With Slobodan Milosevic’s extradition to an official from the U.N. war crimes tribunal yesterday, Yugoslav governmental authorities are now facing the prospect that the nation’s former president may become a more powerful symbol as a prisoner than he was as dictator.

Despite growing evidence of war crimes during Milosevic’s regime, which has recently been uncovered by the Serbian government, Milosevic retains the loyalty of a considerable number of the Serbian people.

A recent report by the Interior Ministry of Serbia states that “some 1,000 bodies had been buried in mass graves in Serbia,” and that there are “indications” of another mass grave, according to Radio Yugoslavia, the official broadcasting service of the Yugoslav government.

“Those who ordered the crimes and their perpetrators will be brought to justice, and that will abolish the collective responsibility of the Serbian people,” declared Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajovic.

A former – and still loyal – Milosevic adviser asserted, however, that “no single piece of evidence connects him [Milosevic] personally with these crimes.”

Also, many are not convinced of the reality of the “collective responsibility of the Serbian people.”

At a recent pro-Milosevic rally, one demonstrator described Milosevic as a “national hero,” whose only crime was “raising his voice in defense of this people,” according to a BBC shortwave radio report.

“We’ve been sold out. Everyone else can defend themselves – but not us Serbs,” the distraught protester said.

Opposition parties in the Serbian Assembly are seeking new elections to oust the present government controlled by the reformers, who came to power after the fall of Milosevic. Observers assume “collective responsibility” would follow the reformers out of office.

Included in the list of opposition parties seeking a new vote in Serbia is the Socialist Party of Serbia, which still retains Milosevic as its president.

The possible conviction of Milosevic before the War Crimes Tribunal raises serious questions about Serbia, the Yugoslav government and, in general, peace in the Balkans.

Serbia is the larger of the two partners still comprising the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Montenegro is the other member.

Born after WWI, Yugoslavia was an attempt by the West to resolve the perpetual feuding between several small Balkan states by placing them into one large nation. After WWII, Josip Broz Tito and his partisans gained control of the country and transformed Yugoslavia into a communist nation.

The Yugoslav federation held until the early 1990s, when most of the federation member states broke away.

Now, Montenegro is also charting its own independence path. Radio Yugoslavia reported the statement of an influential member of the Montenegrin government, stating that Montenegro “refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the federal state,” and that the nation is conducting its own foreign policy.

If Montenegro continues on its course, Serbia will be bereft of all its former partners.

The pressures on Serbia from the international community remain strong, and fly in the face of still-virulent Serb nationalism. In its quest – which succeeded yesterday – for Milosevic, the War Crimes Tribunal has demanded Milosevic’s extradition, regardless of Yugoslav or Serb law. The global court consistently asserts the supremacy of international law over any national legislation.

The international community also demands that Belgrade cease assisting its fellow Serbs in the Republic of Srpska — one of the ethnic entities making up the Bosnian republic.

In the June 27, 2000, edition of the International Herald Tribune, the president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Gareth Evans, cited the financial support Belgrade gives to the Republic of Srpska, and demanded its end.

The ICG is a highly influential non-governmental organization, and is supported in large part by the European Union and several European nations.

Evans stated that some 4,000 officers hold commissions in both the Yugoslav and Srpka armed forces, and that Belgrade pays salaries and pensions to personnel in the Republic of Srpka military.

Belgrade must also encourage, according to Evans, ethnic Serbs to participate in the elections in the nominally Yugoslav province of Kosovo, scheduled to take place in November.

Yugoslavia lost effective control over Kosovo after the 78-day NATO air war in 1999. Since then Belgrade has consistently asserted that Serbs were being driven from Kosovo with little protection from the KFOR troops supplied by NATO.

Belgrade has also strenuously protested against the new constitution adopted by the UN civil authorities in Kosovo. The Yugoslav government claims that the newly adopted code makes Kosovo a de facto independent state.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.