To His Death in Jail, Milosevic Exalted Image of Serb Suffering

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To the last, a solitary death yesterday in a United Nations cell near an international court he derided, Slobodan Milosevic clung to the notion that all the Balkan destruction he ignited and presided over was no more than a response to aggression against his long-suffering Serbian people.

My aim is to present the truth, and that takes time," the former Serbian president told the tribunal in The Hague, a prelude to painstaking circumlocutions that sought over more than four years to cast the author of Yugoslavia's destruction as a misunderstood man bent only on that country's defense.

In fact, the truth for Mr. Milosevic was always a commodity to be manipulated in the single-minded pursuit of power. Everyone — Croats reinvented as World War II fascists, Bosnian Muslims recast as marauding Ottoman Turks, multiplying Kosovo Albanians redrawn as agents of "demographic genocide" against the Serbs — was fit material for Mr. Milosevic's overriding myth of Serbian suffering.

That myth held a heady power over many years. As Communism collapsed in Europe and his own Yugoslavia in the late 1980's, Mr. Milosevic seized the potential of nationalism as what Miroslav Hroch, a Czech political theorist, has called "a substitute for factors of integration in a disintegrating society."

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