October 30, 2002, is just another day in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. A stocky former Serb intelligence agent, Slobodan Lazarevic, is testifying against his erstwhile boss and former political idol. Lazarevic had planned to testify in secret, as witness C-001. (He is so smooth on the stand that the Serbian press corps dubs him "Agent 001, License to Kill.") Milosevic, serving as his own counsel, asks, "Based on my information ..., your wife's name is [deleted]?" As the prosecution objects furiously, pointing out that Lazarevic is in a witness relocation program and demanding that his wife's name be stricken from the record, Milosevic adds, "His wife worked as a [deleted]." It is a blatant attempt at intimidation: you mess with me, I mess with your family. Even behind bulletproof glass, the former strongman still aims to be dangerous.

The world has looked away just as the Milosevic trial has gotten really interesting. In February 2002, raging against NATO conspiracies and victor's justice, the ousted Yugoslav leader was hauled into court in The Hague. This was an amazing triumph for the human rights movement, but at the same time the realization of a nightmare that had haunted the Allied officials who planned the Nuremberg tribunals nearly 60 years ago. They had worried that Nazi leaders would be able to use those trials as a forum to justify their actions and present themselves as martyrs to subsequent generations. Milosevic has tried to do the same and, slowed by his antics, the trial has now entered its second year with the prosecution still only partway through its case.

As the most important moment for international justice since the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Milosevic's trial is a possible watershed. Charged with committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia, he is the first former head of state to land in the dock of an international war crimes tribunal. The trial's success or failure will therefore shape all future efforts at punishing the world's bloodiest war criminals -- including those at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that started up in March, and any postwar tribunals in Iraq. International justice must not only be done, but also be made to look useful and appealing so that future politicians will decide, in the phrase of the late political theorist Judith Shklar, to choose "justice, as a policy."

The Bush administration, desperate to avoid giving encouragement to the ICC, has essentially ignored the trial rather than seize the opportunity it affords to remind Muslims worldwide of how U.S. power was used, albeit belatedly, to save Muslim lives in the former Yugoslavia. But those who see the Milosevic case primarily in terms of its role in the progressive evolution of an international legal order -- whether supportive human rights lawyers or nervous sovereignty-minded American officials -- are missing the point.

The tribunal's most important impact will be not in the legal sphere but in the political one. Success will be measured by how much the enterprise helps sideline dangerous leaders, shame perpetrators and bystanders, and soothe victims. The ultimate objective -- which is still in doubt -- is less to create some dazzling supranational legal precedent than to demonstrate that administering justice can contribute to reconciliation and moderation, in the Balkans and, by extension, elsewhere as well.


War crimes tribunals often do not work. Despite the shining example of Nuremberg, the history of international justice is full of failure. Allied efforts to prosecute German and Ottoman war criminals after World War I resulted only in failed trials and nationalist backlash. The UN’s tribunal for Rwanda is regularly criticized as ineffectual by the Rwandan government. Without the kind of total victory achieved by the Allies in World War II, imposing justice after a war is always difficult.

That is why the tribunal in The Hague dealing with the former Yugoslavia had such a rocky start. The ad hoc court was created by a UN Security Council resolution in 1993, as Serb nationalists besieged Bosnia's non-Serb civilians. It seemed a token gesture: the world would not stop war crimes while they were actually happening, but it would prosecute them afterward. And even that commitment was halfhearted, since the tribunal started off without adequate funding, robust political support, or major suspects in custody. It could do little to make the war in Bosnia less brutal. The tribunal reached its nadir in July 1995, when Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic slaughtered some 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica. Mladic and his political chief, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, have been indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, but remain at large.

When NATO finally struck against the Bosnian Serb army and oversaw the Dayton accord that ended the war, the tribunal still had to wait almost two years, until July 1997, for NATO troops to begin arresting war crimes suspects in Bosnia. Even then, the nationalist regime in Croatia and Milosevic's regime in Serbia excoriated its efforts and frequently refused to cooperate. It was only in 1999, during NATO's second Balkan campaign, over Kosovo, that Milosevic himself -- the prime mover in the wars of Yugoslavia's disintegration -- was finally indicted. And it was not until after the 2000 democratic revolution in Serbia that he was shipped off to The Hague.

In terms of big-name suspects brought to court, the tribunal has made huge strides over time. Its first trial, which opened in May 1996, was of a mere pawn, a concentration camp sadist. Since then it has snared vastly bigger fish, including a Bosnian Serb general who helped organize the Srebrenica massacre, leading Serb and Croat nationalists who were involved in the slaughter of Muslims, and senior Milosevic aides such as the chief of staff of the Yugoslav army. In one of the biggest victories to date, Biljana Plavsic -- a wartime Bosnian Serb leader so delusionally nationalist that she once told a senior UN official that Serb babies were being fed alive to the animals in the Sarajevo zoo -- expressed remorse and pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity.

The prosecutions themselves constitute the most basic success of the tribunal, even though Karadzic and Mladic -- the most important war criminals in Bosnia -- have so far escaped its clutches. To put it simply, rather than whipping up more nationalism back in the region, several major malefactors in the Balkan wars are now behind bars. (Several others, meanwhile, have died -- including Croatia's wartime president, Franjo Tudjman, from cancer; the Serb paramilitary leader known as Arkan, from assassination; and former Serbian interior minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, from suicide.) The Milosevic case is a perfect example of how useful the tribunal can be. "The process itself is a success," says Mary Robinson, the former UN high commissioner for human rights. "He is no longer a respected figure in Serbia." Even if his trial turns out to be a minor train wreck, the prosecution has managed to get him out of Balkan politics once and for all.

After Milosevic fell from power, the real question was not whether he would be held to account for his crimes, but which court would try him. The Hague was and is clearly the best choice. In a perfect world, it would have been better to put Milosevic on trial in a Serbian court in Belgrade, just as it would have been better to put the top Nazis on trial before a German court in Berlin. This point is clear even to many officials at the tribunal. "It's a message that can only be put across in Serbian," says Jean-Jacques Joris, the diplomatic adviser to Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's Swiss chief prosecutor. But a Belgrade trial would have helped matters only if it were a real war crimes trial -- one that produced the kinds of revelations about Bosnia and the self-styled Krajina Serb republic that are emerging now in The Hague. But Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslavia's president after Milosevic and a committed Serb nationalist, has a fierce contempt for the tribunal, and thus at first said that he would haul Milosevic up merely on charges of corruption and electoral fraud. Even if war crimes had gradually made their way onto Kostunica's agenda for a Milosevic trial, such an effort would never have been accepted in Bosnia and Kosovo. It might have wound up like the 1921 trials at Leipzig -- a hopelessly botched effort after World War I, in which a German high court either acquitted or glancingly punished German soldiers, to French and Belgian fury. As it was, putting Serb nationalists in charge of Milosevic's trial would have risked disaster.


That the international tribunal is the least bad option available for dealing with problematic figures such as Milosevic would be enough to justify its existence. But the current trial is increasingly offering more. After an inauspicious start with the Kosovo charges, as the prosecution's case moves to Croatia and Bosnia, it has begun to offer an unparalleled window into how one of the most murderous regimes on the planet really worked.

Watching the proceedings, Milosevic sits with his familiar white hair swept back, and on good days (when not complaining of heart trouble), he has color in his thick cheeks. He seems alert and quizzical, and rarely blinks. He has a way of wearing his Balkan politician's clothes -- dark suit, blue shirt, red-and-blue rep tie -- that makes them look sloppy, with the tie wrinkling up at his gut as he sits, the suit jacket bunched up as he flings his plump left arm around the back of his baby-blue UN chair. He knits his eyebrows toward each other and wrinkles his brow, or pulls back the corners of his mouth. He shows no particular curiosity when a new witness appears.

Since Milosevic is not accused of hands-on homicide and cannot be put away simply for espousing unusually loathsome politics, any conviction will have to rest on demonstrating his command responsibility. The prosecutors must prove that he ordered killings, or that he knew about slaughter and chose not to stop it. But the prosecution wants more than that. For a real success, the court must convict Milosevic of being not merely the end of the Serb military chain of command, but actively in charge.

For that outcome, the best witnesses are former Serb officials. Because many Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia feel betrayed by Milosevic thanks to actions he took during in the mid-1990s, the prosecutors have managed to assemble a formidable lineup of insiders willing to testify against him. Lazarevic, the former intelligence agent, was among the first of these, and he painted a damning picture of the densely interlocking links among the various Serb nationalist forces in the former Yugoslavia and the government in Belgrade. Another insider identified the voices on a Bosnian intelligence intercept as Milosevic talking to Karadzic. The courtroom listened in as the two discussed uniting the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, and Milosevic told Karadzic to get weapons from a Yugoslav National Army (JNA) garrison inside Bosnia. On the intercept, the judges heard Milosevic telling Karadzic in July 1991, as Tito's Yugoslavia crumbled, "Take radical steps and speed things up, and we shall see if the European Community is going to fulfill their guarantees, if they are going to stop that violence." A JNA general in charge of military counterintelligence, Aleksandar Vasiljevic, has testified about Milosevic's responsibility for the war in Croatia. During Vasiljevic's testimony, the prosecution introduced a smoking-gun letter from June 1993, in which a leader of the Krajina Serbs asked Milosevic to "put pressure" on the JNA to help him in his fight against the Croatian government -- the kind of letter one sends only to the man in charge.

The result is a grand history lesson, meant to change minds. Bogdan Ivanisevic, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Belgrade, says,

The insider witnesses usually include a narrative about Milosevic betraying the Serbs. ... What insiders say is not just that the JNA and [the Krajina Serb army] and [the Bosnian Serb army] were one army, but that in 1995 [when the Croatian army reconquered the Krajina, sending some 100,000 Serb refugees fleeing,] the army didn't even try to protect Serbs, that Milosevic had some deal with Tudjman that let the Serbs become refugees, that the government did not welcome them. This is very credible. This segment of testimony turns many Serbs against Milosevic and makes them more willing to accept the testimony about crimes against non-Serbs.

"It's the revenge of the Krajina Serbs," says one tribunal official of this phase of the trial.


To undermine Milosevic's claims of powerlessness, the prosecutors have to show exactly how his regime in Belgrade controlled the entire Serb apparatus of ethnic murder and expulsion. This means looking at the inside details of whose palms were greased, where the killers came from, how the different Serb nationalist units outside Serbia's borders coordinated their attacks, how they negotiated in bad faith, how they gulled the UN and the world, how deniability was supposed to be preserved, what lies were fed to whom -- and how it was all done on orders from the top.

The operational details of Serbian expansion, as they spill out day after day, are lessons in applied thuggery. According to Lazarevic, who was assigned to the Krajina in 1992, the Serb army there had a special "antiterrorist unit" attached to each of its corps, made up of "40 to 45 young men generally with extensive criminal records," in charge of harassing or killing civilians and other "dirty jobs" that regular JNA officers might refuse. The Krajina Serbs also supplied hundreds of muscular enforcers to handle anti-Milosevic demonstrators back in Belgrade: "They were selecting really huge blokes, anything over six-two, to assign them to Belgrade and deal with the demonstrators, and most of them actually were joking, like, they're going to go over there and beat the living" -- Lazarevic paused for a beat, remembering he was in court -- "daylights out of the anticommunist demonstrators."

At one point Lazarevic told of organizing a one-for-one exchange of 100 dead with the Bosnian army. Since the Serbs had only 90 Bosnian corpses ready at hand, he went to the secret police "because there [were] some dead bodies kind of buried around." Two Croat prisoners were forced to start digging, but ran into difficulties:

They did dig out four bodies. The problem that I had with them, first they were in a high state of decomposition, so it was not something that happened recently in a combat situation. Obviously they were there for a considerable number of months. And the second even more worrying thing was that all four bodies had their hands tied with wire up front, which would suggest they were executed, that they did not actually die in a combat situation. But being pressed for the bodies, nevertheless I took those four, removed the wire, and put them in the body bags.

To fill out his quota, Lazarevic was directed to an officer of Arkan's Tigers, the bloodstained Serb paramilitary group: "[He] calmly said he doesn't have any dead bodies, however he does have six live ones and I can have them if I need them badly enough." The next morning, "there were six dead bodies lined up which appeared to be very freshly killed."

From the proceedings, the contempt that Serb nationalists had for the West becomes clear. Serb convoys would declare themselves humanitarian while actually carrying automatic weapons. When the un-sponsored Vance Plan required the demobilization of the Krajina Serb army, Lazarevic testified, "What we did, we changed the uniform overnight from military olive-green into the police blue and within a very short period of time, I'd say within ten hours, we have repainted all the military vehicles." At four international peace conferences, the Krajina Serb delegation got its instructions from Serbian officials in Belgrade, up to the rank of Milosevic's cabinet: "The idea was not to agree on anything. That was very simple to follow." "Slobo" or "the boss" is described as wanting peace talks to fail.

Chilling as all of these details are, what is most important is the testimony about the chain of command. At the trial, Milosevic is clinging to the claim that the JNA, for which he was officially responsible, was barely involved with the wars in Bosnia and Croatia. But Lazarevic, speaking about the JNA and its Krajina Serb and Bosnian Serb counterparts, testified, "We are not talking about three different armies. We are talking about one and only one army. ... [A]ll the supplies and the finances would come from Yugoslavia, Serbia." For important military matters, the Krajina Serb military reported to JNA chief of staff Momcilo Perisic in Belgrade. JNA officers would commonly serve a six-month stint with the Krajina Serb forces. The corridor connecting Belgrade and the Krajina Serbs was called the "jugular vein" -- "if you cut that one off, the life is gone." And beyond military matters, Lazarevic's testimony was just as damning on Belgrade's control of Serb secret police forces.


It is too much to say that Milosevic is defeNDIng himself. The judges regularly have to remind him to stick to the case ("Avoid narratives and concentrate on asking short questions," says one), with presiding judge Richard May of the United Kingdom maintaining steely politeness in the face of harangues and tangents. The prosecution lawyers are obviously unafraid of Milosevic's legal skills. But Milosevic is anything but stupid, and he must understand the trap that Del Ponte's office is laying for him. So he tries to undermine the insider testimony about the chain of command.

Milosevic swings back and forth between two modes: thundering defiance, like Hermann Göring in Nuremberg, and evasion of responsibility, like Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In his defiant mode, Milosevic's preferred theme is the enduring infamy of the familiar villains of his former state-controlled media: "the revamped Ustasha movement" among Croats, foreign mujahideen abetting "Islamic fundamentalism" among Bosnia's Muslims, and NATO imperialists. The war's atrocities, Milosevic repeatedly insists, were faked. The Srebrenica massacre, he says, was the work of French intelligence. Commenting on the 1991 massacre of 200 Croats in a Vukovar hospital, for which The Hague has iNDIcted three senior JNA officers, Milosevic said, "Ustashas ... withdrew after the surrender of Vukovar and dressed into medical staff clothing in order to portray themselves as the medical staff and the wounded." He explained that "this practice of killing their own people ... was typical for the Muslim side during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina." For Milosevic, international condemnation of atrocities is just an anti-Serb plot: "Whatever the Serbs do, they commit a crime."

His chances of acquittal, however, lie not in defiance but in his Eichmann-style claims that he was just a normal civil servant who displayed no particular initiative. At these times Milosevic casts himself as a cross between Eichmann and Serbia's answer to the queen of England. He was, in this view, almost a nominal figurehead during the wars, a president who somehow seems to have been out of the loop on every major decision taken throughout the slaughters that raged from 1991 to 1999.

But the self-important strongman in Milosevic's psyche finds it hard to hold the cringing Eichmann pose for long. Thus he clamors for his old Scotch-drinking buddy Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state, to come to The Hague and testify that it was Milosevic who reined in the Bosnian Serbs in 1995, paving the way for the Dayton accord. This is true -- U.S. diplomats secretly called it "the Milosevic strategy" -- but it is also counterproductive vanity. Milosevic is inviting Holbrooke to testify that the Serbian leader could turn off the bloodbath when he wanted to, proving that he was in control and therefore guilty as charged.

Similarly, Milosevic conducts much of his defense using information fed to him by Serbian security services that still cling to him. And he cannot resist producing letters from loyal supporters in the region that nastily accuse the witness of the day of a wide range of treasons. Yet this implicitly strengthens the prosecution's case, since the more Milosevic can produce secret files or obviously stage-managed letters from toadies swearing they never took orders from Belgrade, the more obvious it is that he was and is their boss.

During his cross-examination of Lazarevic, Milosevic's most basic trick was to just call the witness a British spy or a liar, which he did repeatedly and with gusto. (Although there were some inconsistencies in Lazarevic's testimony, Milosevic never managed to catch the former spy in a major falsehood.) When this tack seemed not to be working, he attacked the accusations of command responsibility. For example, after Lazarevic testified that the Krajina Serb army was supplied and funded by Serbia, Milosevic tried to wave that away, appealing to the long-suffering Judge May: "Economic aid has nothing to do with commanding, Mr. May, and you should know this."

With the vanity of a former head of state, Milosevic could not hide his contempt for a low-level spy such as Lazarevic. He rudely told him that the tribunal's interpreters speak much better English than Lazarevic does. And he boasted that "Several other million Serbs ... call me Slobo ... which I hope you know." "Well," Lazarevic zinged back, "usually it was in a very negative context when they called you Slobo. ... I'm surprised that you brought that up" -- a reference to the revolutionary slogan of 2000, "Slobo, Slobo, save Serbia and kill yourself."

When Lazarevic said, "Mr. Milosevic, you were at the head of the army at that time [in the 1990s] and you know that full well," Milosevic, demonstrating that he understands the legal stakes perfectly, replied, "That's what you claim, and you're claiming that in order to, how shall I put it, support this false iNDIctment." Milosevic asked, "You mean that Belgrade wishe[d] to expel the Croats from their homes?" "'Belgrade' was synonymous with you, Mr. Milosevic," said Lazarevic. "'Belgrade' meant you." "Oh, I see," Milosevic replied sarcastically. "That's rather a large synonym."


Milosevic's ultimate audience is not the judges (who have clearly had a bellyful of his poor courtroom etiquette), but the Serbs. Since he denies that the "false tribunal" has any legitimacy, to him the trial is just a colossal paid advertisement for his fiery brand of Serb nationalism. In his rants against the non-Serbs, NATO, and the tribunal at The Hague, Milosevic is still trying to stir up trouble. A lot of people, he says, see Yugoslav affairs his way, and "when I say a lot of people, I mean millions."

This is nonsense. Despite his courtroom theatrics, Milosevic remains consistently and intensely unpopular at home. A November 2002 survey by the International Republican Institute found that Serbian views of Milosevic were essentially unchanged since May 2001 (when the tracking poll started, with Milosevic in a Belgrade cell waiting to be shipped to The Hague): 66 percent unfavorable to only 17 percent favorable. These are the figures not of a hero, but of a man who lost an election, tried to rig the results, was overthrown in a popular revolution, and finally was arrested and deported by his successors.

Despite occasional press reports about Milosevic's gala performance in the dock, the opening of his trial in February 2002 gave his popularity only a small and temporary boost, from 16 percent favorable in January to 21 percent in March, falling back to 17 percent by June. "His conspiracy theories still resonate pretty well here," says Ivanisevic of Human Rights Watch. "When he is unfriendly to Kosovar witnesses, they [Serb nationalists] may relate to this, because of the strong anti-Albanian sentiment that existed here. On the other hand, objectively speaking, he did destroy their lives."

To be sure, many Serbians despise both the defendant and the tribunal. "There was a near consensus of indifference to crimes against non-Serbs" throughout the 1990s, says Ivanisevic. A May 2002 poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) found that 30 percent of Serbians thought the tribunal was conducting a fair trial but 57 percent thought it was unfair. In another poll, only 32 percent of Serbians supported cooperating with the tribunal in The Hague, while 47 percent said they would prefer to address war crimes only in Yugoslavia's own courts and 13 percent said they would suspend war crimes investigations altogether.

In a bizarre irony, Milosevic's most powerful implicit defender is Kostunica, the man who overthrew him. In October 2000, during his first state television interview after the revolution, Kostunica denounced the tribunal in terms not much different from those Milosevic himself now uses: "The Hague court is not an international court, it is an American court and it is absolutely controlled by the American government. It is a means of pressure that the American government uses for realizing its influence here." According to Joris (Del Ponte's diplomatic adviser), Kostunica's "position is a matter of conviction: this place [the court] is evil. He's always been a nationalist. He was a vocal advocate of Greater Serbia, but not of rape and 'ethnic cleansing.' But he never wanted to see the consequences of that policy. To him, Bosnia was a civil war, with deaths on all sides."

Kostunica's government accordingly resisted cooperation with The Hague. Prosecutors complained that over half of their requests for documents went unanswered. Two JNA officers, indicted for the 1991 Vukovar massacre that Milosevic denies ever happened, are still on the loose. Prosecutors are particularly frustrated that Ratko Mladic -- twice indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, the second time for personally overseeing the Srebrenica massacre -- is still at large, despite the pleas of Del Ponte and even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mladic, arguably the most hated man in Bosnia, is seen as a war hero by many in Serbia. Until March 2002, Joris says, he "was staying in military facilities. Top members of the Yugoslav armed forces are organizing Mladic's protection."

Kostunica's actions have solidified preexisting Serbian resentment of the tribunal at The Hague. Even Zoran Djindjic, the recently assassinated reformist and pro-Western Serbian prime minister who sent Milosevic to trial, argued for cooperation with the tribunal primarily as a way to get Western economic aid. Only Goran Svilanovic, the human rights activist turned Yugoslav foreign minister, makes a case for extraditing war criminals on principle.

As the Milosevic trial has turned to insider testimony dealing with Croatia and Bosnia, many tribunal officials are worried that their message is not yet getting through. The tribunal's press office complains that some Serbian media outlets -- even the relatively liberal ones -- cover the trial too narrowly, framing the story in terms of Milosevic's day-to-day courtroom performance rather than the broader pattern of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. Prosecutors complain that even after Plavsic contritely pled guilty to crimes against humanity in October 2002, there was little soul-searching among Serb nationalists. "Most Serbs have a position," says Liam McDowall, the chief of the tribunal's regional outreach program. "It's preconceived ideas. And then people cheer or pooh-pooh."

Other tribunal-watchers see more progress, however slow. Human Rights Watch's Ivanisevic argues,

Even though they have resistance to hearing non-Serb witnesses, people do take into consideration what they hear. The trial has caused reduced myth-making in Serbia. You don't hear, as you did prior to the trial, ... that Srebrenica didn't happen or that the Muslims killed themselves. I wouldn't minimize this reduced space for rewriting history. As for acknowledgment of our side's crimes, it's a psychological barrier too difficult [to cross -- admitting] that the policy we supported was criminal. It will take time. It may take a new generation that was not implicated.

Indeed, even Nuremberg's success (at least within Germany) was largely a matter of time and generational change. The trial opened many minds, but some unrepentant Nazis would never accept the court -- even though they might be cowed into keeping their mouths shut in public. But their children took Nuremberg to heart. The new, post-Nazi generation held war crimes trials of their own: in 1963-65, the Frankfurt trials for the men who ran Auschwitz, and in 1975-81, the Dusseldorf trials for those who ran Majdanek.

One can see the possible stirrings of a similar process in Serbia today. The young there are noticeably more reformist than their elders (although there are plenty of young nationalists too). Among Serbians aged 18 to 30, 40 percent support full cooperation with The Hague; for those 30 to 44, the figure falls to 38 percent; for those from 45 to 59, it drops to 28 percent; and for those over 60, to 24 percent. The NDI poll found that Milosevic's biggest fans remain what it called the "angry old" -- Serbians who long for the past. More reform-minded Serbians, especially what the NDI calls "new Serbia" -- youthful and Western-oriented voters -- have nothing but contempt for him. Education and gender play roles too; university-educated women are probably the least nationalist people in Serbia. There are competing visions of what Serbia could become, not just Kostunica's nationalist view.


If the Serbs constitute a prime audience for the Milosevic trial, they are not the only one. The tribunal was meant to nurture not only repentance among perpetrators, but also forgiveness, or at least some measure of solace, among victims. It is too early to see whether this will work for the people of Bosnia and Croatia, whose sufferings the court is just beginning to review. But surely it will give them some satisfaction. And it should have a broader significance as well, showing that there can indeed be a middle path for post-atrocity societies somewhere between lasting communal blood feuds and shameful silence.

For all the tribunal's frustrations, there was and is no real alternative. Its mission is profoundly important and could not have been accomplished better in some other way. Now that Milosevic is out of Serbian politics, he is on his way to becoming a nobody; his people are no longer interested in him. Only 16 percent of Serbians say they are following the trial "very closely," with an additional 35 percent saying they are following it "somewhat closely." These people may watch with resentment, or with opening minds, but few really care. The Serbian public is vastly more concerned with the country's decrepit economy, crime, and corruption than with Milosevic's fate. The tyrant has become irrelevant.

For the first time since becoming president of Serbia in 1989, Milosevic is being treated as yesterday's man. He suffers a host of courtroom humiliations. When Stjepan Mesic, the reformist president of Croatia, testified against him in October 2002, the current head of state needled his deposed counterpart, addressing him as "Mr. Accused." Paddy Ashdown, a former leader of the United Kingdom's Liberal Democrats, reminded Milosevic that he had been put on notice back in 1998, as Serb forces ratcheted up their repression in Kosovo: "I warned you that if you took those steps and went on doing this you would end up in this court. And here you are." Even worse, by his lights, Milosevic is stuck confronting people and accusations that he clearly thinks beneath him. But unable to draw on the full apparatus of state power, he often takes a drubbing.

After Lazarevic's testimony, the former tyrant stayed in his cell for a week, complaining of exhaustion. Cross-examining his accuser, he had said, "So this is another untruth, Mr. Lazarevic, spread out by you. Is that right or not?" Lazarevic snapped back, "Mr. Milosevic, you are starting from an unbelievable position, which is that the whole world is lying and that you are the only one telling the truth."

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  • Gary J. Bass is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals.
  • More By Gary J. Bass