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9 Oct, 2009 10:15

Hero or villain? Bill Clinton statue in Kosovo angers Serbs

A huge statue of Bill Clinton is being unveiled in the heart of Kosovo’s capital city. He’s celebrated there as the man who ordered NATO’s offensive against Serbia in 1999.

For Kosovo Albanians, the former American president is a hero, who sanctioned NATO’s bombing of Serbia ten years ago. But for Serbs he’s the epitome of horror.

Zanka Stojanovic from Belgrade lost her only son, Nebojsa, during the attack on Serbian state television. She begged him not to go to work that night, but he insisted. Zanka was watching TV when suddenly everything went black. She understood immediately what had happened.

All that was left to identify her son’s body were his car keys.

“I waited for his body for six months,” Zanka said.

“They brought it to me in a metal box. I would have wanted to bury my son in a suit, with a tie, to dress his body nicely. I’m not even sure I buried all his parts”.

Zanka insists it was a crime.

“It’s a crime for the Americans and for the NATO forces, and it’s a great irony that they [the Kosovars] are now building this statue. They told me my son died because of Kosovo – but what did my son have to do with Kosovo?”

However, Clinton defended his decision, arguing that then-Serb president Slobodan Milosovic had been using the television station to spread hatred and misinformation.

On the day Clinton’s statue goes up, Zanka will be visiting her son’s memorial. She goes there every day to remember him and the fifteen others who died with him that night.

Wrong man taken to The Hague?

Serbs don’t need a statue of Clinton – his legacy is hard to miss on the streets of Belgrade. Ask anyone here and they’ll tell you that instead of a statue, Clinton should be taken to The Hague for war crimes.

That’s what Radovan Karadzic’s brother, Luka, believes. He’s helping collect more than a million documents that will help his brother fight prosecution in The Hague later this month when he stands trial for war crimes. He’s convinced the wrong man’s in prison:

“It’s Clinton who should be in The Hague. He and his administration manipulated the situation. They bombed us for no reason. They wanted to destroy us in every possible way and they tried, in the worst bombings since World War Two.”

A decade on, and the Democrats are back in the American government, which is why many Serbs are cautious about what Barack Obama will do.

“If we identify Obama’s Balkan policy with the Kosovo issue, then I don’t think there’s going to be any changes," said Bosko Jaksic, commentator from “Politika new magazine”.

"What started with Bill Clinton, we can say laid the foundations, George Bush made a house and now we have Barack Obama who will just put the roof on it.”

But the real question is just how much time the American president has to devote to South-Eastern Europe. He’s already involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and back home he faces a collapsing economy.

But Dr Predrag Simic of the University of Belgrade, a former diplomat, believes the problem is not with Obama. It’s with his administration.

“A lot of politicians we used to know during the double term of Bill Clinton are still around, and there are still the remains of the policy that were not part of the solution, but towards the end of the 1990s, became part of the problem itself.”