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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006, 09:38 GMT
Slobodan Milosevic's road to ruin
By Allan Little
BBC News, Belgrade

File photograph of Slobodan Milosevic
Mr Milosevic died while on trial in The Hague for genocide
Slobodan Milosevic is like a character written by Goethe. The arc of his life, his rise and fall, is Faustian.

He made a pact with the twin demons of Balkan nationalism and war. The demons propelled him to power and, for a while, kept him there. But he lost control of them, and they destroyed him in the end.

What were the decisive moments in his 20-year flirtation with disaster - those moments on which history turns?

There are too many to be comprehensive, but here are a few episodes on Mr Milosevic's road to ruin.

24 April, 1987: Mr Milosevic addresses a crowd of angry Serbs in Kosovo. They are feeling threatened by their Albanian neighbours.

"No-one," he says, "should dare to beat you." That single sentence changes his life.

The crowd begin to chant his name, "Slobbo! Slobbo!" An old Yugoslav taboo on nationalist sentiment is broken. Six months later, he is president of Serbia and a Serb national hero.

24 January, 1991: Mr Milosevic has a secret meeting with Slovenia's president, Milan Kucan. Between them, they agree to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Slovenia can go, Mr Milosevic says. There are no Serbs there.

But Croatia is different. There are parts of Croatia where Serbs are in the majority, and Mr Milosevic decides that these territories will be taken from Croatia - by force, if need be.

Mr Milosevic's close ally Borisav Jovic wrote in his diary that day: "Today may have changed the whole course of Yugoslavia and the crisis."

March 1991: Mr Milosevic has armed the Serb minority in Croatia. They have proclaimed their own state.

File photograph of town of Vukovar during the Yugoslav war
The war spread throughout the former Yugoslavia

I remember them proudly unfurling new maps, with redrawn borders. The new, expanded Serbia they want includes two-thirds of Bosnia and one third of Croatia. These territories are to be known as Western Serbia.

Mr Milosevic has sent the Yugoslav army to secure these territories. But the Croats fight back. By summer there is open war.

18 October, 1991: The presidents of the six Yugoslav republics sit around a table in The Hague with British Lord Carrington. There is a peace plan. It gives the Serbs in Croatia widespread autonomy - their own schools, their own language, their own TV and radio stations, even their own police force. Five of the six presidents say they will sign. Mr Milosevic alone refuses. The war goes on and eventually into Bosnia.

April 1993: The war in Bosnia is a year old. Mr Milosevic is in a hotel room in Athens with Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Mr Milosevic wants an end to the fighting, as economic sanctions are damaging him.

He is trying to persuade Mr Karadzic to sign the latest peace plan, drawn up by Lord Owen. Mr Karadzic - once Mr Milosevic's proxy in Bosnia - says no. Mr Milosevic, who turned on the fighting like a tap, now knows he can no longer so easily turn it off. He has lost control of the demons he unleashed.

Winter 1993: I am sitting in a cafe in Belgrade. Mr Milosevic has been printing money to pay for the war in Bosnia. There is hyper-inflation. The rate is now 3,000,000% a month. Prices go up every hour. A friend says to me that if he stops off for a beer on the way home from work, if he thinks he might like two beers, he orders them both at the same time, because by the time he has finished the first one, the price of the second one is double.

File photograph of an anti-Milosevic rally in Belgrade
Mass demonstrations demanded Milosevic's removal from power

The inflation has wiped out everybody's life savings and pensions. The economy is now in the hands of organised criminal gangs.

5 October 2000: Mr Milosevic has fought and lost four wars. He has now also lost an election, but refuses to concede defeat. The people come out into the streets. He asks the army to intervene. The army refuses. He is overthrown.

It reads like a cautionary tale. Nationalism and war kept him in power for a full decade after every other communist leader in Europe had been swept away.

Key to his success was that he persuaded Serbian public opinion to walk with him, hand in hand, for most of the journey.

Today, Serbia will not only be burying their former leader.

They will be laying to rest a chapter of their own history which some still view with pride - but many more with regret and even shame.

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