Milosevic and I

Dusan Velickovic
14 March 2006

No, I didn't know him personally. Shook hands and exchanged a few words with him once in the late 1980s. I was the cultural editor of a Belgrade weekly that awards Serbia's most prominent annual prize for the best novel, and he was a guy on his way to grabbing power in Serbia.

Funny, I can't remember who got the prize that year, but I remember him. Quite unexpectedly, just before the prize was to be awarded, he marched into the hall and shook hands with everybody in the vicinity.

Dusan Velickovic is editor and publisher of the Belgrade-based magazine Biblioteka Alexandria. From 1993 to 1997 (when he was dismissed by the Milosevic regime) he was editor-in-chief of the leading Serbian weekly NIN. Velickovic's short stories, essays and reviews have been published widely both inside and outside his native Serbia. He lives in Belgrade.

Also by Dusan Velickovic in openDemocracy:

"Belgrade: war crimes in daily life"
(28 June 2005)

It was more than a decade later when I saw him next, at The Hague tribunal. Our eyes met and locked – and for a minute, we stared at each other.

I don't think he was interested in me. Or maybe I'm wrong. I was told several times that his wife wanted to have a cup of coffee with me. There were a number of people who accepted invitations to sit at that famous coffee table. Some of them were killed later. I was clever enough to refuse.

So we didn't know each other, but somehow he was very close to me, greatly affecting my life for years.

In the early 1990s, he sent the police to my door to take me off to war. I managed to escape several times. As many Belgraders did, I used common tricks and rules: don't display your name on your front door, or better, don't sleep in the apartment where you really live; don't answer phone calls; etc. I finally ran away from the country for a while. Eventually, he realized it was easier to engage paramilitary and secret police criminals: they undertook killing and robbery professionally and efficiently throughout the former Yugoslavia.

In the mid-1990s, he fired me from the post of the editor-in-chief of a leading Belgrade weekly. As a high-level functionary of his party told me, "They are very angry. If you continue like this, your paper will find itself in a war of extinction." Very soon thereafter, I was fired.

On 11 April 1999, he sent secret police agents to tail my friend and me through the streets of Belgrade. On that very day, my friend, the owner and editor-in-chief of Belgrade's most popular daily, was killed in front of his house. I was not scheduled to be killed. I was merely tracked until I got home and placed under surveillance.

Milosevic is dead. But what about me? What about all of us who lived through the Milosevic years? Did he take ten years of my life just like that? Did he take my future and that of my kids? Won't we have to contend with his shadow for many years to come? Aren't his criminals still among us? Are my friends and I now "too old to rock 'n' roll but too young to die"?

I have a theory: all of us who survived Milosevic's rule, we all are ten years younger. We lived in non-time. So, as the song says: "no, no, you're never too old to rock 'n' roll if you're too young to die."

The 11 April 1999 incident Dusan Velickovic refers to is the assassination of Slavko Curuvija, a prominent journalist, editor of Evropljanin and Dvevni Telegraf, and former confidant of Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic.

He had been subjected to intense surveillance and monitoring by the Serbian state's intelligence services, as well as veiled threats by the leader of Serbia's radical party, Vojislav Seselj (now on trial for war crimes in The Hague).

His murder remains unsolved.

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