Slobodan Milosevic: Why the Crisis Could Last

By Kenneth B. Dekleva and Jerrold Post | The Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

Slobodan Milosevic: Why the Crisis Could Last


Kenneth B. Dekleva and Jerrold Post, The Christian Science Monitor


NATO is bombing Yugoslavia with the expressed goals of stopping President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown against the Kosovo Liberation Army, to force him to accept NATO peacekeeping troops, and to weaken and degrade the Yugoslav military.

Critical to the success of this coercive diplomacy is the political psychology of Mr. Milosevic. An understanding of his personality and political behavior suggests the confrontation is likely to be protracted.

Kosovo is not Bosnia, where Milosevic yielded only after a 2-1/2 week bombing campaign. Part of the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia, Kosovo is hallowed ground to the Serb people. It is the site of the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje, where the Serbs were defeated in a battle with Ottoman forces. Many of the holiest sites of Orthodox Serbian Christendom are in Kosovo. And Kosovo was the site of a transformational event in the political career of Milosevic, who was, by that time, chairman of the Yugoslavian Communist Party. In 1987 Milosevic was, according to his political mentor Ivan Stambolic, "transformed and set afire by Kosovo," a region in Yugoslavia with a long history of ethnic tension, and 90 percent of whose residents are ethnic Albanians. In a dramatic speech in Kosovo, which helped catapult him to power, Milosevic spoke eloquently to his fellow Serbs. "This is your country," he said of Kosovar land, homes, fields, and gardens. Not to fight for what belongs to Serbs, he told his inflamed listeners, would be to "disgrace your ancestors and disappoint your descendants." The speech galvanized his followers and endowed Milosevic with heroic stature as champion of Serbian nationalism. His own nationalism was late-found and instrumental to achieving his real goal of maximizing his personal power. Having found his political voice, Milosevic in the late 1980s tapped into his reservoir of myth to fan ethnic hatreds. He became the catalyst behind the destructive wars in Croatia and Bosnia, in which hundreds of thousands of people died, and millions of of others were forced from their homes in "ethnic cleansing." In 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, Milosevic revoked the autonomous status of Kosovo, laying the foundation for the current crisis. Milosevic is variously called "the slickest con man in the Balkans," "the Butcher of the Balkans," a "mafia boss," and "a quintessential apparatchick." He was born in 1941 in wartime Montenegro, the son of an Orthodox priest and a school teacher. His parents each committed suicide when Milosevic was in his 20s, as did his favorite uncle. Milosevic attended law school in Belgrade, where he met his future wife, Mira Markovic. She was a sociology student who later became head of her own powerful political party, the Union of the Yugoslav Left. Milosevic's vocation began quietly. He labored in various local and state bureaucratic jobs as an administrator and banker, revealing little of the charisma and ruthlessness that characterized his later rise to political power. …

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