Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941) became president of Serbia in 1989. He won two subsequent presidential elections (1990, 1992) and retained his post.
Slobodan Milosevic was born on August 20, 1941, in Pozarevac, a small town on the outskirts of Belgrade, capital city of the former Yugoslavia. His ancestors belonged to the Vasojevici clan from Montenegro. His father finished Orthodox seminary in Cetinje (Montenegro) and studied at the School of Theology in Belgrade. His mother was a teacher in Pozarevac. People remember her as a strict, diligent woman and a fervent communist.
Milosevic finished his primary and secondary education in Pozarevac. According to his teachers and classmates, young Slobodan was an outstanding high school student always sitting in the first row neatly dressed. Although rather quiet and solitary, he was politically active and published several pieces in the local high school journal. While still in high school, Milosevic met his future wife, Mirjana (Mira) Markovic, whose family ranked among the most prominent communists in Serbia. Her father was a hero from World War II; her uncle later became one of the leading politicians in postwar Serbia; and her aunt was a personal secretary of Josip Broz Tito. The young couple's contemporaries did not doubt that the love between Mirjana and Slobodan was sincere and genuine—a covenant of two similar souls rather than a marriage of interest. They raised two children.
In 1960 Milosevic became a law student at the University of Belgrade. He was an excellent student and active in the university section of the League of Communists (official name for the Communist Party) where he met Ivan Stambolic, a nephew of one of the most powerful Serbian communist leaders. Many people think that it was Stambolic who elevated the political career of Milosevic. In 1964, after graduating from the university, Milosevic was appointed as an economic counselor and a coordinator of the informational service in the administration of the City of Belgrade. In 1968 he became a deputy director of a state-owned gas conglomerate, Tehnogas. After Stambolic left Tehnogas in 1973 and became the prime minister of Serbia, Milosevic rose to the post of director. Five years later he became president of the powerful Belgrade bank Beobanka. In 1982 he became a member of the collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia, and two years later a chief of the City of Belgrade Party Organization. The collective presidency of the League of Communists of Serbia elected Milosevic as its president in 1986.
On a personal level many people described Milosevic as a very pleasant and witty person, well organized, and a sophisticated politician. While his political speeches were plain and simple, he dressed well, smoked expensive cigars, and did not hesitate to use his fluent English.
On April 24, 1987, Milosevic visited Kosovo Polje, a suburb of the capital of the autonomous province of Kosovo, attempting to appease the mass of Serbs and Montenegrins protesting a continuous mistreatment by the Albanian majority. When an excited crowd tried to enter the building and talk directly to Milosevic, they were beaten back by the local police. Milosevic strode out and shouted to the crowd: "No one has the right to beat you!" These simple words changed the milieu of Serbian politics. Shortly after, in a series of steamy sessions of the League of Communists of Serbia, Milosevic succeeded in removing Stambolic and his associates from the Serbian political arena. In 1989 Milosevic became president of Serbia.
The internal disagreement among Serbia's communists over Kosovo province shook the already crumbling Yugoslav federation. After Serbia reinstated its authority over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, the prospect of Serbian domination fueled a nationalist frenzy in Slovenia and Croatia and bolstered secessionist movements in these republics. Following the collapse of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1990, multiparty elections were held in each of six Yugoslav republics. While Milosevic and his Socialist Party retained power in Serbia, forces that openly advocated secession from Yugoslavia came into power in almost all other republics (with the exception of Montenegro). The nationalist hysteria that spread all over Yugoslavia invoked gruesome memories among Serbs who were subjected to genocide by the Croatian Nazi regime during World War II. Milosevic, who had already established himself as the foremost champion of Serbian rights, was the natural ally to more than two million Serbs living outside the borders of Serbia. When the negotiations among the various republics were called off in 1991, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia became imminent.
The collapse of Yugoslavia and the ensuing civil war among the break-away nations focused new attention on Milosevic. In the fighting that began in April 1992 Milosevic seemed to stay removed from personal involvement, leaving Serbian militias to carry out attacks against the newly established nations of Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Nevertheless, many critics, particularly in the West, portrayed him as a ruthless despot intent upon overseeing the creation of a Greater Serbia. At the same time, Milosevic and his Socialist Party seemed secure in their Belgrade headquarters.
By late 1995, U.N.-imposed sanctions had demolished the Serbian economy and Milosevic agreed to a Balkan peace plan forged during negotiations at an air base in Dayton, Ohio. He has been attempting to rebuild his image, since he was once thought to be the reason behind military crimes, war crimes, and millions of deaths. Milosevic began making strides at winning a more favorable public opinion, calling for tolerance among ethnic groups and portraying himself as a heroic and peace-promoting defender of Serbs against annihilation. Despite the near-40 percent unemployment and the overall decline in lifestyle among the Serbs, he did retain supporters.
In 1997 Milosevic's second and final term as president was to run out, but he hoped to prolong his tenure with a technicality. On July 23, 1997, he changed his title from president of Serbia to president of the Yugoslav federation in an attempt to circumvent the term limit.
Further Reading on Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic is discussed in the Christian Science Monitor (throughout October 1988), Time (June 8, 1992), and numerous references in periodicals such as the Washington Post (May 4, 1994), Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. For information regarding the 1997 political race, see Calabresi, Massimo, "So Unhappy Together" in Time (June 23, 1997).