Tens of thousands of Serbs gathered in front of Belgrade's parliament building yesterday morning to give Slobodan Milosevic an emotional send-off, reviving memories of the Balkan war years.
The Serbian government had refused the disgraced and deposed late president any of the honours of an official ceremony: no flags flew at half-mast, no government officials visited his coffin.
But as the days passed since his death a week ago, the long goodbye has steadily grown in volume. By the time the silver hearse began its journey to Pozarevac, his scruffy home town 50 miles south-east of the capital, the obsequies had become a state event in all but name.
What had been billed as a quiet family event was missing every close Milosevic relative - fearing arrest, his widow Mirjana and son Marko, who are based in Moscow, had stayed away. Instead, the day was one of gloomy national ceremony.
The faithful started to arrive early in the morning, buying Slobodan badges and lapel pins from hawkers, standing under the dank wintry skies to wait: grizzled, hard-bitten men of the late president's generation, a smattering of women in furs and young families. Some carried large photographs of Milosevic, others Serbian flags or Socialist Party banners.
By 10am they had filled the road in front of the domed parliament. Chants of "Slobo the Serb" rolled across the throng. Then another chant started up: "We're not surrendering Mladic." Ratko Mladic, the so-called Butcher of Srebrenica, is still a wanted man. A fortnight ago there was talk of him being handed over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Now such talk has died away.
This was a quiet, ruminative crowd, but bitter emotion festered under the surface. "I have no trust in the British - the British were the worst," said a 72-year-old retired machine technician called Dragan. "You bombed us and you killed us. You do not respect human rights. Slobodan didn't die," he added. "The West killed him systematically. They poisoned him."
At 10.30am the hearse arrived at the parliament building, and then the speeches began, Socialist Party and Radical Party firebrands eulogising the patriotism and courage of the dead leader. Among the speakers was Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general and long-time Milosevic supporter. History would prove that Slobodan Milosevic was right, he told the cheering crowd, for resisting Western attempts "to dismember Yugoslavia".
In Pozarevac, a few hundred people followed the speeches impassively on a video screen in the main street. This is a small and very ordinary town, its few, dignified, 19th-century civic buildings lost in a tangle of Seventies concrete monstrosities and humble brick homes. Its most famous son has bequeathed it little in the way of glory or wealth. But here too Slobodan's sudden death has revived a gnawing sense of grievance.
"You can see the tears in my eyes," said a retired schoolteacher, holding hands with her grandchildren. "As you see, this is a poor town, we don't even have proper pavements, but he did great things. The criminals didn't even allow him to see his family. Slobodan was fighting to hold Yugoslavia together. We used to see the family in the street. They looked ordinary, like anyone else."
By 4pm, when the hearse arrived, 20,000 people were lining the main street. At the graveside, in the garden of the family home, a letter from Mirjana and Marko was read out. Then he was buried. Slobodan Milosevic's body is under the ground now, but his spirit still haunts the land.Reuse content