How Milosevic Hangs On

Of all of Europe’s current leaders Slobodan Milosevic is the greatest enigma. Who else, in our generation, has gone to war to “save” his people and ended with such great catastrophes, whether in Croatia, Bosnia, or Kosovo? Who else has presided over such a dramatic destruction of his country’s economy and the vilification of the once good name of his people? And yet Milosevic continues to rule, with no apparent regrets, as the duly elected leader of his country. How has he managed to do so and how long can he go on?

Slobodan Milosevic was born in 1941 in the little town of Pozarcvac close to Belgrade. His parents were recent immigrants from Montenegro. Svetozar Milosevic, his father, had studied to be an Orthodox priest but became a teacher instead. We know little about the life of the Milosevic family except that it was not happy. Soon after the war Svetozar returned to Montenegro where, in 1962, he committed suicide. Slobodan and his elder brother were raised by their mother, Stanislava, a Communist schoolteacher who is said to have had puritanical views; in 1972, she also committed suicide.

According to the untranslated and unofficial biography of Milosevic by Slavoljub Djukic, young Slobodan was regarded as “untypical” in the town where he grew up. He was “not interested in sports, avoided excursions, and used to come to school dressed in the old fashioned way—white shirt and tie.” He “preached” to his classmates that they were not suitably dressed. He was regarded as a “restrained and diligent pupil.” Djukic quotes one of Milosevic’s old school friends as saying that he “could imagine him as a stationmaster or punctilious civil servant.”

If he had not found the right woman, Milosevic might well have become a stationmaster. At school he fell in love with Mira Markovic, who came from a distinguished Communist and Partisan family; she told her friends that her Slobodan would one day be as glorious a leader as Comrade Tito himself. Mira used her connections to push her man forward and he began the long march through the Communist institutions in which he made his career. At Belgrade University he headed the ideology section of its Communist Party branch. There the couple met with another ambitious young Communist, Ivan Stambolic, the nephew of one of the grandees of Serbian politics. As Ivan made his way upward, he hauled his friend Slobodan along with him, always one step behind.

In 1968 Milosevic got a job in the Tehnogas company, where Ivan was already working. In 1973 he became its head. One day, about this time, Milosevic was at a meeting in the office of Belgrade’s mayor when Borka Vucic, a woman who worked for Beobanka, one of Yugoslavia’s biggest banks, paid a working visit with a colleague. She told her: “Watch that man.”

Milosevic soon came to work at Beobanka, and by 1978 was its head. He traveled to New York and Paris and …

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