Milosevic's Long Shadow

Six weeks into his war crimes trial in the Hague - a process expected to last two years - Slobodan Milosevic still casts a long shadow over Serbia. Last weekend's arrest of Serbia's Vice-Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic and a senior US diplomat on espionage charges is but a hint of this.

Whether or not Perisic provided confidential military information to the American remains to be seen, but the fact that Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic demanded Perisic's resignation suggests that, at the least, Perisic overstepped the acceptable limits of contacts with foreign diplomats. In any case, this reflects the open wound that the Milosevic trial is for Serbia.

Djindjic accuses the Yugoslav National Army, controlled by President Vojislav Kostunica, of meddling in politics with these arrests. Kostunica says that the military was doing its job. Djindjic's problems are compounded because Perisic seems an unlikely reformer. A general during the Croatian War, a Croat court sentenced Perisic, in absentia, for war crimes. Later he became Milosevic's chief of staff and joined the opposition when Milosevic began to lose his grip on power.

The possible connection between Perisic's arrest and Milosevic's trial is this: Perisic might have been attempting to give information about the Army's involvement in actions of interest to the Hague prosecutors. Perisic's motives are many: a desire to take revenge on his former colleagues, or to destabilize Kostunica and/or to secure a promise that he will not be indicted by the Hague Tribunal. If this last is true, it will help confirm Serb suspicions that the Hague process stinks of politics.