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Slobodan Milošević (Serbian Cyrillic: Слободан Милошевић, pronounced ; born 20 August 1941) is a former President of Serbia and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as well as leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia.
Milošević was Montenegrin by origin born in Požarevac, Serbia. He began his professional life as a banker, working for the Beogradska Banka (Belgrade Bank), at times even residing in New York as their official representative abroad.
He then emerged in April 1987 as the leading force in Serbian politics. His political positions have sometimes been termed as nationalism, despite the fact that his ideology was strongly marked by socialism and other leftist viewpoints. His critics have said that his remarks in Kosovo in 1987 "nobody must beat you" - which he was heard to make whilst amid pressing crowds saying they were suffering police brutality - were nationalistic, others that, as a political representative, he was reassuring them he didn't take lightly any violation of their human rights.
After he was elected president of the Belgrade City Committee of the League of Communists, Milošević publicly opposed nationalism, prevented the publishing of a book of the works of Slobodan Jovanović , an distinguished Serbian philosopher, law professor and politician from the first half of the century. Milošević also advocated retaining Marxism as a school subject, and publicly lambasted Belgrade youth for their low turnout at the Communist manifestation Day of the Youth, saying they desecrated the character and work of Tito.
His mentor and godfather Ivan Stambolić was the party leader in the Serbian section of the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia. In September 1987, Stambolić became the President of Serbia and supported Milošević in the elections for the new leader, to the dismay of the other leaders in the party. Stambolić spent three days advocating Milošević's election and finally managed to secure him a tight victory, the tightest ever in the history of Serbian Communist Party internal elections.
Contrary to the liberal reforms of Communism in the Soviet Union at the time, Milošević quickly took a hard line against liberalism in the party and proceeded to use such a policy to eliminate his political adversaries.
Dragiša Pavlović , Milošević's fairly liberal successor at the head of the Belgrade Committee of the party, opposed his policy towards the solving of the issues of the Kosovo Serbs, calling it "hastily promised speed". Milošević denounced Pavlović as being soft on Albanian radicals, contrary to advice from Stambolić. In September 23rd/24th, on the subsequent eighth session of the Central Committee, one that lasted around 30 hours, and was broadcast live on the state television, Milošević had Pavlović deposed, to the utter embarrassment of Ivan Stambolić, who resigned under pressure from Milošević's supporters a few days later.
In February 1988, Stambolić was officially voted off the position and Milošević could take his place. Milošević would later be charged with ordering the murder of Stambolić. Ivan Stambolić was kidnapped in the summer of 2000; his body was found three years later. As of 2004, members of Serbian criminal gangs close to Milošević are indicted at the Belgrade court for this murder (among others).
Milošević spent the better part of 1988 and 1989 focusing his politics around the Kosovo problem. His subordinates organized public demonstrations (so called "antibureaucratic revolution") in which they removed the elected leadership of Vojvodina (October 6, 1988), Montenegro (January 10, 1989), and finally Kosovo in February and March 1989 when the leader of the Kosovo Albanians (most of the province's population), Azem Vlasi, was arrested and when the special police intervened in the miner strike in Stari trg (causing the death of 32 people in the process). On March 28, 1989, the National Assembly of Serbia under the leadership of Slobodan Milošević amended the Constitution of SR Serbia and decreased the autonomy of the two provinces.
- "we are being again engaged in battles and are facing battles. They are not armed battles, although such things cannot be excluded yet."
This speech was widely interpreted to be the official beginning of a Serbian nationalist campaign, one that would be a defining element of the Yugoslav wars a few years later.
This interpretation, however, is wrong according to Milošević's advocates. The speech was a positive one aimed at unity throughout all peoples in Serbia. Examples of this are:
- "After all, our entire country should be set up on the basis of such principles. Yugoslavia is a multinational community and it can survive only under the conditions of full equality for all nations that live in it."
- "Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis"
Milošević closed with:
- "Let the memory of Kosovo heroism live forever! Long live Serbia! Long live Yugoslavia! Long live peace and brotherhood among peoples!"
Others considered this to be simple demagoguery.
On the 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1990, the delegation of Serbia led by Milošević insisted on the reversal of 1974 Constitution policy that empowered the republics and rather wanted to introduce a policy of "one person, one vote", which would empower the majority population, the Serbs. This caused the Slovenian and Croatian delegations (led by Milan Kučan and Ivica Račan, resp.) to leave the Congress in protest and marked a culmination in the rift of the Yugoslav ruling party.
Milošević presided over the transformation of the League of Communists of Serbia into the Socialist Party of Serbia (July 1990) and the adoption of a new Serbian constitution (September 1990) providing for the direct election of a president with increased powers. Milošević was subsequently re-elected president of the Serbian Republic in the direct elections of December 1990 and December 1992.
In the first free parliamentary elections of December 1990, Milošević's Socialist Party won 80.5% of the vote. The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo largely boycotted the election, effectively eliminating even what little opposition Milošević had. Milošević himself won the presidential election with even higher percentage of the vote.
Milošević's rise to power coincided with the growth of nationalism in all the former Yugoslavian republics following the collapse of communist governments throughout eastern Europe. Notably, Slovenians elected a nationalist government under Milan Kučan, and the Croatians did the same with Franjo Tuđman. The main Bosnian politicians were also nationally oriented, only those in Macedonia didn't support any overt national agendas.
The socialist Yugoslavia was at the time governed by an eight-member Presidency where four members were inclined to support Slobodan Milošević's ideas (such as the proclamation of a state of emergency), while four were inclined to oppose it. As the critical decisions would all end in a stalemate, the head of state was rather dysfunctional. Milošević exerted considerable influence over Yugoslav generals such as the Chief of Staff Veljko Kadijević and tried to use the army presence to pressure the other four Presidency members into compliance, but ultimately failed.
In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federation, followed by the republics of Macedonia (September 1991) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (March 1992). The presence of large Serb minorities in Croatia (580,000) and Bosnia (1.6 million) led to wars in each, in which Serbs demanded the same right of self-determination given to their Croat and Muslim neighbours and demanded that their sections of Bosnia and Croatia remain in Yugoslavia.
The Serbs of Croatia started organizing their own seccessionist state as early as mid-1990, and they were supported in this by the Yugoslav government. Through 1991 and early 1992, together with the Yugoslav People's Army, they engaged in a war against the Croatian government. The first leader of Serbs in Croatia, Milan Babić, has stated that Milošević was responsible for this, whereas his successor Goran Hadžić publicly bragged about how he was "the extended hand of Slobodan Milošević".
In 1992, the same thing happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the Yugoslav People's Army moved the bulk of its forces in. In 1995, Milošević negotiated the Dayton Agreement in the name of the Bosnian Serbs (similar to how Tuđman did it for the Bosnian Croats). As the agreement finally brought an end to the war in Bosnia, Milošević was credited in the West with being one of the pillars of Balkan peace.
The United States government under President Clinton supported his rule during this period. In the winter of 1996, following fraud in the local elections, there were student demonstrations which lasted three months, filling the streets of Belgrade daily, and protesting Milošević's rule. The West failed, however, to support the Serbian opposition, opting instead for Milošević, and he managed to stay in power.
On 4 February 1997 Milošević recognized the opposition victories in the November 1996 elections, having contested the results for 11 weeks. However, his image was badly damaged, and despite a substantial rise in popularity after the NATO bombing in 1999, this led to his eventual downfall.
Constitutionally limited to two terms as Serbian president, on July 23, 1997 Milošević assumed the presidency of the Yugoslav Federation (currently Serbia and Montenegro). Armed actions by Albanian separatist groups and Serbian police and military counter-action in Serbia's previously autonomous (and 90% Albanian) province of Kosovo culminated in escalating warfare in 1998, NATO air strikes against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in March-June 1999, and Serbia's subsequent military withdrawal from the province. During the Kosovo War he was indicted on 27 May 1999 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo, and he is currently (2005) standing trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The Yugoslav constitution called for a 2 round election with all but the 2 leading candidates eliminated for the second round. Official results put Kostunica ahead of Milošević but at under 50%. Opinion polls suggested that supporters of most of the minor candidates would go to Milošević as would numbers of people who abstained in the first round but would oppose an opposition supported by the NATO powers. Milošević's rejection of claims of a first-round opposition victory in new elections for the Federal presidency in September 2000 led to mass demonstrations in Belgrade on October 5 and the collapse of the regime's authority. Opposition-list leader Vojislav Koštunica took office as Yugoslav president on October 6. Ironically, Milošević lost his grip on power by losing in elections which he scheduled prematurely (before the end of his mandate) and that he did not even need to win in order to retain power which was centered in the parliaments which his party and its associates controlled.
Arrested on 1 April 2001 on charges of abuse of power and corruption, Milošević was handed over by the Serbian government on 28 June to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Kostunica opposed the transfer.
Following Milošević's transfer, the original charges of war crimes in Kosovo were upgraded by adding charges of genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia. On 30 January 2002 Milošević accused the war crimes tribunal of an "evil and hostile attack" against him. The trial began at The Hague on 12 February 2002 with Milošević defending himself though refusing to recognize the court's jurisdiction.
His popularity among the Serbs again rose sharply once the trial had begun, as his supporters see it as a travesty of justice. They also consider the part of the proceedings related to the Kosovo War as if it was designed to justify NATO bombing actions and sponsorship of Albanian terrorist groups during the 1990s.
In private, Milošević is patriarchal and conservative, devoted to his family and wife, Mirjana Marković, who was his high-school sweetheart. His personality is marked by stubbornness (of which he is proud) and rigid adherence to personal moral beliefs. Modest and unassuming during his years in power, he was often opposed to appearing on state TV, and his presence in the media was consequently rare and discreet. His most devoted followers are older people, pensioners who spent most of their lives in another era, whose moral code Milošević followed flawlessly. His stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise or betray his principles is at least partly to be credited for the political problems and wars which marked his years in power.
His unrelenting defence in the trial has also to do with this stubborn personality. He has a team in Belgrade that helps him, often sending him information available from the secret police files. Serbian insiders are often biased and support Milošević's point of view, while Bosnian and Croatian witnesses have offered a lot of testimonies supporting the indictments. Tribunal has to prove he had command responsibility in Croatia and Bosnia, at least de facto, since formally as a President of Serbia at the time he was not in charge. His influence may have gone beyond his formal duties, but there is little to no record of this, as he always preferred to deal with his subordinates confidentially and in person.
Milošević was not considered to be a radical nationalist himself (although some of his followers were). Milošević's rhetoric never included hate speech or even war-mongering. At one point during the Yugoslav wars, Serbia had rejected further cooperation with the Croatian Serbs (the Republic of Serbian Krajina), and also with the Bosnian Serbs (the Republika Srpska, in 1993, when Serbia closed the border over the Drina river). After the Dayton Agreement in 1995, the Serbian nationalists (Vojislav Šešelj's radical party) became his sturdy opponents, up until 1998 when they joined his party in a coalition government.
While opinions about Milošević and his trial are far from being unanimous, people at least agree that the proceedings have plenty of bizarre and amusing moments. Points of particular interest include:
- the statement by William Walker, the US human rights expert and former ambassador to El Salvador during its war, that he did not remember phoning several senior US officials to say that, at Racak, he had discovered a justification for a NATO war, but did not dispute that officials who said they had received his calls were telling the truth,
- the testimony by General Wesley Clark that Milošević had come to him privately at a conference to admit to prior knowledge of the Srebrenica massacre and in the same evidence that NATO had no links to the KLA,
- the statement by Rade Marković that a written statement he had made implicating Milošević had been extracted from him by ill-treatment legally amounting to torture by named NATO officers,
- the statement by Lord Owen (author of the Vance Owen Plan) that Milošević was the only leader who had consistently supported peace and that any form of racism was personally "anathema" to him.
The prosecution took two years to present its case in the first part of the trial, where they covered the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Throughout the two-year period, the trial was being closely followed by the publics of the involved former Yugoslav republics as it covered various notable events from the war and included several high-profile witnesses.
Milošević got increasingly ill during this time (high blood pressure and severe flu), which caused intermissions and prolongued the trial by at least six months. In early 2004, when he finally appeared in court in order to start presenting his defence (announcing over 1,200 witnesses), the two ICTY judges decided to appoint him two defence lawyers in accordance with the medical opinions of the resident cardiologists. This action was also opposed by Milošević himself and the pair of British lawyers appointed to him.
In October 2004, trial was resumed after being suspended for a month to allow counsel Steven Kay , who complained Milošević was not cooperating, to prepare the defense. Steven Kay has since asked to be allowed to resign from his court appointed position, complaining that of the 1200 witnesses he has only been able to get 5 to testify. Many of the other witnesses refused to testify in protest, under the misperception that the ICTY was not permitting Milošević to defend himself.
It is considered likely that, if allowed to present his case, Milošević will attempt to establish that NATO's attack on Yugoslavia was aggressive, thus being a war crime under international law and that, while supporting the KLA, were aware that they had practiced and intended to continue practicing genocide, which is a crime against humanity. If a prima facie case for either claim were established, the ICTY would be legally obliged under its terms of reference to prepare an indictment against the leaders of most of the NATO countries, even though the Prosecutor already concluded an investigation against the NATO leaders.
In local media, Milošević is nicknamed Sloba, which is a common nickname for "Slobodan"; in Western media this nick is usually transferred as Slobo, perhaps in imitation of the vocative of "Sloba" which was chanted at various political demonstrations where he was present.
A popular opposition chant was "Slobo - Sadame" comparing the Serb leader with his Iraqi counterpart, Saddam Hussein. Another popular saying by his critics was: Slobo spasi Srbiju i ubi se, meaning Sloba, save Serbia and kill yourself. A satirical song with this line as the chorus was also composed.
- Milošević's Speech Kosovo Field, 28 June 1989
- JURIST (University of Pittsburgh School of Law): Milošević Trial
- JURIST (University of Pittsburgh School of Law): Milošević Trial Discussion
- "Emperor's Clothes" Articles on Yugoslavia, particularly regarding US & European policy towards Yugoslavia
- Court transcripts and other documentation on the trial of Slobodan Milošević
- Arrival of Milošević in the Nederlands, radio communication registration by Frequency Monitor Centre
- Francisco Gil-White: Lies about Milosevic's 1989 Kosovo Speech - A Review of the Evidence
- International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic
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