Former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic passed away in a prison of the Hague Tribunal five years ago. He had to run the country at a wrong time, at a wrong place. He received a legacy no head of state would want to receive. What are the most basic lessons of his leadership and his life?
He was born in the Serbian town of Pozarevac on August 29 of 1941 in a remarkable family of a Communist and an Orthodox priest. He graduated from Law Faculty of Belgrade University. Milosevic then joined the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) and began his rapid advance to the heights of power. In the 1970s and 1980s he managed to head Belgrade Information Service, an oil company, the bank of Belgrade, and the capital city committee UCC.
In 1987, Milosevic headed the League of Communists of Serbia and virtually became the first man in Yugoslavia. By that time the countrythat until 1980 was ruled by the iron hand of Marshal Josip Broz Tito began to burst at the seams. Especially difficult was the situation in the autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo where the Serbian population complained of constant harassment by the numerically dominant ethnic Albanians. The latter were not even willing to learn Serbo-Croatian language, the official language of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic immediately accused the Albanians of extremism. After his election as president of Serbia in 1989, in an attempt to make the Albanians realize on whose land they live, he abolished Kosovo's autonomy. Protests rallies began in response, first shootings took place. Combined police units from all the republics were introduced in the region. However, in early 1990 the authorities of Slovenia and Croatia have made it clear that they did not wish to participate in solving the internal problems of Serbia, and withdrew their police units from the region.
That moment marked disintegration of the country. Almost in all the republics separatist forces came to power. First rich Slovenia took a course towards secession, followed by relatively prosperous Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the summer of 1991 Milosevic tried to retain Slovenia as a part of Yugoslavia, which resulted in a brief ten-day war. However, he had nobody to lean on in this republic. There were not that many Serbs living there and any Federal Republic had the right to secede from the federation.
Yet, he could not let Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina go that easily. The Serb population in these countries was 700,000 (or 14 percent of the population) and 1.2 million (approximately 35 percent), respectively. The power in the counties was taken by nationalists who have decided to build their own national states. There was no space for Serbs who insisted on the unification with Serbia. Milosevic supported his compatriots not shying away of nationalist rhetoric.
The Serbs, Croats and Muslims have failed to agree on anything, which resulted in a terrible massacre in the Balkans in 1991-1995. It was a massacre where no one was spared, where everyone committed atrocities. However, the West and the leading international organizations named the Serbs, Milosevic, and the splinter of the once united country under the name Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, the main culprits. In 1992-1995 FRY was facing the UN sanctions.
Gradually, under international pressure Milosevic was forced to cut aid to his countrymen in Croatia and Bosnia. As a result, in 1995 the Serbian Krajina in Croatia supported by the U.S. and the EU was defeated. Bosnian Serbs have obtained the autonomy, but were denied the right to reunify with Serbia. This was stated in the Dayton agreement developed by the West, which bears the signature of Milosevic. This made some call him the "national traitor." Yet, did he have a way out?
After disintegration of Yugoslavia, Milosevic was first the president of Serbia, then the president of the FRY. For a while the West was not disputing his legitimacy, and was negotiating with him. In 1997 he faced a challenge in his own country. Kosovo Albanians have raised an armed rebellion, seeking separation of the region.
Serbian army and police worked rather successfully, but the U.S. and the EU yet again openly sided with the opponents of Serbia. NATO aircrafts were bombing the country for 78 days in 1999. As a result, Serbian troops left the territory, and in 2008 there appeared a quasi-independent state of Kosovo.
Milosevic's days as a politician were numbered. The Hague tribunal, where the Western countries dictated the rules, demanded his arrest. In October of 2000 following a "color revolution" in Belgrade Milosevic was overthrown by a coalition of mostly pro-Western forces. (However, in all probability, in the presidential elections that took place then the FRY President was defeated by his opponent Vojislav Kostunica. Then the new authorities gave Milosevic to The Hague, where the politician has spent the last years of his life.
Attitude toward Milosevic in Serbia has been mixed. He was blamed not only for the collapse of the country, but also for rampant corruption and many other sins. However, for many he will be remembered not as a politician who left ambiguous legacy, but as a martyr of the Hague Tribunal. His trial started six times, but the attempts to prove that he was guilty of ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia or in Kosovo have failed. The ex-President skillfully reflected all attacks of the prosecutors.
The imprisonment has finally undermined his health. The politician has complained of heartaches, but was denied surgery. On March 11 the lifeless body of the ex-president was found in a Hague cell. The verdict has never been announced, therefore Milosevic passed away undefeated. The results of his policies are still being discussed by historians, political scientists and politicians in Serbia and far beyond. For some people he is a folk hero, for some he is the "Balkan butcher".
Historians Elena Guskova and Sergey Romanenko discussed the persona of Slobodan Milosevic and the outcome of his reign in an interview with Pravda.ru.
Elena Guskova, an expert of the Hague Tribunal, head of the Centre for Contemporary Balkan crisis of the Institute of Slavic Studies, RAS:
"Milosevic is a historic and highly controversial figure. He is a major politician of worldwide scale who was dealt a bad hand of leadership in the country during its collapse. He was a very complicated politician. His persona requires a careful study of character, conduct, motives, and actions. He failed to prevent the collapse of Yugoslavia, the country will never exist again, which is an absolute disadvantage.
However, there is no doubt that Milosevic was a strong personality. He will be forever remembered as the person who in the walls of the Hague tribunal was defending his country and his people. He was struggling with the flood of lies. He fought for the interests of the Serbs after the breakup of his country. He had enough shortcomings, but his dignified behavior in The Hague makes them fade".
Sergei Romanenko, a leading researcher at the Center for Political Studies at the Institute of Economics:
"It is difficult to fully assess Milosevic - God will judge him. The fact that Yugoslavia has ceased to exist is not just his fault. Yes, he was the man who used (sincerely or due to populist reasons) the nationalist card. However, the exact same policy was observed in other republics. Objectively, the situation in Yugoslavia in those years contributed to the fact that the country was bursting at the seams and has collapsed".