War In Europe: Private nightmare, public persecution

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC was born in the Serb town of Pozarevac, and joined the Communist Party at 18. While still a teenager, he met his wife Mira Markovic, now leader of a left-wing political party and seen by many as a key power behind the throne. His family background was disturbed: his father, an Orthodox priest, shot himself; his mother hanged herself; his uncle shot himself.

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, he had an unremarkable career. In 1978, he became president of a Belgrade bank, and later Communist Party leader in the city. His meteoric rise began in 1987, when he staged a palace coup and harnessed nationalism to bolster his own power. Famously, he told Serbs in the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo: "Nobody shall beat you."

His most glorious popular moment came in June 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, when a Serb rally became a hymn of glory for the adored Serb Communist leader. Leaders of other republics in Yugoslavia were dragooned into appearing at the rally, to their discomfort.

As communism collapsed across the region, the Serb Communist Party reinvented itself as the Socialist Party. Milosevic became Serb president as well as party leader, and brought state television under his personal control. Distorted media coverage became a key way of stoking ethnic hatreds.

In modern Serbia the seat of power can best be defined as "the job that Milosevic currently holds". When he became Serb president, that was the centre of power. After the maximum two terms as Serb president, he became president of the rump Yugoslav federation - a post that now became all- powerful. Anti-government demon- strations in Belgrade in March 1991 were suppressed. Slovenia and Croatia sought a looser confederation, and then voted to secede. Milosevic, claiming to be the "protector of Yugoslavia" sent the army in for a two-week and a six-month war, respectively. The republics' independence was internationally recognised at the end of 1991. Bosnia, isolated in a Serb-dominated federation, was the next to be embroiled in a war which it had long feared.

Milosevic held European negotiators at bay from 1992 to 1995, promising an end to the war but never delivering. In 1995 he signed up for the Dayton accords that brought partial peace to Bosnia. The Serb victories turned to Serb losses. Croatia launched a blitzkrieg which resulted in the expulsion of Serbs from their homes. This disaster was passed over in silence; Milosevic was portrayed as the "statesman" who had brought peace.

In winter 1996-97, anti-Milosevic demonstrations were held in many Serbian cities. Yet again, he survived. In 1998 a long-simmering conflict in Kosovo, where Albanians had been stripped of basic rights, broke into the open. Milosevic hopes to go down in history as Serbia's doughty defender; critics see him as the country's destroyer.