go skiing. Now we are broke," he said.

Serbia's weak pro-Western government refused Milosevic a state funeral but allowed the Socialist Party of Serbia, which holds the balance of power, to display his coffin in Belgrade's shabby museum. Over the past three days lines of supporters queued for up to seven hours to say goodbye.

Then at 10.30am on Saturday the coffin set off on its strange last trip. It stopped outside Serbia's parliament building, where thousands of supporters gathered, chanting "Slobo," before it was whisked away. After two hours' drive, past muddy fields and pine-covered hills, it arrived in Pozarevac.

Here -- as elsewhere in Serbia -- Milosevic is a figure of division. In the central square mourners clapped and threw flowers when his silver hearse arrived.

In a first-floor flat overlooking them, however, Slavicia Galena opened a giant bottle of Serbian slivovitz.

"We are celebrating," she said, handing out large shots. "My husband was a member of the resistance. Milosevic's son Marko had him beaten up and dragged off to his private prison underground."

After more speeches, the coffin was transported to Mira's suburban villa. A second plot has already been dug for Mira next to her husband, neighbors said.

"Nobody cares much for Milosevic," cafe owner Sala Njegic, 43, said.

"He's the past. He's history. I'm not interested in his funeral, to be honest. His big problem was his wife," he said.

Last week the town's municipal assembly voted to allow Milosevic to be buried in his garden, an unusual arrangement requiring special permission.

But the biggest reaction in Pozarevac was apathy. A minority on both sides have passionate views about the former Yugoslav president. But most people, it became clear on Saturday, don't really care.

Milosevic's legacy, it would appear, is not just a fragmented country, but a fractured society, in which pessimism, indifference, and even boredom rule.

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