Slobodan Milosevic

A short biography of Slobodan Milosevic concentrating on his rise to power and the destruction he has left in his wake.

Slobodan Milosevic was born August 29, 1941 in Pozarevac, Yugoslavia (Serbia). A child of the Second World War, Milosevic probably knew something of the crimes committed by the Croatian Ustashi, Hitler's puppet government in the Balkans, who took Serbs as one of their main targets. Both of his parents later committed suicide: his Father, a defrocked priest in 1962 and his Mother ten years later. He met his future wife, Mirjana Markovic, when they were in high-school and they were married while both were attending the University of Belgrade and Milosevic was beginning his climb through the ranks of the Communist Party.

Like Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and other "rogue" leaders, Milosevic is a more complex figure than the Hollywood villain he's been cast as by western governments and the press. We should remember that a large portion of these same politicians and journalists were praising him for making the Dayton Peace Accord possible and ending the siege of Bosnia in 1995. A bureaucrat who might have remained peacefully behind a desk, he rode the coat tails of Peter Stambolic, another Communist official whose family was extremely well-connected within Yugoslavia, from Director of the State-run gas monopoly to President of the Bank of Belgrade to the leadership of the Belgrade and finally the Serbian Communist parties. The nationalist firebrand he became is the creation of a man with a Machivellian flare for shedding identities which are of no more use to him.

Some commentators have argued that the Serbian people should be held accountable for Milosevic's crimes but in order to be balanced we need not dismiss the case against them entirely nor get into a lengthy discussion of Saint Lazar, who died at the hands of Turkish Muslim invaders some six centuries ago. We might simply remember that Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian dictator was also ascendant at the same time and used similar methods to similar ends. Although the propaganda used by Milosevic and his cronies was often crude it seemed to be effective in swaying a great many people. As one writer has said, "it's the fear of those who fear you"3 and it doesn't take a genius to use this fear in the way that Milosevic did.

Milosevic's symbolic rise from bureaucrat to demagogue is given in two journalistic accounts as having occurred during a public meeting in Kosovo on April 24, 1987.4 Speaking before a crowd of Kosovar Serbs who were being brutalised by mosty Albanian police, he heard their cries of "They are beating us!". His answer to them, which made him a legend among Serbs was, "No one shall ever beat you again!" It was an effective reply but seems to have come from the passion of the moment rather than through any calculation on his part.

Regardless, Milosevic was not loathe to use his newfound popularity to reinvigorate Serbians' feelings of historical victimhood, repressed so long by Marshall Tito's communists. Robert Kaplan, mentioning him in an article published shortly after the aforementioned event described him thus:

"A photograph of Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian nationalist, adorns a wall in many a Serbian household. Milosevic, a plump, baby-faced man in his mid-forties, is the first charismatic figure to emerge in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Like Tito, he is considered by many in Belgrade to be a ruthless strong man..."5

Soon afterward Milosevic became head of the Yugoslav Communist party and the republics of Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves independent. A short war between the reduced Yugoslavia and Croatia followed with the Croats achieving victory after a bloody fight with protests of atrocities coming from both sides. Neither Milosevic nor Tudjman had quenched their thirst for blood with this conflict, however, and when Bosnia-Herzogovina, a majority Muslim province of Yugoslavia with signifigant Serb and Croat minorities, declared its secession in 1992 it provided an ideal opportunity for the two leaders to bring out the knives and carve out new fiefdoms.

Laying the blame for what occurred in Bosnia on the shoulders of one man, even a cynical opportunist like Milosevic, is patently absurd. By encouraging the arming of Bosnian Serb militants and providing them with logistical support he should certainly be brought to justice but other factors, including the inaction of Europe and an absurd UN arms embargo that only penalised the mostly Muslim government of the fledgling state, thus allowing the heavily armed Croats and Serbs to move ahead with their ethnic cleansing, were also factors. It should also be mentioned that both Milosevic and Tudjman seemed to have the enthusiastic support of most of their countrymen.

When faced with real opposition Milosevic has always folded, as he did in October of 2000 when he was finally driven from power after yet another poorly orchestrated electoral fraud. One of the most horrible things that Serbians faced in the wake of his retreat was how little he had been opposed in Serbia over the years.6 In 1996 large numbers of protesters took to the streets to protest an earlier foray into electoral fraud, this time in non-presidential elections, and he was forced into a compromise, turning over, among others, the position of Mayor of Belgrade to the Opposition. Many members of the "United Opposition" who turned against him after the country was bombed by Nato and economic sanctions left the country in a shambles, were some of his most important allies on the Right and their rhetoric was even more extreme than his own.7

The ineptness of Milosevic's handling of the Kosovo situation in the late 1990's showed that he was anything but the "mad genius" he was portrayed as in the West. It was in many ways the lack of will shown by Europe and the United States during the Bosnia crisis that allowed this man of rather average intelligence to manipulate the peace process. When faced with daily bombings and dwindling popularity over Kosovo, Milosevic once again tried to wrap himself in the role of peace-maker but this time not even the once credulous Clinton Administration was buying it.

The tragedies that followed in Milosevic's wake are not his sole responsibility. The simple truth is that Slobodan Milosevic probably never committed a murder with his own hands: there were plenty of people around who were willing to do his killing for him. Let's hope that his successors honour all the victims of his Presidency and not just those who share their national identity or there will be more Bosnias, more crises and more hatred in the very heart of Europe in the years to come.

1 Simic Charles. "Anatomy of a Murderer." New York Review of Books. January 20th, 2000.

2 Op. Cit. Simic, Charles.

3 Sullivan, Stacy. "Milosevic's Willing Executioners." The New Republic. May 10th, 1999

4 1)Op. Cit. Simic, Charles; 2)Cable News Network. CNN Newsmaker Profiles: Slobodan Milosevic.", 1998.

5 Richard Kaplan. "Europe's Third World." The Atlantic Monthly. July, 1989.

6 Op. Cit. Sullivan, Stacy.

7 Laura Rozen. "Milosevic's Fizzling Opposition." June 3rd, 2000.

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