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PERSPECTIVE: This isn't the end, it's just beginning; Montenegro's split from Serbia may be the end for Yugoslavia but, writes Anglo-Serb Stan Ilic, it doesn't mean it's the end of the pain.

Byline: Stan Ilic

So, the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia is complete. It is officially deceased - an ex-country - and I won't shed many tears for it.

Neither will the hundreds of thousands of its sons and daughters who have been maimed, murdered and displaced since it turned on itself 16 years ago.

The life support machine keeping what was left of the body alive was effectively switched off by the narrow vote in Montenegro in favour of secession from its uneasy union with Serbia.

It was the final, fatal blow, and out of keeping with the brutal nature of the Balkans. Where the limbs of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and effectively Kosovo were violently severed some while ago, the rump of Serbia and Montenegro was divided, not by war, but by the ballot box. An indication, perhaps, that after 16 years of conflict pretty much everyone's all fought out.

The great powers actually made their own version of Big Brother 80 years ahead of its time when they created Yugoslavia in the aftermath of the First World War. Take six vastly different peoples, put them under one roof, sit back and wait for the fireworks to happen in the Balkan Brother house.

The watching world wasn't disappointed, with civil war raging in Yugoslavia in parallel to the Second World War before a period of calm (or fear and subjugation depending on your standpoint) ensued under the Communist rule of Tito. Fast forward to 1990 and we were all voyeurs as the housemates inflicted unspeakable acts of cruelty upon each other over the next decade.

Just as in Big Brother, there had to be a hate figure. Croatia's President Franjo Tudjman, who had all the right qualifications, was left in a mere supporting role.

Because many, not all, of those hate figures were Serbian. Arkan, Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic all took turns at filling the position. Some are still viewed as heroes in Serbia, but to the rest of the world they will be remembered as the architects and instruments of barbarity.

And that's the hardest thing to take as a Serb born in this country to parents who left Yugoslavia post World War Two. I have watched the name and reputation of my people demonised in the eyes of the rest of the world. And it hurts. It hurts much more than the final death of a country no-one cared for or felt they belonged to.

Being Anglo-Serb hasn't been easy for the last 16 years. I understood, when it appeared that Yugoslavia would fall apart with the secessions of Croatia and Bosnia, that the significant Serbian populations in those areas would be fearful. I understood because my family hailed from a village in the Krajina region of Croatia.

The deaths of three quarters of a million Serbs, Jews and gypsies at the hands of the Ustashe - the Nazi puppet regime installed in Croatia from 1941-45 - were still raw in the memories of many.

But the Serbs were given hope by the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to power on a wave of nationalism. He told them that Serbs wouldn't be divided, that he would protect them. He tried the only way he knew how. He waged war in Croatia - and lost. He then waged war in Bosnia - and lost. He then waged war in Kosovo - which is so ingrained in Serbian history and culture with its important battlefields, churches and monasteries. And guess what happened there. Yup, he lost that one too.

And that's where the hurt turns to anger. Because where the Serbian leadership decided that the iron fist would be best, our former countrymen in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia were smarter.

They took the sophisticated route of diplomacy, alliances and trade-offs, securing promises of support from European allies. They also won the publicity battle - aided and abetted by some of the Serbian tactics on the battlefield. The old saying of 'lions led by donkeys' certainly rings true when you think of what's happened to the Serbian people.

So in the Balkan Brother house the undoubted winners are those that were evicted first. The last housemate standing - Serbia - is the loser. Isolated and last in the queue as far as membership of the European Union is concerned. And all of the legitimate concerns Serbia had over the loss of land and control over its people are forgotten. The remaining Serbs in Kosovo are now persecuted and attacked as the Kosovans once said they were. Churches and monasteries are looted and burnt but the outside world chooses to turn a blind eye.

The secession of Montenegro is therefore just one scene in the last act of a Balkan tragedy that has taken most of the last century and the first part of this to play out.

That act has already seen the premature death of Slobodan Milosevic during his War Crimes trial at The Hague.

It was a blessing, sparing us the endless replays of the horrors of the 1990s and the start of Serbia's path to self-destruction. All that remains is the hunt for Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, two men wanted by The Hague for war crimes.

There are many that will see their capture and trial as closure of sorts - payback for the ethnic cleansing and atrocities committed in Bosnia. But Serbs will be dreading it - because it means a final end to the nightmare we slipped into 16 years ago is still not in sight.

Just as in Big Brother, there had to be a hate figure. Croatia's President Franjo Tudjman, who had all the right qualifications, was left in a mere supporting role

The secession of Montenegro is therefore just one scene in the last act of a Balkan tragedy that has taken most of the last century and the first part of this to play out


ITV Central Sport Editor and a former Birmingham Post reporter, Stan Ilic, won't be shedding a tear for the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia' Bosnian Muslim refugees housed in school buildings in Tusla, north east Bosnia
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 26, 2006
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