[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2001, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Milosevic: Serbia's fallen strongman
By Tim Judah
Balkans analyst

In 1988, during his rise to supreme power in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic told a rally of hundreds of thousands of ecstatic supporters that Serbia would win "the battle for Kosovo".

Election posters in Belgrade
Milosevic was the dominant force in Yugoslavia more than 10 years
He said: "We shall win despite the fact that Serbia's enemies outside the country are plotting against it, along with those in the country. We tell them that we enter every battle with the aim of winning it."

In 2000, just before his fall from power, the language was still of war, of heroes and traitors, but there were no longer vast crowds to welcome him.

No one doubts that Milosevic entered the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo with the aim of winning them. But he lost them all, leaving Serbia an isolated pariah state, home to 800,000 Serbian and other refugees and in a state of economic collapse.

Communist ladder

Born in 1941 in Pozarevac, close to Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic's childhood was not a happy one. His father left home just after the war and was to commit suicide in 1962.

He was brought up by his mother, a straight-laced communist schoolteacher, who was to commit suicide in her turn in 1972.
Mira Markovic and Slobodan Milosevic
Wife Mira predicted Milosevic would become president
At school Milosevic met Mira Markovic, the love of his life. She sprang from a distinguished communist and partisan family. She boasted that one day her Slobodan would be as glorious a leader as Comrade Tito himself, the then president of Yugoslavia.

Climbing the communist ladder, at university and afterwards, Milosevic made sure progress up the party hierarchy. By 1986 he had become head of the Serbian Communist Party.

It was the issue of Kosovo which transformed the image of Milosevic from that of a powerful but dull bureaucrat into that of charismatic politician.

Manipulating the grievances of Serbs, a small minority in the then Albanian-run Serbian autonomous province of Kosovo, Milosevic used the emotive issue to progress to supreme power. He became President of Serbia in 1989.

Reawakening nationalisms

However, it was the reawakening of Serbian nationalism sparked by Mr Milosevic which was to lead to the reawakening of the other dormant nationalisms across the rest of the old Yugoslavia.

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
This was to lead to the bloody war which ripped the federal state apart between 1991 and 1995.

During that time, Mr Milosevic ran an authoritarian government at home and armed and helped Serb separatists in Croatia and Bosnia.

It was a policy that was to end in disaster when, in August 1995, Croatia drove out the remaining Serbs from their self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina.

But Mr Milosevic appeared unperturbed. By now he had abandoned his nationalist rhetoric in favour of words of peace.

During peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, he abandoned Serb claims for a Greater Serbia and was rewarded with a partial lifting of the international sanctions that had crippled the Serbian economy since 1991.

During the winter of 1996-1997 Mr Milosevic rode out massive waves of protests against his government. After that, the opposition coalition, which led those demonstrations, disintegrated.

In July 1997, Mr Milosevic moved from the job of Serbian to Yugoslav President.

Kosovo crisis

By now a new crisis was rumbling. In 1989 Mr Milosevic had abolished the autonomy of Kosovo, Serbia's overwhelmingly Albanian inhabited southern province.

Milosevic believed that the Nato bombing would split the alliance. Nato leaders thought Milosevic would cave in within a week. All of these calculations proved to be wrong
However, he then failed to seek a political accommodation with the province's 1.7 million ethnic Albanians who were demanding independence.

This meant that militants, who had always argued that an armed uprising against the Serbs was the only way to get rid of them, gained increasing credibility.

Conflict broke out in earnest in the spring of 1998. By the summer, sweeps by the police and army had resulted in hundreds of thousands of Albanians fleeing for the hills.

Fearing awful massacres and that the conflict might spill over Serbia's borders, Western leaders and the Russians demanded that Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians come to an interim agreement for peace at talks which convened in the French chateau of Rambouillet in February 1999.

Milosevic was not present at the talks but he decided to reject the proposed compromise. Nato countries had threatened to bomb Yugoslavia if he did so - and now found themselves committed to action.


Milosevic believed that the Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which saw his own house targeted, would split the alliance and that the Russians would come to his aid. Nato leaders thought Milosevic would cave in within a week. All of these calculations proved to be wrong.

Opposition rally
Public opposition to Milosevic grew dramatically after the Kosovo war
The bombing campaign lasted 78 days. After that the Serbian police and army evacuated the province, which was handed over to a UN administration and a Nato-led peacekeeping force.

Some 850,000 Albanians driven out during the campaign returned, while some 200,000 Serbs and others were driven out by vengeful Albanians.

An opposition campaign to oust Milosevic in the summer of 1999 fizzled out and the country became increasingly wracked by mafia and political violence.

Montenegro, Serbia's only remaining partner in Yugoslavia, sought to distance itself from its big brother and became increasingly independent in all but name.

Increasing paranoia

By now indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Milosevic had become increasingly withdrawn.

Advisers did not see him for weeks on end as he became increasingly paranoid and out of touch with ordinary Serbs.

Few believed, however, that he would cede power willingly, especially as his wife, the only person he is known to trust, had regularly made speeches saying that the regime must be defended at all costs from "traitors" and "fascists".

In October 2000 he was beaten in a general election by popular opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica.

However, Mr Milosevic refused to recognise the election results and opposition supporters rioted in the streets of Belgrade in protest.

He tried to quell the uprising with force, but military commanders switched sides and refused to obey him and he finally conceded the defeat on 6 October.

Since his fall from power public attitude has also shifted. And well before his dramatic transfer to The Hague in June 2001, an opinion poll found that 60% of the people questioned across the country wanted to see him tried there.

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia and Kosovo: War and Revenge

The BBC's James Robbins
"Milosevic's path to power began in Tito's Yugoslavia"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific