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Slobodan Milosevic


Slobodan Milosevic was a bureaucrat in the communist government of Serbia, before he harnessed the power of nationalism to seize control of the state. He then instigated wars of expansion and ethnic cleansing in order to first try and control a Serb dominated Yugoslavia, and then create a Greater Serbia. But he wasn’t really a nationalist at heart, just power hungry, and he clung onto power by backtracking and making concessions before Serbia finally voted him out. He died while on trial for his crimes.

Life before Politics

Slobodan Milosevic was born in 1941 in Serbia, to parents of Montenegrin ancestry. When he was eighteen he joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia: the country was at that time a communist state, with Tito and the Communist Party in charge. Milosevic soon graduated with a law degree, and pursued a career in business, eventually becoming head of a state run gas company and the president of a bank.

Rise to Power

Throughout his business period, Milsoevic followed a friend he had made at university, and for whom he was at first a protégé: Ivan Stambolic . In 1984 Milosevic entered political life, and used his experience in bureaucracy as well as Stambolic’s influence to become head of Belgrade’s local communist party. He positioned himself as against the Yugoslavian trend for increasing free market reforms, favouring socialism’s traditional state intervention and, crucially, argued that the two autonomous regions within Serbia – Kosovo and Vojvodina – should be taken into full Serbian control. However, he preferred to stay low key and instead he used his position in the party bureaucracy to fill other important positions with his supporters, and developed a large power based. Comparisons with Stalin in this regard are not undeserved, Milosevic was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to give a televised speech attacking Kosovo’s Albanians and encouraging Serbian nationalism and his grandstanding proved popular. Consequently, Milosevic was able to take over the League of Communists of Serbia in 1987.


Milosevic’s popularity grew along with a new wave of local nationalism in Yugoslavia, and in 1988 he was able to establish Serbian domination of the autonomous regions by crowding their organs of government with his own supporters. In 1989 Milosevic became the president of Serbia, at the expense of the man who had once supported him. Milosevic crushed opposition – which might have bought him down had the opposition targeted him directly - censored the media, and purged elements of society who were against him. As the pressures within Yugoslavia began to cause the country to split apart into smaller sovereign states – a process Milosevic fought against – he was himself re-elected thanks to vote rigging and diverting Yugoslav funds to Serbia, and then began to pursue a policy towards a Greater Serbia, encouraging the Serb minorities within the newly independent Croatia and Slovenia to agitate for a split. The result were three years of bloody war, in which the army of the former Yugoslavia, Serbian paramilitaries and Bosnian and Croatian Serbs fought against their former neighbours. The conflict was bloody, and filled with attempts at ethnic cleansing.

Milosevic and his fellow leaders were persuaded to end the war in 1995, and he survived in power having had to use troops to stop demonstrations. In 1998 war again came to the region when Serbia fought the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had started a campaign of terrorism against Serbia. After an ineffectual aerial bombing campaign by NATO, Milosevic was persuaded to accept peace by the threat of both NATO ground troops and Russian pressure. Amazingly, Milosevic remained in power, aided by control of the media, political repression, and pragmatic political alliances.

More on the Wars of the Former Yugoslavia

Fall and Trial

Milosevic should have been forced to stop down as Serbia’s president after, because he had served the maximum of two terms. However, he tried to alter the constitution to allow him to have a third term, and although he got the change passed, he was voted out in 2000 by a tired public. As Milosevic had been President of Yugoslavia (what remained of it), this meant he was the commander in chief of the Yugoslav army and could be indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as a war criminal. When the Serbian people finally turned on Milosevic in 2000 and he was voted out, he was arrested and handed over to the Tribunal, where he stood trial. While the trial started in 2002, ill health and Milosevic’s performance as his own lawyer slowed it, and he died on March 11th 2006 in prison. Milosevic was neither a devoted communist nor nationalist, but a man hungry for power, and prepared to adapt to get it.
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