An estimated 50,000 mourners joined a two-hour ceremony in Belgrade Saturday to honour Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader and accused war criminal who died last weekend.
They cried "Slobo," his nickname, as they wept and expressed their anger about his death outside the parliament buildings in Belgrade.
The government did not permit a state funeral so the Socialist party, once led by Milosevic, organized the memorial which had many characteristics of a political rally.
"We are bidding farewell to the best one among us, fully conscious of his greatness," said Socialist official Milorad Vucelic. Top Serbian nationalists and retired generals from the former Yugoslav army stood by the podium.
The Socialist Party of Serbia may be in eclipse, its leader dead and its institutional legacy frittered away. Unfortunately, the still more explicitly nationalist Serbian Radical Party has grown to fill its place and then some. As Doug Saunders, writing in The Globe and Mail, discovered, explicitly revanchist and revisionist nationalism seems to be common among the youth of Serbia.
When I visited Nebojsa Markovic, the young history teacher at Belgrade Fourteenth Secondary School, he shrugged. “Most teachers in Serbia don't mention the last 15 years of history; it's too difficult and embarrassing,” he said. “But if you want to find out what young people think, why don't you teach my Grade 12 20th-century history class today?”
The 30 students, most of them 18 years old, said they'd never had the opportunity to discuss Mr. Milosevic and his legacy in school. Current events aren't on the curriculum, but they were all eager to delve into the topic that had turned their country into an international pariah.
Before I could finish my introduction, I was interrupted by Mark Patrovic, a tall boy in a Diesel Jeans sweatshirt who sat in the second row.
“Why do you Westerners always come in and rewrite our history? We should learn only the truth in this class, and the truth is that Serbs have always fought against fascism, and Slobodan Milosevic was a man who defended Serbs and fought for our people,” he said calmly. “Your Western double standards have defined him as an aggressor.”
Some of his friends were nodding. A group of girls in the back row groaned.
Here was modern history, at least from one young Serb's perspective, a perspective not that different from that of Mr. Milosevic, who promoted a vision of the world that defined his people as both eternal heroes and perpetual victims.
One thing that outsider observers have feared, legitimately, is that the inevitable secession of Kosova and the probably secession of Montenegro will make Serbian nationalism still more popular as an ideology. This would certainly spell Serbia's exclusion from the European Union, and all of the EU's processes of integration. What makes this worse is the fact of Serbia's extreme economy. Slovenia's economy is approaching western European averages, while Croatia's economy, once almost as privileged as Slovenia's, only recovered pre-war levels in 2003. Serbia and Montenegro has an economy barely more than half as large as it was in 1990. Serbia is terribly poor, to say nothing of socially dysfunctional and excluded--thanks to post-Yugoslav visa regimes and immigrant quotas--from the free flow of human traffic that helped make Tito's Yugoslavia so relatively functional.
Has anyone done any contingency planning to cover the possibility of an embittered Serbia going ultranationalist, thus cutting itself off from the rest of Europe and hindering its chances of ever recovering to 1990 levels of GDP (by which time, of course, most of Serbia's neighbours would have long surpassed this)? Someone once suggested that a Serbia outside the EU's frontiers might try the Tijuana approach to prosperity, catering to the desires of Europeans for cheap manufactures, exotic sights, and base pleasures. Somehow I don't think that this will fly, whether among Serbs or their neighbours.