Monday, March 13, 2006

The Serbian Sherman McCoy

Slobodan Milosevic's death in custody removes all possibility of his ever being convicted of the crimes with which he was charged.
He thus dies an innocent man, in the eyes of the law at least - an unpalatable reality for those who have been filling column inches by calling him a 'butcher', but a reality nonetheless.
As an unconvicted defendant, Milosevic was as entitled to the benefit of the presumption of innocence as a homeowner accused of assaulting a burglar.
There are few comparators to the case of Milosevic in the history of criminal jurisprudence . Although the Nuremberg tribunals adjudicated crimes committed during wars between nations, the precedents for the trial of a head of state by an international tribunal for crimes committed within his own country are few and far between.
Perhaps it was the descent of Milosevic's trial into the rather ghastly horror show it became that might have prompted the decision to have Saddam Hussein face Iraqi rather than UN justice.
However, there is an almost perfect literary analogy for Milosevic's trial.
Sherman McCoy, the protagonist of Tom Wolfe's 'The Bonfire of the Vanities', is a prosecutor's dream. Wealthy, connected and patrician, he is described as being 'The Great White Defendant', whom prosecutors will be able to point to as proof of their even-handedness.
That political decision results in McCoy being harried for years.
His death means that Milosevic can now only stand trial in the court of history - yet one would hope that all involved in his prosecution are able to satisfy their consciences that their decison to pursue him was even-handed and based on the evidence, and did not flow from the tyranny of victor's justice.
We'll see.

2 comments:

snooo said...

My memory of Milosevic will always be of him being portrayed as a kind of puppet hate figure. Sure, he was utterly terrible and god knows what it was like to live in Serbia during the 1990s, but for a while in the media he seemed to be the banal embodiment of evil. Like Fred West, but happening to "run" a country. News reporters like to have their visible enemies, and he was it.

When I was younger I was quite excited by the 2000 revolution. Sure, it was happening miles away, but the links between B92 and alternative rock gave me and others the impression that it was led by the fans of the Smashing Pumpkins - although the outrage was broader than that elitist bunch.

Of course, we must not forget that atrocities were carried out on both sides, and that Croatians responsible for the worst massacres at their hands are also being brought to justice. If there turns out to be foul play in Milosevic's death, however, that process could be turned upside down.

snooo said...

Urgh, used Sure twice.... ick

The very model of a modern scientific man

Your humble Devil was thoroughly amused by Neil Ferguson's fall from grace, and is very pleased to have found the time to outline Fergus...