Milosevic's death stirs debate over sullied leaders

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Authorities were faced with a dilemma: allowing a home burial could be seen as conceding Milosevic a measure of historical respect. But for the nationalist leader a foreign resting place would have been a final snub. It's a decision many governments have had to face.

Repatriating or honouring the remains of leaders who die after being exiled or overthrown risks signalling the rehabilitation of their reputations - a worrying prospect for authorities keen not to resurrect old social divisions.

But a newfound fondness for leaders past can also be traced to nostalgia for the passage of history with which they are associated.

For more than 20 years from Uganda's independence in 1962, power exchanged hands several times between two men - Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Both were eventually deposed and exiled, Amin in 1979 and Obote in 1985.

Both leaders were accused of atrocities in power, with hundreds of thousands of people estimated to have died due to the actions of each man.

But when they died in exile within two years of each other, only one was accorded a state funeral: Obote, whose remains were flown back to Kampala from Zambia after he died in 2005.

When Amin died in Saudi Arabia in 2003, his family were given the option of flying his remains home, but a state ceremony was ruled out.

"To put it crudely, it's the kill rate," Patrick Smith, editor of the UK-based Africa Confidential newsletter, told the BBC News website.

"I know people differ on this, but most of the counts reckon Amin was the most evil of all the mass murderers."

While opinion on Obote was mixed, with some crediting him for helping bring independence to Uganda, "everyone was heartily sick of Amin and glad that he was gone", says Mr Smith.

But Mr Smith says international perceptions of the two leaders also helped shape domestic reaction to their deaths.

"They are different figures - Obote was a presidential figure with an academic backdrop, while Amin was a large thug. There was caricature and racism in the way the West treated Amin," he says.

Far away in the north of the Philippines, the corpse of the authoritarian former President Ferdinand Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 after being overthrown in popular protests in 1986, lies in a refrigerated mausoleum.

For years, his wife Imelda has campaigned for his remains to be given state honours and a hero's burial in Manila.

But her husband is so discredited - and his wife so maligned in the press for her lavish lifestyle and corrupt associations - that she has little chance of ever realising her goal, say analysts.

In China, authorities are acutely aware of the power of memorial ceremonies to become a focus for protest.

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were triggered by the death of a party leader, Hu Yaobang, a reformist dismissed in 1987 for failing to deal strongly enough with student protests.

His successor, Zhao Ziyang, opposed the harsh measures taken against the Tiananmen protesters - and was himself sacked and put under house arrest. When he died in 2005, authorities acted quickly to minimise the public reaction.

Government officials known to be sympathetic to him were forbidden to leave their homes, and only officially approved guests were allowed entry.

The story of the Romanovs - the family of Russian Tsar Nicolas II - also provides an interesting example of how the bestowal of state honours can be symbolic of a deeper social judgement.

The family and their servants were shot dead and buried in a forest pit by the Bolsheviks after the October 1917 revolution. In 1998, the remains were reburied at St Petersburg cathedral. President Boris Yeltsin spoke during the ceremony, referring to the murders as one of the most "shameful pages" in Russia's history.

"The reburial was hugely significant," says Professor McGregor Knox, European historian at LSE.

Despite his defeat in successive wars, many Russians associate Tsar Nicolas with the great expansion of Russia in the 18th and 19th Centuries, says Prof Knox.

More importantly, however, he says the homage paid to the imperial family reflected profound dissatisfaction with the decades of communist rule.

"I remember seeing, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, a demo on Red Square. There was a placard which said '70 years on the road to nowhere' - it was the sense that Russia had been ripped off its normal path by the revolution," he said.

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821 in lonely exile on the island of St Helena, six years after surrendering to the British at the Battle of Waterloo.

But 19 years later his remains were returned to Paris to be entombed under the magnificent dome of Les Invalides.

"At eleven, I leave the house. The streets are empty, the shops shut. Here and there an old woman walks about," he wrote in an article on 15 December 1840 called The Interment of Napoleon.

"You can feel all of Paris tilt to one side, like water in a basin... Rue Sainte-Andre-des-Arcs, you begin to sense the festivities. - Yes, festivity: a corpse-in-exile is coming back in triumph...

"I came home along the boulevards. The mass of people remains enormous. ... Little children shout: 'Long live the emperor!' This whole ceremony had something of a magician's trick about it. The government seemed afraid of the ghost it was evoking. It both showed and concealed Napoleon. What was too great or too touching about him was set aside." (Translation by Keith Botsford.)

In the intervening years between his death and the repatriation of his remains, "Napoleon's reputation had gone up enormously," says Prof Knox.

"The 1.8m French dead in the wars of revolution were forgotten, and the drab restoration monarchy was not inspiring to many good French nationalists. Napoleon represented the era of glory when France dominated Europe."

Some discredited leaders are aware of the sensitivities their deaths may occasion. Disgraced US President Richard Nixon, for example, averted a posthumous row by himself decreeing that he should not be buried with state honours.

But there are other arguments looming. In Africa, the former rulers of Ethiopia and Chad, Haile Mengistu Mariam and Hissene Habre, are growing old in exile.

And deep-rooted passions will return to the surface in Chile when General Augusto Pinochet dies.

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