BORN: August 29, 1941 • Pozarevac, Serbia
DIED: March 11, 2006 • The Hague, Netherlands
Serbian political leader
Slobodan Milosevic was a political leader of Serbia and a key figure in the Yugoslav ethnic wars of the 1990s and the breakup of the socialist federation of Yugoslavian states. Milosevic led Serbia's Socialist Party from 1992 to 2001. He maintained power by suppressing political opponents and controlling the media. Milosevic pursued nationalist policies involving strong ethnic prejudice. He was the first sitting head of state in history to be charged by an international tribunal for alleged war crimes (violating international laws of war). He was indicted (formally charged with a crime) by an international tribunal in May 1999 for crimes against humanity (murder of large groups of people) and later charges were added for genocide (the deliberate destruction of a racial, religious, or cultural group).
"We are not angels. Nor are we the devils you have made us out to be."
An educated background
Milosevic was born in August 1941 in Pozarevac, Serbia, at a time when the region was occupied by German forces during World War II (1939–45). His parents were both of Montenegrin background. His father, Svetozar Milosevic, was a deacon in the Serbian Orthodox Church. His mother, Stanislava Milosevic, was a schoolteacher. They separated shortly after Milosevic's birth. Both later committed suicide. His father died in 1962 and his mother hanged herself in 1974.
Milosevic studied law at Belgrade University, where he became active in politics. At eighteen years of age he joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, which later in 1963 became known as the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. Communism is a system of government in which the state controls the economy and a single party holds power. Milosevic became head of the ideology (guiding ideas) committee of the student branch. During this time, he made friendships through the party that would be critical to his later climb to political prominence. One key friend was Ivan Stambolic (1936–2000), president of Serbia in the 1980s.
Entering the business world
Following graduation with his law degree, Milosevic became an economic advisor to the mayor of Belgrade in 1964. In 1965, he married a childhood friend, Mirjana Markovic. Mirjana was a professor and also politically active in the League of Communists. She would serve as one of Milosevic's political advisors throughout his career. They had two children, a son and a daughter.
In 1968, Milosevic went to work in an executive position for Tehnogas, a state-owned natural gas company. In just five years, he became its president. By 1978, Milosevic became head of one of Yugoslavia's largest banks, Beobanka. His banking business took him on frequent travels to the United States and France, where he learned English and French.
A political rising star
As he did in business, Milosevic rose fast in politics. He became a member of the Serbian Communist Party's central committee and then in 1982 a member of the presidium, the Party's top decision-making authority.
Serbia had long been in a region of political instability. Following World War I (1914–18) and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Serbian kingdom joined the kingdom of Montenegro and various ethnic groups who had been ruled by the Ottomans. Among them were the Slovenes, Croats, Slavic Muslims, and Serbs. Together these groups formed Yugoslavia. The Serbs held political dominance. When World War II broke out in 1939, the German army and its allies overran Yugoslavia and divided it for military occupation. In 1944, Communist forces pushed the Germans out, and a new Yugoslavian government formed; it was composed of six republics. Josip Tito (1892–1980) strictly ruled the new Yugoslavia, suppressing all ethnic hostilities, until his death in 1980. Mounting ethnic tensions led to an eight-person shared presidential position.
Milosevic became active full time in the League of Communists by 1984, when he began serving as an advisor to former law school friend Stambolic. Milosevic was elected to follow Stambolic as chairman of the Belgrade City Committee of the League of Communists in April 1986. In that position, Milosevic became a prominent leader in Serbian politics. He gained much popularity among Serbs by publicly protesting the treatment of Serbs in Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia dominated by ethnic Albanians who controlled local governments. Milosevic charged ethnic persecution including police brutality.
Gains political leadership
Milosevic's public charges fueled confrontations between Serbs and Albanians. Milosevic claimed Serbian leaders—including Stambolic, who was now head of the League of Communists of Serbia—were not doing enough to protect Serbs. Milosevic's constant attacks finally led to the resignation of Stambolic as leader of the League of Communists in December 1987. He remained president of Serbia. In February 1988, Milosevic replaced Stambolic as head of the Communists of Serbia.
As party leader, Milosevic quickly began orchestrating elections of Serbs into key regional political positions, including in Kosovo itself in early 1989. He had an Albanian leader in Kosovo arrested. With the growth of Milosevic support in Serbian politics, the Serbian assembly ousted Stambolic as president in 1989, replacing him with Milosevic.
In full leadership of the government by 1990, Milosevic led the National Assembly of Serbia in reducing the autonomy (independence) of Serbia's provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. This was a very unpopular move in Kosovo, where Albanians greatly outnumbered Serbs. As a result, the new Serbian leaders in Kosovo ruled harshly, so as to keep Albanians under control. This caused alarm in other Yugoslavian provinces and among international human rights organizations.
With a declining economy, there was a growing clamor for economic and political reform in Serbia. Milosevic wanted to maintain strong government control over the economy, known as socialism. Milosevic adopted populist (promotes the interests of common people) strategies, while at the same time promoted socialist state control of the economy.
Breakup of Yugoslavia
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and European Communist governments in 1990, nationalism (belief that a particular nation and its culture, people, and values are superior to those of other nations) rose in importance as the unifying influence of ethnic groups. The LCY separated into various political parties. Readily adapting to the changing political conditions in the region, Milosevic led the transition of the Yugoslav League of Communists in Serbia to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) by July 1990. He also guided the adoption of a new Serbian constitution by September 1990 that gave the president strong powers. In December, the first elections under the new constitution were held. Milosevic retained his political leadership of Serbia and his Socialist Party won a large majority of the vote for other elected positions. In the Kosovo province, most ethnic Albanians boycotted the elections. The elections showed that Milosevic was truly a popular leader among Serbs.
Milosevic's plan during this realignment of Yugoslav peoples was to establish a strong Serbian state that included all Serbs in the region, including those in Bosnia and Croatia. This idea, referred to as Greater Serbia, created an anti-Serbian backlash in other Yugoslav republics. Elections led to new governments in the other Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Slovenia. The new leaders promised greater political independence for their regions. In 1991, Milosevic was unwilling to accept a proposal from leaders of Croatia and Slovenia to create a new Yugoslavia composed of a loose confederation of largely independent states. The old federation of Yugoslavia had lost political unity. In March of that year, Milosevic declared that the federation was officially dead and Serbia was politically independent. This change gave the Serbs and Milosevic greater domination in domestic politics in their own country.
In response, Slovenia and Croatia both declared their political independence in June 1991. Macedonia did the same in September 1991 and Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1992. Milosevic's Greater Serbia idea caused the breakup of the Yugoslav federation to speed up. With the departure of these various former Yugoslav states, the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed in May 1992. It included only Serbia and Montenegro. Though Dobrica Cosic was elected the first president of the Federal Republic, Milosevic held the true power from his Serbian president position.
The Srebrenica Massacre
On June 2, 2005, prosecutors presented evidence at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic concerning the mass murder of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs known as the Srebrenica Massacre. Until then, many Serbs had not heard of the extent of the tragedy or had been unwilling to accept that it actually occurred. However, after the evidence was presented at the trial, the Serbian public became outraged by the past actions of their special forces. Criminal investigators estimated that the Serb special forces under the direct command of General Ratko Mladic (1943–) murdered 8,106 Bosnian Muslim males of all ages. It was the largest mass murder in Europe since the Holocaust of World War II.
In the early 1990s, conflicts between various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia escalated. Once such conflict occurred between the Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, who had begun calling themselves Bosniaks in 1993. When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared their political independence from Yugoslavia in October 1991, Serbian president Milosevic vowed to carve out some Bosnian territory for Serbia. Fighting between Bosniaks and Serbs followed. While the Bosnian Serb forces were well equipped with tanks and artillery, the Bosniaks were poorly armed.
One key area the Serbs wanted was Srebrenica, a Bosnian Muslim area dividing surrounding areas primarily inhabited by Bosnian Serbs. Serbs decided to get rid of all Bosniaks living in Srebrenica. By early 1993, Serbian forces had isolated Srebrenica from other Bosnian Muslim areas. Its population was running out of food, medicine, and water. The United Nations sent a small contingent of troops to help establish peace and get supplies to Srebrenica.
By 1995 the situation was near catastrophic. Citizens were starving to death. In early July, Serbian special forces made their move and entered UN-controlled areas. As the group of lightly armed UN troops stood aside, the Serbs began the mass killings of the Bosnian Muslims. The Serbs would move through the crowds of panicked Bosnians, picking out males to be executed. Endless truckloads of males were taken from Srebrenica to killing sites in the country for execution. They were often bound, blindfolded, and shot with automatic rifles. Then bulldozers pushed the bodies into mass graves. Many people were wounded and buried alive with the dead. Women, children, and the elderly were placed on buses to be displaced to Bosnian territory elsewhere. Hundreds of the women and female children were raped while on their way to other territories.
Thousands of males initially escaped and attempted a long march to safe areas, but most were killed by Serb forces who tracked them down and fired on them with tanks, machine guns, and artillery. Many committed suicide, sensing the futility of the situation. Within only a few days, the massacre was over. In an effort to hide or destroy the evidence of mass murders, in late 1995 Serbs moved many of the graves using heavy equipment.
Reports by the few survivors led to investigations. By 2005, the UN had recovered about six thousand bodies in an effort to document the mass killings. They searched for and excavated mass graves. Mladic and other Serb military officers were indicted for genocide and various other war crimes. Investigators claimed it took considerable planning to kill so many people in only a few days.
Milosevic further fueled ethnic conflict by charging that the Croats were intent on exterminating Serbs in Croatia. The Serbs in Croatia began seeking independence from the new Croatia in 1991. Milosevic sent Serbian militias (armies composed of citizens who are not professional soldiers) to assist the Serbs in Croatia. This led to open conflict that lasted into early 1992.
The ethnic fighting spread in March 1992 to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Serbs gained control of 70 percent of the country. Hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs were displaced from the Serb-controlled area. Thousands were killed and raped. One of the war's atrocities was the Srebrenica Massacre (see box). As in Croatia, the Serbian government and its leader Milosevic were directly involved in the fighting.
Alarmed by the deteriorating situation in the former Yugoslav region, the United Nations (UN; an international organization founded in 1945 composed of most of the countries in the world) imposed trade sanctions (restrictions) on the new Federal Republic in 1992 due to its interference with Croatia and Bosnia. Additionally, the new Yugoslavia was not admitted to the UN and was excluded from many other international organizations. During this time Milosevic often sought Russian assistance. He even visited leaders in China in November 1997.
Fighting continued in Bosnia and Croatia into 1995, as the Serbian economy declined due to the international sanctions. Finally, Milosevic pulled out Serbian forces and reduced support for the Serbian rebellions. As a result, Croatian forces overran Serbs in August and forced them from Croatia into neighboring Bosnia and Serbia. In September, the Bosnian Serbs were defeated by Croatian and Bosnian ground forces supported by North Atlantic Treaty Organiztion (NATO) air strikes. NATO is a military defense alliance established in April 1949 among Western European and North American nations. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were displaced.
Ready to see the UN sanctions lifted, Milosevic signed the Dayton Agreement in November 1995 along with Bosnian, Croat, Serb, and Muslim leaders and the Croatian president. This officially ended the Bosnian conflict. While Bosnia remained a single state, it was divided into two ethnic areas to preserve the peace. Milosevic was now considered a peacemaker by many.
War in Kosovo
By 1996, Milosevic's second term of office as president of Serbia was running out and the constitution did not allow a third term. Therefore, seeking to retain control, he ran for the less important position of president of Yugoslavia. He won easily and assumed his new office in July 1997. A friend and supporter of Milosevic won his former Serbian office.
The long-standing conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo finally broke into open hostilities in 1997. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an armed Albanian group seeking independence for Kosovo from Serbia, began attacks against Serbian security forces and politicians. The fighting continued to escalate into 1999, when Serbian forces retaliated with greater intensity by launching a major offensive. Several thousand Albanians were killed and most of the Albanian population in Kosovo was displaced. In response, NATO launched numerous air strikes for ten weeks in the spring of 1999, forcing back the Serbian forces in Kosovo. Kosovo came under control of the United Nations and its peacekeeping force. Many Serbs now fled Kosovo, fearing retaliation by Albanians. During the Kosovo War, about ten thousand people were killed and four thousand remained missing.
War crimes charges
In May 1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) located in The Hague, Netherlands, indicted (formally charged with a crime) Milosevic and four other top Serbian officials on war crimes and crimes against humanity (murder of groups of people) allegedly committed in Kosovo. The charges cited mass population displacements and murder of three hundred ethnic Albanians. Despite the charges and military loss in Kosovo, Milosevic still received strong popular support in Serbia. Milosevic and his supporters claimed the ICTY had no legal basis to charge him and others for crimes.
On September 24, 2000, Milosevic ran for reelection as president. Yugoslav's economic problems had worsened and Milosevic's popularity was declining. Despite losing the election, he refused to accept the results. A mass public demonstration against Milosevic in Belgrade on October 5 led him to concede the end of his political career. With Milosevic gone, the UN added the new Yugoslavia as a member state on November 1.
Following his departure from office, Yugoslavia's new administration charged Milosevic with corruption and abuse of power. His actual arrest did not come until some time later on April 1, 2001, when he surrendered to Yugoslav authorities after an armed standoff at his fortified Belgrade rural home.
Enticed by Western countries offering large amounts of financial aid, the Yugoslav authorities turned Milosevic over to the ICTFY for his war crimes trial on June 28. The resulting public outrage that Milosevic had been sent away forced Yugoslav officials to resign the following day. Within days, war crimes investigators began finding mass graves in Kosovo. On October 1, the ICTFY added further charges of genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia.
Milosevic's trial began on February 12, 2002. With his training as a lawyer and unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of the court, Milosevic served as his own lawyer. Many of his supporters in Serbia agreed with Milosevic's opinion of ICTFY, and his popularity rose again. A legal team located back in Belgrade assisted in pulling together documents for him.
The lawyers for the prosecution had to prove that Milosevic as president of Serbia had direct responsibility for the events that unfolded within Croatia and Bosnia. The prosecution took two years in presenting its case against Milosevic. Throughout that period, they provided detailed summaries of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. The recounting of events drew much attention from the populations of the former Yugoslav federation. Despite this ongoing trial and publicity of the prosecution's evidence, Milosevic ran for a seat in Serbia's parliament in December 2003; he was defeated.
As the trial progressed, Milosevic's health steadily declined. He suffered from high blood pressure and experienced a severe case of influenza. The illnesses led to repeated delays in the trial. As time came for him to provide his defense to the court, the judge required that he use the services of two court-appointed British attorneys due to his poor health. Always known for his stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise on issues, the defense attorneys found that not only was Milosevic uncooperative, but many defense witnesses refused to appear due to their disdain for the court proceedings. In December 2004, the judge ordered the two lawyers to continue despite Milosevic's lack of cooperation with them.
Other criminal investigations also took place. In the summer of 2000, Stambolic was kidnapped. His body was not found until 2003. Milosevic was accused of ordering Stambolic's murder. In 2005, former members of the Serbian secret police, along with several criminal gang members, were convicted of various murders including Stambolic's.
Milosevic's trial came to an abrupt end on March 11, 2006, when Milosevic was found dead in his detention cell. He died of a heart attack. Just before his death, Milosevic had requested another delay in his trial so he could travel to see a physician in Russia. However, ICTY was hesitant to approve such a request for fear he would escape while under Russian supervision. Supporters claimed the tribunal hastened his death due to less than adequate medical attention. Opponents lamented that he avoided punishment and embarrassment.
A memorial ceremony was held in Belgrade. It was attended by tens of thousands of supporters. Milosevic was buried in his hometown of Pozarevac.
For More Information
Cohen, Lenard J. Serpent in the Bosom: The Rise and Fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002.
Doder, Dusko, and Louise Branson. Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant. New York: Free Press, 1999.
Sell, Louis. Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
Silber, Laura, and Allan Little. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. United Nations. http://www.un.org/icty/ (accessed on December 11, 2006).
Born: August 20, 1941
Yugoslav president and Serbian political leader
Slobodan Milosevic was president of Serbia (a republic, or member state, of Yugoslavia) from 1989 to 1997 and president of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. In 2001 he was sent to stand trial at the international war crimes tribunal (court) in The Hague, Netherlands, for his actions during the civil war that occurred in Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
The young Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic was born on August 20, 1941, in Pozarevac, a small town near Belgrade, Serbia, the capital of Yugoslavia. Slobodan was the second of two sons of Svetozar and Stanislava Milosevic. His ancestors belonged to the Vasojevici clan from Montenegro, another republic of Yugoslavia. His father finished Eastern Orthodox seminary (a place where people study to be priests) in Cetinje, Montenegro, and then studied at the School of Theology in Belgrade. His mother was a teacher in Pozarevac. People remember her as a strict, hardworking woman and a devoted Communist (a person who believes that goods should be owned and equally distributed by the government). When Slobodan was young, his parents separated and his father went to live in Montenegro. It is believed that his parents both eventually took their own lives—his father in 1962 and his mother in 1973.
Milosevic finished his elementary and high school education in Pozarevac. According to his teachers and classmates, young Milosevic was an outstanding high school student, always attentive and always neatly dressed. Although quiet and solitary, he was politically active and published several of his writings in the local high school journal. While still in high school, Milosevic met his future wife, Mirjana (Mira) Markovic, whose family ranked among the most prominent Communists in Serbia. Her father was a hero from World War II (1939–45; a war fought between the Axis [Germany, Italy, and Japan] and the Allies [the United States, Britain, China and other nations]). Her uncle later became one of the leading politicians in post-war Serbia, and her aunt was a personal secretary of Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) who was the Communist president of Yugoslavia from 1953 to 1980. The young couple's friends did not doubt that the love between Mirjana and Slobodan was sincere and genuine—theirs was a bond between two similar souls. They raised two children.
A career in the making
In 1960 Milosevic was a law student at the University of Belgrade. He was an excellent student who was active in the university section of the League of Communists (the official name for the Communist Party), where he met Ivan Stambolic, a nephew of one of the most powerful Serbian Communist leaders. Many believe that it was Stambolic who elevated the political career of Milosevic.
In 1964, after graduating from the university, Milosevic was appointed as an economic adviser and a coordinator of the information service in the government of Belgrade. In 1968 he became a deputy director of a state-owned gas company, Tehnogas. After Stambolic left Tehnogas in 1973 and became the prime minister of Serbia, Milosevic rose to the post of director. Five years later he became president of the powerful Belgrade bank Beobanka. In 1982 he became a member of the collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia, and two years later a chief of the City of Belgrade Party Organization. The collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia elected Milosevic as its president in 1986.
A defining moment
On April 24, 1987, Milosevic visited Kosovo Polje, a suburb of the capital of the self-governing Serbian province of Kosovo, and attempted to calm the group of Serbs and Montenegrins who were protesting the continuous mistreatment by the Albanian majority. When an excited crowd tried to enter the building to speak directly to Milosevic, they were beaten back by the local police. Milosevic strode out and shouted to the crowd: "No one has the right to beat you!" These simple words changed the structure of Serbian politics. Shortly after, in a series of heated sessions of the League of Communists of Serbia, Milosevic succeeded in removing Stambolic and his associates from the Serbian political arena. In 1989 Milosevic became president of Serbia.
The disagreement among Serbia's Communists over the Kosovo province shook the already crumbling Yugoslavia. After Serbia took back authority over the self-governing provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, the prospect that Serbia might dominate all of Yugoslavia fueled nationalism (a patriotic desire for one's people to have its own nation) in the Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia and gave a boost to secessionist movements (or movements to withdraw from a nation). Following the collapse of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1990, multiparty elections were held in each of the six Yugoslav republics. While Milosevic and his Socialist Party retained power in Serbia, forces that openly desired secession from Yugoslavia came into power in almost all other republics (with the exception of Montenegro).
The nationalist emotions that spread throughout Yugoslavia inspired ugly memories among Serbs who had been subjected to genocide (the intentional destruction of a people by mass murder) during World War II. Milosevic, who had already established himself as the leading champion of Serbian rights, was the natural ally to more than two million Serbs living outside the borders of Serbia. When the talks among the various Yugoslav republics were called off in 1991, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia was near.
The collapse of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil war among the breakaway nations brought new attention to Milosevic. In the fighting that began in April 1992, Milosevic avoided personal involvement, leaving Serbian military groups to carry out attacks against the newly established nations of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless, many critics, particularly in the West, portrayed him as a merciless tyrant who wanted to create a greater Serbia. At the same time, Milosevic and his Socialist Party appeared to be secure in their Belgrade headquarters.
By late 1995 United Nation-imposed sanctions had destroyed the Serbian economy, and Milosevic agreed to a peace plan during talks at an air base in Dayton, Ohio. He attempted to rebuild his image, since he was thought by many to be the force behind war crimes and millions of deaths. Milosevic began making strides at winning a more favorable public opinion, calling for tolerance, or respect, among ethnic groups and portraying himself as a heroic and peace-promoting defender of Serbs. Despite the near-40 percent unemployment and the overall decline in quality of life among Serbs, he was able to retain supporters.
Losing hold on power
In 1997 Milosevic's second and final term as president was at an end, but he hoped to continue his presidency by using a legal trick. On July 23, 1997, he changed his title from president of Serbia to president of the Yugoslav federation (which now consisted only of Serbia and its junior partner, Montenegro) in an attempt to retain his term. Then, in 1999, Milosevic refused to withdraw troops who were trying to stop an independence movement in Kosovo. In retaliation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the United States, bombed Serbia for two and a half months. Serbian forces, nonetheless, caused a significant amount of suffering in Kosovo.
On July 7, 2000, Yugoslavia's federal parliament enacted changes to the country's constitution that would allow Milosevic to serve two more four-year terms. However, Milosevic resigned in October 2000 because of the massive popular revolt against him. Six month later, Milosovic was arrested by police after he threatened to kill himself, his wife, and his daughter. Only two months later, in late June 2001, he was sent to The Hague to be tried for war crimes, including genocide.
For More Information
Cohen, Leonard J. Serpent in the Bosom: The Rise and Fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.
Doder, Dusko, and Louise Branson. Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant. New York: Free Press, 1999.
Sell, Louis. Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
Milosevic, Slobodan 1941-2006
Slobodan Milosevic was the president of Serbia from 1989 to 1997, and president of the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. Milosevic was born in Pozarevac, Serbia, the second son of a former Orthodox priest and a Serbian schoolteacher; both parents later committed suicide. In high school Milosevic met Mirjana Markovic, the daughter of prominent Yugoslav Communist Party members. They married in 1965 and had two children, Marija and Marko. Milosevic completed college at the University of Belgrade, studied law, and then became head of Technogas, the state-owned gas company, and, later, president of Beobanka, the United Bank of Belgrade.
In 1984 Milosevic entered politics as leader of the Belgrade Communist Party. Calling for a centralized federal political and economic system, Milosevic became a spokesperson for Serbian nationalist sentiments and the long-standing desire for the creation of a Serbian republic throughout former Yugoslavia. In 1987, while in the Albanian providence of Kosovo, Milosevic assured the Serbian minority population that Yugoslavia’s non-Serbian populations would not extract concessions from the Serbians as they sought greater autonomy from the once-powerful Yugoslavian confederation. Soon afterward, Yugoslavia’s fragile, multiethnic coalitions disintegrated into regional enclaves at war. In 1988, in a wave of Serbian nationalism, Milosevic was elected president of Serbia. By 1992–1993, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia sought to secede from Yugoslavia to form autonomous governments. Milosevic directed the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav Army to wage war against these movements and protect the Serbian minority population from its non-Serbian secessionists. By arming Serbia’s minority populations in the provinces, the goal of the war changed from a preservation of the Yugoslav confederation to an ethnic civil war, taking the lives of more than 250,000 people and displacing more than 2 million.
In 1995, in its first military operation against a European nation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commenced air strikes against Serb targets in Croatia, bringing Milosevic into negotiations, which became known as the Dayton Peace Accord. In 1996 Milosevic was elected president of Yugoslavia and in 1997 Serbia was at war in Kosovo. In 1999 NATO again bombed targets inside Serbia, including Belgrade, until Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo. In 2000 economic and international isolation created enough popular unrest in Belgrade to force Milosevic from power. In June 2001 Milosevic was arrested and extradited to The Hague for trial in the United Nations Criminal Tribunal. Milosevic was charged with three indictments: for his role in atrocities committed by Serbian forces during the Kosovo campaign, including the murder of more than 600 people and the deportation of 700,000; for breaches of the Geneva Conventions in Croatia, including the forced removal of 200,000 non-Serbians; and for crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia, namely the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats.
The court held that as president of the Republic of Serbia, Milosevic exercised control over the participants in the conflict. After refusing to enter a plea or accept assistance from lawyers provided by the court, Milosevic elected to defend himself. The trial lasted five years and, with less than one month of deliberations remaining, Milosevic was found dead in his cell at the age of sixty-four. On March 14, 2006, his trial was officially terminated, without a verdict. Historians regard Milosevic’s war of nationalism and ethnic cleansing as one of Europe’s most destructive conflicts and human rights atrocities since World War II.
SEE ALSO Genocide; Tito (Josip Broz)
Brkic, Courtney. 2005. The Wages of Denial. New York Times, July 11.
Gutman, Roy. 1993. Witness to Genocide. New York: Macmillan.
Traynor, Ian. 2006. Slobodan Milosevic (obituary). Guardian Unlimited Special Reports, March 13. http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,1729460,00.html.
Vulliamy, Ed. 1994. Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Wood, Nicolas, and Judy Dempsey. 2006. Death Poses Challenges as Serbia Faces Past and Future. New York Times, March 13.
[AUGUST 20, 1941–]
Serb nationalist and Yugoslav leader
Slobodan Milosevic, who presided over Yugoslavia's disintegration in the 1990s, was born in Pozarevac, Serbia, the largest of the six Yugoslav republics. (Yugoslavia then included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and the autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina as well.) During an unhappy childhood, Milosevic was abandoned by his father, an orthodox priest, and later survived the suicides of both his father and schoolteacher mother. In high school Milosevic met his future wife Mirjana Markovic, daughter of a leading communist family.
In 1964, following his legal studies at the University of Belgrade, Milosevic embarked on a career as a communist technocrat, serving in a variety of government and industry positions. In 1984 he was appointed to lead the Belgrade Communist Party and two years later became head of the Serbian Communist Party.
Milosevic rose to national prominence in April 1987. A rioting Serb crowd had surrounded the town hall in Kosovo Polje, claiming mistreatment by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. Milosevic quieted the crowd, assuring them, "No one should dare to beat you!" As word of this event spread, Milosevic's popularity grew dramatically throughout Serbia, solidifying his reputation as an ardent Serb nationalist. In 1989 Milosevic became President of Serbia.
Pursuing his dream of an ethnically pure "greater Serbia," Milosevic purged the Yugoslav Army of non-Serbs and fomented unrest in areas outside Serbia with sizable minority Serb populations. The multiethnic Yugoslav state quickly disintegrated. In 1991 Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared their independence. Milosevic encouraged Serbs in Croatia to take up arms and, assisted by the Yugoslav Army, seized control of large portions of Croatia.
In 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina seceded. Bosnian Serbs, supported by Milosevic's military and paramilitary forces, rebelled, beginning a brutal struggle to "purify" Bosnia of its Muslim inhabitants. During the ensuing conflict, hundreds of thousands in Bosnia were killed, raped, and confined in concentration camps. Despite the dispatch of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops, the international community was unable to halt the genocide. The war finally ended in 1994 when a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ultimatum forced a Serb ceasefire. In December 1995 a permanent peace agreement was signed in Dayton, Ohio, by Milosevic and the presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
In July 1997, after serving the maximum two terms as President of Serbia, the Federal Parliament appointed Milosevic as president of the rump Yugoslav state, which consisted only of Serbia (including Kosovo and Vojvodina) and Montenegro.
In 1998, in response to an ethnic Albanian uprising in Kosovo, Milosevic sent in his military. Within weeks hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Fearing a repeat of the ethnic cleansing that had occurred in Bosnia, NATO delivered an ultimatum to Milosevic to halt the offensive. When its warnings were ignored, NATO began a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999. After over two months of continuous air strikes Milosevic agreed to a plan for Serb withdrawal, the return of refugees, and UN administration of Kosovo.
In May 1999 the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Milosevic and four subordinates for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war during the Kosovo conflict. Milosevic, however, remained Yugoslav president and beyond the reach of the Court.
On September 24, 2000, Yugoslavs went to the polls for the first-ever direct presidential elections. Although it initially appeared that Milosevic's challenger, Vojislav Kostunica, had won the election, the Milosevic-controlled election commission announced that Kostunica had failed to gain an absolute majority, mandating a runoff. Angry Kostunica supporters took to the streets, prompting strikes and protests that swept the country. On October 5 a massive anti-Milosevic mob rampaged through Belgrade and seized Parliament. Milosevic conceded defeat, and on October 7 Kostunica was sworn in as the new President of Yugoslavia.
On April 1, 2001, Milosevic was arrested at his Belgrade villa. He was handed over to the UN tribunal on June 28 and taken to The Hague to stand trial. In addition to the Kosovo charges, Milosevic was indicted on charges related to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, including violations of the laws and customs of war, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, complicity in genocide, and genocide.
In his first court appearance on July 3, Milosevic refused to enter a plea, accusing the tribunal of being an "illegal" body established by his enemies in the West. The Court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. On February 12, 2002, Milosevic's trial began, with Milosevic acting as his own attorney. In 2003 Milosevic ran for a seat in the Serbian Parliament from his prison cell and won, highlighting the resurgence of Serb nationalism since his departure.
Milosevic's trial has suffered significant delays due to his fragile health and the resignation of the presiding judge. In February 2004 the prosecution rested its case after presenting over 200 witnesses and 29,000 pages of evidence. Milosevic began his defense by submitting a list of 1,631 intended witnesses, including British prime minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
Doder, Dusko, and Louise Branson (1999). Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant. New York: Free Press.
Ramet, Sabrina Petra (1999). Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito to the War for Kosovo. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Sell, Louis (2002). Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Silber, Laura, and Allan Little (1996). Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. New York: Penguin USA.
Daniel L. Nadel
Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941) became president of Serbia in 1989. He won two subsequent presidential elections (1990, 1992) and retained his post.
Slobodan Milosevic was born on August 20, 1941, in Pozarevac, a small town on the outskirts of Belgrade, capital city of the former Yugoslavia. His ancestors belonged to the Vasojevici clan from Montenegro. His father finished Orthodox seminary in Cetinje (Montenegro) and studied at the School of Theology in Belgrade. His mother was a teacher in Pozarevac. People remember her as a strict, diligent woman and a fervent communist.
Milosevic finished his primary and secondary education in Pozarevac. According to his teachers and classmates, young Slobodan was an outstanding high school student always sitting in the first row neatly dressed. Although rather quiet and solitary, he was politically active and published several pieces in the local high school journal. While still in high school, Milosevic met his future wife, Mirjana (Mira) Markovic, whose family ranked among the most prominent communists in Serbia. Her father was a hero from World War II; her uncle later became one of the leading politicians in postwar Serbia; and her aunt was a personal secretary of Josip Broz Tito. The young couple's contemporaries did not doubt that the love between Mirjana and Slobodan was sincere and genuine—a covenant of two similar souls rather than a marriage of interest. They raised two children.
In 1960 Milosevic became a law student at the University of Belgrade. He was an excellent student and active in the university section of the League of Communists (official name for the Communist Party) where he met Ivan Stambolic, a nephew of one of the most powerful Serbian communist leaders. Many people think that it was Stambolic who elevated the political career of Milosevic. In 1964, after graduating from the university, Milosevic was appointed as an economic counselor and a coordinator of the informational service in the administration of the City of Belgrade. In 1968 he became a deputy director of a state-owned gas conglomerate, Tehnogas. After Stambolic left Tehnogas in 1973 and became the prime minister of Serbia, Milosevic rose to the post of director. Five years later he became president of the powerful Belgrade bank Beobanka. In 1982 he became a member of the collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia, and two years later a chief of the City of Belgrade Party Organization. The collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia elected Milosevic as its president in 1986.
On a personal level many people described Milosevic as a very pleasant and witty person, well organized, and a sophisticated politician. While his political speeches were plain and simple, he dressed well, smoked expensive cigars, and did not hesitate to use his fluent English.
On April 24, 1987, Milosevic visited Kosovo Polje, a suburb of the capital of the autonomous province of Kosovo, attempting to appease the mass of Serbs and Montenegrins protesting a continuous mistreatment by the Albanian majority. When an excited crowd tried to enter the building and talk directly to Milosevic, they were beaten back by the local police. Milosevic strode out and shouted to the crowd: "No one has the right to beat you!" These simple words changed the milieu of Serbian politics. Shortly after, in a series of steamy sessions of the League of Communists of Serbia, Milosevic succeeded in removing Stambolic and his associates from the Serbian political arena. In 1989 Milosevic became president of Serbia.
The internal disagreement among Serbia's communists over Kosovo province shook the already crumbling Yugoslav federation. After Serbia reinstated its authority over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, the prospect of Serbian domination fueled a nationalist frenzy in Slovenia and Croatia and bolstered secessionist movements in these republics. Following the collapse of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1990, multiparty elections were held in each of six Yugoslav republics. While Milosevic and his Socialist Party retained power in Serbia, forces that openly advocated secession from Yugoslavia came into power in almost all other republics (with the exception of Montenegro). The nationalist hysteria that spread all over Yugoslavia invoked gruesome memories among Serbs who were subjected to genocide by the Croatian Nazi regime during World War II. Milosevic, who had already established himself as the foremost champion of Serbian rights, was the natural ally to more than two million Serbs living outside the borders of Serbia. When the negotiations among the various republics were called off in 1991, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia became imminent.
The collapse of Yugoslavia and the ensuing civil war among the break-away nations focused new attention on Milosevic. In the fighting that began in April 1992 Milosevic seemed to stay removed from personal involvement, leaving Serbian militias to carry out attacks against the newly established nations of Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Nevertheless, many critics, particularly in the West, portrayed him as a ruthless despot intent upon overseeing the creation of a Greater Serbia. At the same time, Milosevic and his Socialist Party seemed secure in their Belgrade headquarters.
By late 1995, U.N.-imposed sanctions had demolished the Serbian economy and Milosevic agreed to a Balkan peace plan forged during negotiations at an air base in Dayton, Ohio. He has been attempting to rebuild his image, since he was once thought to be the reason behind military crimes, war crimes, and millions of deaths. Milosevic began making strides at winning a more favorable public opinion, calling for tolerance among ethnic groups and portraying himself as a heroic and peace-promoting defender of Serbs against annihilation. Despite the near-40 percent unemployment and the overall decline in lifestyle among the Serbs, he did retain supporters.
In 1997 Milosevic's second and final term as president was to run out, but he hoped to prolong his tenure with a technicality. On July 23, 1997, he changed his title from president of Serbia to president of the Yugoslav federation in an attempt to circumvent the term limit.
Slobodan Milosevic is discussed in the Christian Science Monitor (throughout October 1988), Time (June 8, 1992), and numerous references in periodicals such as the Washington Post (May 4, 1994), Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. For information regarding the 1997 political race, see Calabresi, Massimo, "So Unhappy Together" in Time (June 23, 1997). □