Why devoted couple Slobo and Mira prefer to stay in

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The Independent Online

"My husband is a perfect man... I love him because he loves me... Everything that hurt me in the past, hurt less when I was with him," Mira Markovic, wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, wrote in one of the more syrupy of her regular outpourings in a women's magazine in Serbia.

A year after the country they run was brought to its knees by Nato bombing, President Milosevic and his wife must rank as one of the most reclusive first couples in the world.

They never walk the streets of Belgrade, go to the theatreor movies. Former associates say that they "feel at their best when they are together or in a close circle of few dearest friends". The "friends"are usually chosen by Ms Markovic, who says that "all the others would let him down, except for those I choose for him".

The Milosevics' lifestyle reflects both their paranoia and their provincialism. The Serbian public never learned where the pair moved to after their residence in the salubrious Dedinje suburb of Belgrade was hit by Nato rockets last April. People who fell from their grace say that neither of them ever showed much interest in cosmopolitan Belgrade, although they moved to the capital in their student days in the early Sixties.

In return, Belgrade has little sympathy for them. Mira's shapeless, dark suits and her old-fashioned hair style are the butt of jokes. Malicious tongues say that the Italian surgeons who performed a face-lift and liposuction on Ms Markovic should be struck off.

Slobo and Mira were married 35 years ago, joined not only in matrimony but in the burning ambition of provincial communist cadres. Back in 1968, when she saw a portrait of then Yugoslav President Tito in a shop window in the Adriatic town of Zadar, Mira Markovic told a friend: "One day, Slobo's picture will be placed like this." Nowadays the unscrupulous rule of Yugoslavia's first couple is felt in all walks of life. In the last 10 years, Mr Milosevic has led the country into wars, economic collapse and international isolation. Ms Markovic's Yugoslav Left (Jul) party controls the remaining financial resources with an iron grip.

Both Slobo and Mira come from the provincial Serbian town of Pozarevac, 85 kilometres east of Belgrade. High-school sweethearts, both had isolated and unhappy childhoods, probably the basis for their strong devotion to each other. Pozarevac remains the only town they are attached to. Closest friends are invited there for weekends.

Belgraders sometimes compare the couple to the former Romanian dictator and his wife, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Many predict that their rulemight end in the "Romanian scenario" - a chaotic uprising of a people who could stomach them no longer.