Jewish World Review March 17, 2006 / 17 Adar, 5766

Paul Greenberg

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On the death of another despot | . . . that great moment when they set me free

From barbed-wire fences and the lightless prisons,

That moment suddenly arrived, unguarded.

With early March's glittering frost, and heaven

Lit up with stars at noon . . . to every lover

Of mankind that day will be a holiday,

Arriving without asking to come in.
— Samuel Halkin

That's the way it always is when a tyrant goes: The world seems born anew. It is a cleaner, fresher place. The memories remain to haunt, the scenes of the crimes will always be with us — the unmarked graves, the forever missing faces. But hope stirs.

Hope is never tangible, yet you can feel it return to a tired world. Like a new holiday that wasn't on the calendar. Hope is funny like that.

Faith, too, is a tricky proposition, not always easy to hold onto. Yet you can feel it return with every dawn. And what a grand dawn it was, that day in early March when it was officially announced that Stalin had finally followed his numberless victims. One could not be sure what would happen next, or if anything would really change. But the sun shone brighter.

Not all the mourning rituals of state and ideology could hide the heartbeat of hope underneath the somber news. You could almost hear the ice break somewhere in the distance and sense the Great Thaw that would one day come. A strange new sensation was in the air that March morning: Spring.

Other killers did not go with such pomp. Nazi Germany's Hermann Goering took poison a couple of hours before his date with the hangman at Nuremberg.

Now, just as he cheated so many of their lives and freedom, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic has cheated justice by dying in his prison cell, having made a farce of his endless trial at The Hague, just as Saddam Hussein and his accomplices are trying to do in Baghdad. And justice denied is always hope delayed.

Rather than cause for celebration, Slobo Milosevic's demise leaves only frustration behind. His story will not end with a neat denouement at the end of a rope. Now the world can add one more to the list of his victims: the hope that international courts could do him justice.

Slobo will be mourned only by the usual deluded followers of a dictator. The cultic rumors have already started about a sinister conspiracy to assassinate The Hero. His life, his trial, his death . . . there will always be something inconclusive, and dissatisfying, about all of them.

Whether he was a Communist or nationalist at the time, or both, Comrade Milosevic's one consistent philosophy was tyranny, his one legacy hatred. He once called himself the Ayatollah Khomeini of Serbia, and it was a fitting comparison. Charismatic dictators seem able to leap over any differences in culture and geography to share a common, consuming fanaticism.

Even when they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle against each other, despots seem to understand one another, as Hitler did Stalin. Their causes may have different names — Communism, Nazism — but underneath, their goal is the same: to annihilate anyone and anything that stands in their way. And their legacy is always bitter.

An appropriate wording for this tyrant's tombstone would be: Milosevic, S., Last Tyrant of the Serbs.

But even that claim would be more an expression of hope than certainty. History goes on, and so will the history of evil. Exemplars of it like North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are still at large, free to dream their nuclear dreams, which have a way of becoming nightmares for the rest of us.

The Hamans of history come and go, but at least this world can now write Finis to the story of Slobodan Milosevic. It just won't be able to add: Paid in Full.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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