Mrs Milosevic trades on fear and paranoia

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The Independent Online

"Our opponent in the elections is Nato. Last year it attacked us with missiles, this time with the parties it created in our country. Serbia defended herself from missiles and it has the defence from the new 'missiles' - its army." With these words Mira Markovic, the ambitious wife of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, launched her electoral campaign.

"Our opponent in the elections is Nato. Last year it attacked us with missiles, this time with the parties it created in our country. Serbia defended herself from missiles and it has the defence from the new 'missiles' - its army." With these words Mira Markovic, the ambitious wife of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, launched her electoral campaign.

Regarded by many as the ideological powerhouse behind the government's election campaign, her brand of politics divides Serbs into "patriots", loyal to the regime, and "traitors" - those sympathetic to the opposition.

Ms Markovic heads the influential Yugoslav Left (JUL), the quasi-Marxist party running in coalition with Mr Milosevic's Socialists in the forthcoming elections. JUL was founded six years ago and has enjoyed only minority support in previous elections, obtaining just a few per cent of the vote. But thanks to Ms Markovic's influence over her husband, many JUL officials have landed top jobs in government.

"She usually wins when the choice of aides to Milosevic is negotiated at home," said a former friend of the family. "She trusts only people loyal to her and rewards them generously."

Analysts said that JUL has succeeded in taking control of much of Serbia's remaining wealth, enabling a circle close to the Milosevic family to amass large fortunes. The political and financial rise of JUL has prompted some highly placed Socialists to resign from their posts in protest.

Now, for the first time in her life, Ms Markovic is running for parliament herself. It is rumoured that after becoming an MP, she aims to become speaker of the Yugoslav parliament. However, Ms Markovic's campaign has been limited to the area around her and her husband's home town of Pozarevac, where she believes her popularity is high.

The tight security around her campaign included the blocking of roads by the police and orders to stay behind closed doors for those living in the streets along which her convoy passed. Audiences were carefully chosen and rallies were rarely announced in advance, though they were generously shown on government-controlled television.

"The world needs changes so that there would be no small and poor nations. In my leftist heart, I believe in the rebellion of the poor and victory of the oppressed, impoverished, good people," said Ms Markovic at her final rally last week.

Ironically, the description well fits many Serbs, fed up with everything after 10 years of Milosevic rule. It is widely speculated that Ms Markovic's deep fear that Milosevic will be ousted has made the regime's electoral campaign especially vitriolic and paranoid.

At least four western or Nato "conspiracies" have been presented to the public by Ms Markovic's campaign in the past fortnight. All include complicated scenarios for alleged violent overthrow of the regime on the night of 24 September, when the polls close.

"It's a shameless campaign of fantastic lies" said Slobodan Vucetic, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Serbia. "The endlessly immoral fabrications have the aim of creating an alibi for the electoral fraud and violence, as the regime is obviously not ready to give up power in a peaceful way".

The government's open threats to its opponents have prompted the influential Serbian Orthodox Church to appeal for peace.

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