The atrocities committed in the fomer Yugoslavia are a stain on humnity. As
Slobodan Milosevic contemplates his own fate, CHRIS STEPHEN tells Rodger Evans about a complex individual at the heart of a dark chapter in European history.
he banality of evil‘ was a phrase it~ not coined.
then certainly minted. by the philosopher
Hannah Arendt. ‘Iivil is never radical.’ she wrote in I‘M-l. ’It is only extreme . . . thought tries to reach sortie depth. to go to the roots. and the moment it concerns itself with evil. it is frustrated becattse there is nothing. That is its “banality”.’ Then. Arendt was writing of the Holocaust. I’orty years on and journalist (‘hris Stephen has penned a highly readable account ol‘ what took place in the Balkans in the 1990s. Lest we forget. and there really is no moral reason for us to do so. that troubled recent history included such atrocities as torture. rape. murder. ethnic cleansing. the running of concentration camps
and. yes. genocide. So much for the collective cry of
‘never again‘ following the liberation ol‘ Auschwitx. Dachau. Buchenwald etc in I‘MS.
Whether l‘ormer Serbian and Yugoslavian premier Slobodan Milosevic will be implicated by the ongoing LN War (‘rimes Tribunal with regard to the particular charge of genocide seems unlikely. In fact. only one of the many crimes being ' considered by the tribunal has been placed in that category: Srebrenica. the city whose 7()()() Muslims were murdered in 1995. Which is not to suggest that the ursine and bombastic Milosevic can hope to evade justice. The case against him might run for two more years but such is the weight of evidence it is inconceivable that he will not spend the rest of his life in jail. ‘Slobo may actually provide an enormous service to humanity.‘ says Stephen. ‘Il' he gets convicted then other warlords might think “I don‘t want to go the satne way." Ironically. he could save lives. He could even be a human rights sytnbol.~
Milosevic is a cttrious ligure indeed. A family man with contempt for tnost everybody else: a ruthless political operator who had to be first persuaded to
90 THE LIST I)? .Jti' 5) Alt} .7007.
‘MILOSEVIC IS A PSYCHOTIC . . . HE DOESN'T COMPREHEND
leave a career in banking: a committed communist who ditched the party in l‘avour ol‘ Serb nationalism; and an arch nationalist who abandoned the campaign tor a (ireater Serbia once it no longer suited. ‘I interviewed a Serbian lawyer. a senior guy who works with a lot ol‘ psychiatric cases.’ recalls Stephen. ‘lle said Milosevic is a psychotic. The way that it
manil'ests itself is that he doesn‘t comprehend guilt. If
he saw a blind man with a coin he would take that coin not because he's cruel bill because it gives him an advantage: and the other way that he operates is to meet with people one to one so he can find weaknesses and vanities and then spin you along.~
lividently a brilliant manipulator and opportttnist. Milosevic was a seistnically ambitious individual who machinated. cajoled and blackmailed his way to power. And now there are simply no words that can dojustice to the carnage perpetrated in Kosovo. Bosnia. and ('roatia. ‘The horror? The horror!~ was all that Joseph ('onrad could bestow on Ktll‘l/ in Heart of l)(lI‘/\'II(’.\'.\'. In Judgement Day. Stephen recounts so many instances of the utmost depravity
committed mostly (it not exclusively) either by Serbs or in the name ol’ Serbia
that a passing rel‘ercncc to ‘medieval‘ might be considered a slur on despots and despoilers from an earlier age.
Yet amidst the death and destruction. between the mass graves and the depressing legacy of social mistrust and damaged lives throughout the region. one l'N prosecutor told Stephen of her own reasons l‘or going on. ‘You‘ve got to be able to think about giving these people a voice. In doing this you are allowing them somehow to speak again.~
Judgement Day is published on Thu 22 Jul by Atlantic Books.
Debutants under the microscope. This issue Rebecca Gowers. Who she? Gowers is up to her ears in crime, having researched the subject at Oxford University as she sought to discover the links between true crime. Victorian detective fiction and 19th century technology. Barely a shocker then that she should choose a legendary showtrial in Canada from the 18903 as her debut into the literary world. Perhaps less obvious is that the case in question should involve a member of her family.
Her debut The Swamp of Death: A True Tale of Victorian Lies and Murder revolves around the case of Reginald Birchall, who was hanged for the murder of Frederick Benwell. He. along with Douglas Pelly (Gowers‘ great granddad). had been duped into believing that the killer was the man who would make them their fortune in colonial farming. The subsequent trial was a media circus of OJ Simpson proportions with the appointed hangman offering his rope up to souvenir hunters.
What the papers said In March 1890, New York World stated that the murder was ‘distinctly human. appallineg quiet. horribly manlike'. Hear all about it if the prospect of 378 pages of Victorian lies and murder are a bit too much for your brain to take. The Swamp of Death will be aired on Radio 4 as its Book of the Week starting on Monday 16 August.
First paragraph test ‘On the morning of Friday 21 February 1890, two Canadian backwoodsmen. brothers called GeOrge and Joseph Elvidge. went out in bitter weather to cut saplings in a swamp near the small township of Blenheim. Ontario. A short way from the nearest road. draped across a pile of saplings, they found a young man lying face upwards. dead. The harsh conditions had caused both the corpse and the boggy ground to freeze.‘ (Brian Donaldsoni
I The Swamp of Death is published on Thu 29 Jul by Hamish Hamilton.
Up to her ears in crime