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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
The downfall of Milosevic
Former President Slobodan Milosevic
For 13 years Milosevic was the only power in Serbia
By Paul Wood in Belgrade

Slobodan Milosevic was a dictator who won elections, a commander-in-chief who lost every war he ever launched, and the first and so far only head of state to be indicted by the international tribunal at The Hague.


The world will focus on The Hague indictments, accusing him of being the ultimate authority behind the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II

For 13 years Mr Milosevic was the only power in Serbia.

It all began in Kosovo in 1987. Mr Milosevic was a middle ranking and virtually unknown Communist official sent to calm local Serbs who were complaining about abuses by the majority ethnic Albanian population.

He was greeted by an angry crowd and the Kosovo police - who were then mainly ethnic Albanians - began pushing them back.

Milosevic uttered the words which transformed him from Communist apparatchik into nationalist tribune, telling the frightened Serbs: "No one will ever beat you again."

New struggle

The effect was electric. State television began broadcasting the remarks around the clock. Mr Milosevic became the focus for all the resentments Serbs had felt over the past 40 years - that in Tito's Yugoslavia their interests had been always come last.

Slobodan Milosevic voting
A dictator who won, and lost, elections
His new popularity allowed Mr Milosevic to knife his political mentor, Ivan Stambolic, in the back and take control of the Serbian state.

In 1989, on the 600-year anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, he gathered a million Serbs at the site of the battle to tell them to prepare for a new struggle.

He then began to arm and support Serb separatists in Croatia and Bosnia. Other nationalists were coming to power throughout the republic's of the old federation.

Yugoslavia's long nightmare of civil war was beginning.

Darker motives

Mr Milosevic was never really a nationalist, never a true believer. He skilfully exploited the myth of Kosovo Polje - where the Serbs refused to surrender even though that brought defeat and subjugation - but he was always a pragmatist.

He was not, though, the master strategist some have called him.

Dayton peace talks in 1995
Milosevic and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman (left) at the Dayton peace talks in 1995
Western diplomats who have had dealings with him say he was a superb tactician capable of brilliant moves in a crisis. But his detractors say that each time he felt threatened, he created a new crisis to stay in power.

Others speculated about darker motives, saying Mr Milosevic was trying to commit suicide - as his father, mother and uncle had done - by taking the whole Serbian nation with him.

It is a theory which is taken seriously in Serbia. The former Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, told the BBC he thought Mr Milosevic was clinically insane and would end his days in a mental institution.

'Crimes against humanity'

The Serb nationalist project, launched by Mr Milosevic in 1989, was pursued with a vengeance in Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serbs had their own leadership, but the war was directed from Belgrade, and the first of The Hague indictments accuses Mr Milosevic of genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia.


These are some of the darkest pages in human history

Hague judge on the Srebrenica massacre carried out by an army supplied by and led from Belgrade
Paradoxically, the West needed Mr Milosevic in Bosnia. He tried to get the Bosnian Serbs to sign a peace plan as early as 1993.

Eventually he got them to sign in 1995 - aided by Nato bombing, the alliance's first offensive action since its creation 50 years earlier.

Shaking hands with the leaders of Croatia and Bosnia, and putting his initials to the historic Dayton agreement, Mr Milosevic seemed to have international respectability.

Kosovo

Serbia began to emerge from long years of isolation as many of the international sanctions, imposed because of Bosnia, were dropped.

Kosovo changed all that.

The bomb damaged Yugoslav army headquarters in Belgrade
Nato bombs destroyed the Yugoslav army headquarters in Belgrade
As massacre followed massacre, the West imposed new sanctions.

Serbs are only now beginning to learn the full truth of what happened in Kosovo.

Threatening Nato air strikes, the international community told Mr Milosevic to sign a peace plan.

He refused and Serbia endured 78 days of bombing by the world's most powerful military alliance.

Turning against Milosevic

The people finally turned against Mr Milosevic on 5 October last year, as he tried to steal a presidential election which he had lost.

There is little sympathy for him now as stories emerge about how his family and inner circle stole millions from the state to enrich themselves.

The world will focus instead on the Hague indictments, accusing him of being the ultimate authority behind the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

"These are some of the darkest pages in human history," a tribunal judge wrote of Srebrenica, the massacre carried out by a Bosnian Serb army supplied and officered by Belgrade.

He did not, of course, act alone.

One question it is difficult to answer - and which is only just being examined in Belgrade: How much were the events of the past decade the fault of the whole Serbian people, how much the responsibility of just one man, Slobodan Milosevic?


At The Hague

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