Milosevic: Corrupt opportunist

SUN JOURNAL

Fall: The Serbian dictator gained power by fanning the flames of ethnic tensions and was a victim of the fire.

April 01, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Nothing has ever been as it seemed in Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

He was a dictator who allowed dissent, a war-maker who claimed to be a guarantor of peace, a burly man with gray hair who looked like a ward boss, dressed like a Midwestern businessman and behaved like a mobster robbing his state blind.

Above all, the 59-year-old Milosevic, who viewed himself and his people as history's winners, was a loser, a man who gambled and lost vast and valuable parts of his country while hundreds of thousands of people were killed or displaced.

He led multiethnic Yugoslavia on a self-destructive path of nationalism that culminated in its disintegration through four Balkan wars in the 1990s.

For his behavior, the former Yugoslav president was indicted as a war criminal by an international tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands and treated as an outcast by Yugoslavia's new democratic regime, which is eager to rejoin modern Europe.

Around Milosevic and his wife, Mirjana Markovic, there was always a sense of danger and despair.

Slobo and Mira were made for each other, the corrupt dictator and his ideologue wife.

For a decade they ruled Yugoslavia and ran it into the ground. For the six months since Milosevic was toppled from power last fall in a popular uprising after he tried to steal another election, they have been stuck in a villa together, two people whose lives were marked with blood and tragedy.

A point to the joke

Even as NATO bombs rained down on Belgrade two years ago during a war to dislodge Milosevic's troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo, a joke made the rounds that seemed to cut to the heart of the couple's pathology and their effect on a once-proud nation.

In the joke, Milosevic and his wife are lying in bed. She tells him that the country's borders must be defended. So, in the darkness, he calls out to Yugoslavia's border guards, who quickly answer him because they are stationed at the corners of the couple's bed.

"The psychologists surmise that he lives in a narcissistic, self-centered place where he is the sun and everything revolves around him," Dusko Doder and Louise Branson wrote in their biography "Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant."

The explanation provides a clue to how this volatile southeastern corner of Europe revolved around Milosevic and then splintered in blood-stained shards during his rule.

"For 10 bloody years, Milosevic, his wife, their fascist supporters and a coterie of domestic traitors have engaged in deception, cynically inciting and justifying crimes, killing, stealing and lying," Milosevic's former information minister, Alesandar Tijanic, said in the biography.

To the West, Milosevic tried to pass himself off as the guarantor of Balkan peace, a posture that worked for a time as the international community patched together an imperfect deal in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, to end a dreadful war in Bosnia.

To his people, he presented himself as a Serbian nationalist who would create a Greater Serbia carved out of Yugoslavia.

In essence, he was nothing more than a corrupt opportunist who inflamed the Balkans and is alleged to have plundered hundreds of millions of dollars from his country.

How a poverty-stricken son of a defrocked Serbian Orthodox priest and a schoolteacher could become an international pariah and symbol of evil is one of the more perplexing personal and political tales of modern times.

Born Aug. 29, 1941, in Pozarevac, Milosevic was a child of both war and communism, living in an unheated and presumably unhappy home. His central Serbian hometown was occupied by the German army during World War II and later became a stronghold for Communist partisans who rallied to Yugoslavia's postwar leader, Josip Broz Tito.

His mother's brother was Gen. Milislav Koljensic, a war hero and member of Tito's military intelligence unit. Koljensic committed suicide in 1948, without bothering to leave a note.

Two years later, Milosevic's parents split up; both later also committed suicide.

At school the teen-age Milosevic, nicknamed Slobo, met his future wife, known as Mira, who was also the product of a shattered family. Her mother, Vera Miletic, was executed in 1943, whether by the Nazis or more likely by Tito's Communists, who may have viewed her as a traitor, no one is quite certain. Mira was also abandoned by her father.

Slobo and Mira became inseparable.

He rose in the political ranks of postwar Yugoslavia, receiving a law degree at Belgrade University, taking economic jobs within the Communist Party and then posts with a state-owned gas company and bank. She became a sociology professor at Belgrade University, cementing a reputation as an ideologist who would later run a strident party, the Yugoslav Left.

In 1986, he made his move for power, gaining a key party post in Serbia, a year later becoming de-facto party boss and later removing his political godfather, Ivan Stambolic, as Serbian president.

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