Moscow Rallies to Defend Milosevic
By Nabi Abdullaev
Igor Tabakov / MT
Communists protesting outside the Dutch Embassy on Monday. The poster reads, "Milosevic's killers to court!"
In Moscow, where Slobodan Milosevic's family lives and he enjoys widespread sympathy due to his role in opposing NATO in the Balkans, officials and politicians on Monday angrily rejected the results of his autopsy and called for Russian doctors to be able to conduct their own probe into his death.
A Dutch toxicologist said Monday that the former Serbian president had taken the wrong drugs in an effort to be sent for treatment to Moscow.
Outside the U.S., Dutch and Serbian embassies in Moscow, hundreds of Communists protested against the UN tribunal that was trying Milosevic on war crimes charges.
About 300 people, led by the Communist Party's Moscow chief, Vladimir Ulass, joined the rallies, carrying red flags and signs reading "Milosevic is a Hero, Bush is a Fascist" and "The Hague is a Factory of Death."
"We reject the claim that Milosevic died of natural causes," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told reporters before the rallies, describing Milosevic's death as a "crime by imperialism."
"We believe that the international tribunal and the Americans who unleashed NATO aggression against Yugoslavia at the end of the last century are guilty in Milosevic's death," Zyuganov said.
Dutch toxicologist Donald Uges, who conducted blood tests on Milosevic two weeks ago as part of his treatment for a heart condition and high blood pressure, on Monday ruled out foul play or suicide in Milosevic's death. Uges said he thought Milosevic had taken a drug used to treat leprosy and tuberculosis in an effort to support his application to be treated in Moscow.
"I don't think he took his medicines for suicide -- only for his trip to Moscow ... that is where his friends and family are. I think that was his last possibility to escape The Hague," Uges said, Reuters reported. "I am so sure there is no murder."
Uges' comments came after Milosevic's lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said that the former Serbian president had told him he had feared he was being poisoned, and had written a six-page letter to the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands dated Wednesday, three days before he died.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday that, since the UN tribunal had rejected Milosevic's application to receive medical treatment in Moscow, Russia wanted to carry out its own probe into his death.
"In fact, Russia was not trusted. In a situation when we were not trusted, we also have a right not to trust," Lavrov said.
Lavrov confirmed he had received Milosevic's letter, in which he complained of being given strong medicines used to treat tuberculosis and leprosy.
"It says that, in his opinion, certain methods of treatment ... had had a negative impact on his health," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow had asked the tribunal to allow Russian doctors to study the results of the autopsy.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement shortly after Milosevic's death was announced Saturday, saying that it regretted that the tribunal had two weeks earlier rejected his application to travel to Moscow. Russia had offered assurances that Milosevic would return to The Hague to complete his trial.
Yury Mashkov / Itar-Tass
Protesters near the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Monday. One poster reads, "Milosevic is a Hero! Bush is a Fascist!"
Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information, said top Russian officials "were insulted by having their guarantees rejected" by the Hague tribunal, and were now "gloating over the delicate situation the tribunal finds itself in."
In a State Duma session Monday, reaction to Milosevic's death ranged from distrust of the UN tribunal to expressions of respect for the Serbian authorities' wishes.
United Russia Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin called for a public inquiry in Russia into Milosevic's death.
"We cannot trust this mission to the tribunal itself, or to the Western leaders who turn an epitaph to Milosevic into an indictment," Zatulin said.
International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov called on Russia to respect the position of the Serbian government over Milosevic's death. He also said the Duma would adopt a resolution Wednesday criticizing the Hague tribunal over what he said was its anti-Serbian stance and for not allowing Milosevic to travel to Moscow.
"Russian lawmakers will also insist on a full and unbiased international investigation of the reasons that led to Milosevic's death, in which Russian experts will participate," Kosachyov said, Interfax reported.
Memorial prayers for Milosevic were held in several Russian Orthodox churches on Sunday, Interfax reported, citing the Moscow Patriarchate.
Coverage of Milosevic's death on Russian state television was overwhelmingly sympathetic toward Milosevic, with several commentators defending him and blaming the Hague tribunal for his death.
National newspapers, however, were more evenhanded in their coverage, with some articles offering criticism of his role in the Balkans conflicts.
"He was a man who, I believe, dedicated his life to the good of his people, his country," former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told Rossia television on Sunday.
Alexei Sazonov / AP
A man holding a portrait of Milosevic at the U.S. Embassy picket on Monday.
Primakov blamed Milosevic's death on the UN tribunal and the Serbian authorities who handed him over to The Hague in 2001.
Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, told the channel, "It is important that the court in The Hague has not ruled while Milosevic was alive whether he was guilty or was not."
Milosevic's elder brother, Borislav, a former Yugoslav ambassador to Russia, told Rossia that the tribunal had "discredited itself legally and morally."
Some newspapers on Monday were more balanced in their consideration of Milosevic and his legacy, giving space to criticism of him and offering a broader perspective of his role in the Balkans wars.
Kommersant wrote in a front-page article Monday that Milosevic had used Russia, Yugoslavia and the Serbs to serve his own quest for power, while Izvestia attempted to debunk views common in Russia that Milosevic was a great statesman and ally of Moscow.
Borislav Milosevic, who lives in Moscow, was himself hospitalized overnight Sunday. He was taken to Moscow's Bakulev heart surgery center, where his brother had asked to come for treatment. He denied speculation that he had suffered a heart attack.
Borislav Milosevic said Monday that he would travel to Belgrade to attend his brother's funeral.
The death of Milosevic, dubbed the "Butcher of the Balkans" in some Western media reports, could cause some diplomatic embarrassment for Russia, as it has quietly been sheltering his family, despite international warrants being issued for Milosevic's widow, Mira Markovic, and their son Marko Milosevic.
Since 2001, numerous unconfirmed reports in the Russian and international media have said Markovic and Marko Milosevic are living in Moscow.
On Monday, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Marko Milosevic had applied for a visa at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow to travel to The Hague and take his father's remains to Belgrade for burial.
Marko Milosevic also surfaced Monday on Channel One television, saying that if Serbia did not offer him and his family safety guarantees, he would ask Russia for permission to bury his father in Moscow instead, Reuters reported.
"I just lost my father and do not want to risk my mother," he said, Reuters reported.
"I have already asked the Russian authorities, although for now unofficially, whether we could bury him in Moscow ... if we need to, until the conditions in Serbia are right to move his body there."
Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.