BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro – Serbia's pro-Western deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus warned in comments published Saturday that the Balkan republic must bury its bloody past together with the late autocratic ruler Slobodan Milosevic, and choose a brighter path that would enable it to join mainstream Europe.
"It is difficult to watch Serbian television images today, they take us back into the 1990s and bring up the obvious question of whether Serbia is able to finally break off from its past legacy," Labus said in an interview in the state-run Politika daily, referring to TV coverage of resurgent support for Milosevic, whose body was brought back from the Netherlands this week.
Tens of thousands of Milosevic's supporters packed a square in front of Belgrade's federal parliament Saturday to bid the final farewell to their leader, who died a week ago at the U.N. war crimes tribunal detention center in The Hague. Milosevic was to be buried later in the day in his eastern Serbian hometown of Pozarevac.
The turmoil following his death and outpouring of support by his followers increased concerns of a looming crisis in Serbia.
"I sincerely hope Milosevic's vision for Serbia will be laid to rest together with him," Labus was quoted as saying, urging Serbs to "think to tomorrow's generation" and fulfill the responsibility of handing over remaining top war crimes fugitives to the U.N. court — Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his top commander Ratko Mladic.
"The price of Milosevic's destructive policies has been enormous, we are still paying for them today," Labus said of Milosevic's autocratic reign that wreaked havoc and led to economic decline in Serbia.
The controversy surrounding Milosevic's sudden death — the U.N. court declared it was the result of a massive heart attack but his family and the Socialists accused The Hague tribunal of murder — has damaged the court's reputation among many in Serbia, where it was already considered as anti-Serb.
The European Union has given Serbia until end of March to hand over Mladic and Karadzic to the U.N. court or face suspension of critical talks to establish closer ties with the EU by signing a pre-membership agreement later this year.
"Regardless of the damaged credibility of The Hague court, our cooperation with it must continue," Labus also said. "There is only a couple of weeks we have left. Serbia must sign this agreement with the European Union. "