Gin and Tonics at Tito’s House

Gin and Tonics at Tito’s House

Across the street from the compound where Slobodan Milosevic barricaded himself against police last winter before being carted off to jail sits a beautiful villa once inhabited by Marshal Tito. This same villa, with its manicured gardens and freshly painted façade, was the site chosen by the U.S. ambassador, William Montgomery, and his wife for their Fourth of July garden party.

Cream-colored invitations stamped with an American bald eagle were hand-delivered a week earlier to politicians, heads of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, ambassadors, and Serbian socialites. The invitations arrived just as Milosevic was being shipped off to the Hague to stand trial before the United Nations war-crimes tribunal. At the arraignment the day before Montgomery’s party, Milosevic defiantly dismissed charges that he orchestrated the expulsion of seven hundred and forty thousand ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and the violent deaths of hundreds of others. Asked by Judge Richard May whether he wanted the indictment read, Milosevic replied, “That’s your problem”—a statement that sums up his attitude during the last thirteen years of war and destruction in the Balkans. Milosevic claimed that “this trial’s aim is to provide false justification for the war crimes committed in Yugoslavia” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Milosevic, in his seventeen-by-ten-foot cell, was all but forgotten as the United States Independence Day party moved into full swing. Women in silk floral dresses and men in breezy summer suits waited in a forty-five minute line to shake hands with the U.S. ambassador. Nearby, the special police—better known for midnight raids and war profiteering—paced back and forth between Milosevic’s former compound and the party, directing traffic and keeping the crowd on the walkway. The resentful grimaces on their faces were a hint that they, unlike the crowd they had been commandeered to patrol, had not yet forsaken Milosevic. Another who hadn’t forgotten was Mira Markovi, Milosevic’s wife and political partner, who was quoted earlier that morning as saying, “I still find him cute and likable.”

I found myself in line with the others at the invitation of Obrad Savic, president of the Belgrade Circle—a small NGO that publishes left-leaning books and holds annual lectures on the future of democracy in Serbia. Savic, who spent the last ten years resisting the Milosevic regime, was giddy as he waved his invitation at the two security guards in dark suits standing at the gate.

As we entered the garden, a jazz band was playing as waiters in tuxedos served drinks and finger food to the Serbian elite, many of whom had made their fortunes under the Milosevic regime. “This is fantastic,” Savic commented, taking in the sight of more than a thousand people on the front lawn. “Last year when they threw this party, only a hundred people dared to show up. People were just too scared ...