To some, Slobodan Milosevic WAS Serbia. To others, he cynically used Serbia as the battering ram which broke Yugoslavia apart piece by piece in a series of brutal wars.
The young Milosevic learnt his political skills in Belgrade. In the last years of Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia, he was a model Communist.
Tito's death left a vacuum at the apex of power. Milosevic, with his drive and cunning, was meanwhile using Serbia as his ladder to the top.
In April 1987, Milosevic saw his chance and seized it with both hands. As number two in the Serbian Communist Party, he was sent by his boss, Ivan Stambolic, to Serbia's troubled province of Kosovo.
The Serbs there - then a dwindling 10% of the population - complained of persecution by the majority Albanians. As Milosevic strode out to address an angry crowd of Serbs, he uttered the words which were to change everything.
"No-one shall dare beat you again!" he told them.
His words were a rallying cry for Serbs disillusioned with the old-style communism. Suddenly they had the leader they craved, a man who, from this moment on, used television and the media to secure his place at the head of his people.
Before the year was out, Milosevic had deposed Stambolic, his long-time friend and mentor. Within two years Milosevic was President of Serbia. Kosovo's autonomy - along with that of another province, Vojvodina - was abolished. Serbian nationalism was on the march.
1987: Milosevic holds sway with Kosovo Serbs
But the crude fervour which drew Serbs together, was repellent to the Slovenes, Croats and other nations of Yugoslavia. Milosevic saw himself forging a Greater Serbia from the remnants of Yugoslavia. Instead he created a monster which all but devoured Serbia.
In 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia, the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav-army went onto the offensive. Here the support of Belgrade, and by implication Milosevic, was crucial.
With Serb paramilitaries backed by the army Croatian towns like Vukovar were pounded into submission.
Bosnia was subjected to the same treatment. When the republic declared its independence, its Serbian minority was already armed and braced to resist.
Bosnia's predominantly Muslim capital, Sarajevo, along with other cities, was surrounded and besieged. The siege lasted for more than three years.
1998: Kosovo Albanians demonstrate
With the horrors of conflict came a new term, "ethnic cleansing". Whole populations were forced from their homes, for some the fate was far worse.
By then, Milosevic had distanced himself from the Bosnian Serb leadership and its military commander, General Mladic, who was present at Srebrenica, where up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred.
Conflict in Kosovo
Instead, Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of war, had reinvented himself as the Man of Peace. It was Milosevic who, in Paris, signed the Dayton Peace Treaty on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs - the very people he had goaded into war.
With three wars fought and lost for Yugoslavia, Milosevic started planning a fourth, for Kosovo.
Over 10 years, conditions in Kosovo had worsened dramatically. But now, it was the Albanians who were seething against Serbian rule, and demanding the return of their autonomy.
In the summer of 1998, as Albanians mounted mass protests against Serbian rule, police and army reinforcements were sent in to crush the Albanian guerrilla organisation, the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Demonstrators wave a Serbian flag as Milosevic's reign ends
It was the beginning of the end of Milosevic's dream. Weeks of peace talks in France got nowhere, and Nato was called on to carry out its threat to bomb the Serbian military into submission.
The ethnic cleansing which followed, of up to half of the Kosovo Albanian population, was dismissed by Milosevic, in characteristic terms, as people simply fleeing from Nato's bombs.
But this time, Belgrade's responsibility was clear, and Slobodan Milosevic became the first serving head of state to be indicted for crimes against humanity. His grip on power was beginning to slip.
In the summer of 2000, he changed the format of the presidential election. In a direct vote, the people of Yugoslavia would decide who would lead them.
Commentators believed at the time that this move would secure Milosevic another term of office. But it was not to be.
In the presidential election of September 2000, and despite denying the opposition alliance any time on state-controlled radio or television, Slobodan Milosevic was clearly defeated by the opposition leader, Vojislav Kostunica.
Born 1941 in Pozarevac, near Belgrade
Both parents commit suicide
Meets Mira Markovic, later to become his wife
Becomes President of Serbia 1989
Becomes Yugoslav President 1997
Ousted from office 2000
When the Federal Election Commission called for a second ballot, Yugoslavia came to a standstill.
A general strike and widespread demonstrations culminated, on 5 October, in opposition supporters capturing Belgrade's parliament building and the headquarters of state television. Milosevic and his wife fled. Thirteen years of rule were ended in 12 breathtaking hours.
Six months later, an armed standoff outside Milosevic's mansion ended with the arrest of the former president. Justice could finally be seen to be done, it was hoped.
Milosevic's trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity got under way in earnest in early 2002 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
By the time of his death, the prosecution had completed its case but the defence was continuing, interrupted by Milosevic's frequent ill-health.
Slobodan Milosevic may be remembered as a nationalist who brought disaster upon his nation and the Balkans. Or as a gambler, playing with people's lives, and using conflict to cement his hold on power. Few will mourn his passing, and many in the Balkans will breathe more easily.