BELGRADE (Reuters) - During his lifetime Slobodan Milosevic divided the peoples of the Balkans. Now, 12 years after he died during his trial for war crimes, the onetime Serbian strongman is set to divide them again - this time as a character in a play.
Milosevic rode a wave of populist nationalism to power in Belgrade in 1989 as communism was collapsing across eastern Europe, then led Serbia through a decade of wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
Hailed by Serbian nationalists as their defender against Catholic Croats and Bosnian and Kosovar Albanian Muslims, Milosevic was reviled as a brutal dictator by the West and eventually, after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999, lost power and ended up on trial for war crimes in The Hague.
A Belgrade-based writer, Jelena Bogavac, has now written a play to be performed by Kosovo Serbs in the Kosovo town of Gracanica that attempts to portray the full complexity of a man still blamed by many across the Balkans for the deaths and suffering of tens of thousands of people.
“Initially we wanted to do a play telling personal stories of Kosovo Serbs in the 1990s, but as we conducted interviews we realised it all came down to one common denominator - Milosevic,” Jelena Bogavac, who wrote the play, told Reuters.
“In the play we are presenting the chronology of events which ends in the Hague,” said Bogavac during rehearsals of her play in Belgrade.
Entitled “The Lift - The Slobodan Show”, the play is a musical which focuses more on his personal relationship with his powerful wife Mirjana, his daughter Marija and his son Marko than on politics, according to an unfinished script seen by Reuters.
In one scene he comforts his daughter over the poor financial state of her radio station, and in another he tells Marko not to overheat the water in the family swimming pool.
The final part of the play - his trial in the Hague, where he died of a heart attack in 2006 - is yet to be completed.
The play is unlikely to please the ethnic Albanians who form the majority in Kosovo, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 in a move still not recognised by Serbia or by the 40,000 ethnic Serbs still living in Kosovo.
An estimated 800,000 ethnic Albanians were displaced and about 10,000 killed by Milosevic’s forces in the late 1990s.
“No one will change history with a play,” Naser Shatrolli, a Kosovo Albanian director and playwright, told Reuters.
“It doesn’t matter what the play says. Milosevic is a criminal, a tyrant, who destroyed the whole Balkans region, not only Albanians, and he will stay like this and no one will change that.”
Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Gareth Jones