Writers on the War: Just who is Slobodan Milosevic?

Stanko Cerovic Serbian writer and member of the International Parliament of Writers
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The Independent Culture
ALL QUESTIONS regarding the Balkan tragedy inevitably come up against one difficult poser: who is Slobodan Milosevic? The Yugoslavian drama has seen its centre displaced - no longer a local one, it has now become a worldwide drama. Some of its protagonists have disappeared, others have appeared on the international and Yugoslavian stage. But only one character has remained constant - Milosevic, the veritable engine of the catastrophe since he took power in Serbia in 1987.

As this century plays out its final act Milosevic is centre stage, surrounded by the West's political elite. A mysterious hand seems to be guiding the whole drama through the corridors of history, and is posing for one last time the question. Who is this man?

He acts like a magic mirror that reflects weaknesses and failings, to make all else appear fallacious and superfluous. He laughs at the idea of victims and innocence; he promotes the most fiendish of rogues in an attempt to ridicule society's values. Yet in 1987 he was acclaimed by the press as Man of the Year for having "transformed the apathy of the Serbs into Serbian victory".

Then came the purges, nationalist meetings, press hysteria; anything was forgiven provided it was in the name of Serb homogenisation. Ancestral hatreds and conflicts were reawakened. Plans to change Yugoslavian boundaries were drawn up and the autonomy of Kosovo was suppressed. The battle crawled its way towards Slovenia and Croatia, and the Bosnian tragedy was slowly becoming apparent.

In despair the democratic opposition tried to explain to Western diplomats the storm that was brewing, but their attempts fell on deaf ears. On 13 February 1990, during an informal meeting with his four principal collaborators, Milosevic proclaimed: "Of course there will be war!"

The atmosphere now is one of disintegration. Milosevic's personality has transformed everything it touches into a nightmare. In the future someone from Belgrade is bound to say: "Whoever managed to stay sane during those 10 years wasn't normal."Who is this man?

To avoid mysticism we should focus on Slobodan's pathology, and that of the Milosevic couple. Both of Milosevic's parents committed suicide, and the mother of his wife was shot by the Communists for treason. Certainly his wife grew up in the shadow of this tragedy, consumed by ambition and the desire for vengeance.

Their biographer wrote that the two of them were known in their village, Pozarevac, as friendless - they had no one to confide in.

Those in the know in certain Belgrade circles suggest that Mrs Milosevic's political role is enormous. She has the voice and sensibility of a child, she has no sense of reality, but, like Milosevic, she possesses a keen instinct for danger and has mastered the art of deceit - symptoms not uncommon in certain forms of madness.

Milosevic has a particular fondness for those who respect nothing, whose discourse is founded on insults. He gives them all power and holds them within his power. They follow him blindly, flourishing in a society that has become nothing but filth.

They are people who, perhaps because of their personal tragedies, are so distanced from society that the unhappiness of society is a necessity for them. They dream of unhappiness and incite it at any opportunity. They are two unhappy people, together since their early youth, with a love that has fed on the unhappiness of the world. No doubt they have thought their unhappiness was compensated by the unhappiness of others.

A friend drew my attention to an essay by Wystan Auden on Iago, in Othello, in an attempt to throw light on Milosevic. Iago found his reason for living in the intrigues and conflicts he incited around him. He couldn't stand people living tranquil lives and couldn't stand that they were capable of profound sentiment. He knew that weakness lay in the depths of their souls and he took it upon himself to bring their weaknesses to the surface. Auden considers that Shakespeare created a character with no other motivation than evil for evil's sake and considers this profile particularly apposite in the contemporary world.

Normal people have difficulty identifying with such personalities because they cannot imagine using all their abilities to create evil to find peace in others' suffering. For this reason their dirty tricks usually succeed. At the end of Othello, Iago is unmasked. He is asked "Why?". He replies: "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know."

This article is from a series produced by the International Parliament of Writers