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Monday, March 9, 1998 Published at 17:21 GMT

Slobodan Milosevic: President under siege

By Tim Judah, author of The Serbs History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

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.

"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."

A decade later, as he is indicted for alleged war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal, his words have returned to haunt him.

Unhappy childhood

Kosovo strikes
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.

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 Communist Party hierarchy.

He worked first in an energy company and then as the director of major bank.

By the early 1980s he was moving into full-time politics, becoming head of the Serbian communist party in 1986.

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.

A monster awakened

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

This was to lead to the bloody war which ripped the old 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 1996/97 Mr Milosevic rode out massive waves of protests against his government.

Since then, the opposition coalition which led those demonstrations has disintegrated.

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

'Festering issue of Kosovo'

The present crisis stems from the fact that ever since he abolished Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, Mr Milosevic has failed to deal with the festering issue of the province in which its 1.7 million ethnic Albanians demand independence.

Until recently it was believed that there were still some 200,000 Serbs left there but that figure is bound to have been slashed since the outbreak of hostilities.

Despite the tough words, many believed that Mr Milosevic would be prepared to ditch the province, just as he did with Krajina in 1995.

Whether the acceptance of the international peace plan for Kosovo will be enough to save his political career remains an open question.

He has survived many crises before - both political and personal. He may still be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

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