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Milosevic: Accused mastermind of ethnic cleansing

Milosevic sought to build a Greater Serbia  

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Communism to nationalism

Repression of opponents and media

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Slobodan Milosevic is the former Yugoslav leader whose name became synonymous with ethnic cleansing.

A former Communist-turned-Nationalist, he was seen by some in his homeland as the hero of Serbia despite the ignominy of being the first sitting leader ever to be indicted on war crimes charges.

But in much of the Balkans and the wider world, he was regarded with hatred because of his relentless desire to build a Greater Serbia.

That ambition led to war against the independence-seeking republics of Bosnia and Croatia, the creation of the term "ethnic cleansing" and a NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.

For many he will be remembered as being responsible for the shocking images of refugees fleeing their homes, mass graves and concentration camps - - images not seen in Europe since Adolf Hitlerís reign of terror.

Milosevic is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for alleged war crimes in Kosovo, but so far the West found itself powerless to bring Milosevic to trial.

The international community suffered a further setback when -- despite ousting Milosevic as president -- his political rival Vojislav Kostunica refused to hand over the deposed leader to The Hague.

Milosevicís political legacy is an area ridden with intensified ethnic hatred.

Also his beloved Serb-dominated Yugoslavia has been shattered - - compounded by the presence of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the southern province of Kosovo.

Milosevic took the former Yugoslavia into civil war during the 1990s as he tried to take advantage of the power vacuum created by the death of Marshal Tito, a hero of World War Two and Yugoslaviaís leader since 1945.

Communism to nationalism

Brought up by a fanatic Communist mother, Stanislava, he joined the Party at the age of 18.

The Party was good to him, giving him key roles in the state-owned gas company and bank before his steady rise through its ranks.

The law degree graduate, born near Belgrade in 1941, was supported by his wife Mirjana Markovic, another ardent Communist, whom he met at school.

Despite his upbringing, Milosevic dropped Communism in 1992 in favour of the pragmatic and populist philosophy, nationalism.

Milosevic had already been converted to the philosophy of a Greater Serbia becoming the dominant Balkan power - - a theory he first aired in 1987 after overthrowing his mentor Ivan Stambolic to become leader of the Serbian Communists.

As his power base grew he became more belligerent, but a backlash was nearing as anti-Serb sentiment swept through the republics of Yugoslavia.

Milosevic, left, was ousted as president by Vojislav Kostunica last October
Milosevic, left, was ousted as president by Vojislav Kostunica last October  

In 1991, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared their independence. Bosnia-Herzegovina also voted to secede the following year.

Milosevic first attacked Slovenia without success, and then switched his attention to Croatia where fighting had broken out between Croats and local Serbs in 1991.

Serbian forces levelled Vukovar with heavy artillery and shelled other Croatian cities, including Dubrovnik. But the 14,000-strong U.N. Protection Force helped to keep the lid on some of the ethnic hatred, and the Croats finally won back its lost territory in August 1995 after being held by Serb rebels for four years.

At the same time, Milosevic was supporting Serb militias in Bosnia, where civil war had broken out in April 1992, and the policy of ethnic cleansing adopted.

More than 200,000 people are believed to have lost their lives, mainly Bosnian Muslims, and another two million refugees created.

Witness accounts reported mass murder, rape and genocide, while pictures showed starved Bosnian Muslims behind the barbed wire of concentration camps.

Bosnian Serbs began a three-year siege of Bosniaís capital Sarajevo in 1992, bombarding the city with frequent artillery fire.

The U.N. proved less effective in this war when the safe haven of Srebrenica was surrendered to Serb forces who then went on the rampage killing an estimated 7,500 Muslims.

It was not until August 1995 that NATO and the U.N. took action by blasting Serb targets in Bosnia resulting in the freedom of Sarajevo and peace negotiations. By that time about 12,000 people, including 1,600 children had been killed.

Milosevic looked to ethnic differences again in 1998 - - this time in Kosovo - - as he tried to divert attention from his declining popularity in Serbia.

Kosovo had been a simmering ethnic hotspot after Milosevic abolished the provinceís autonomy in 1989, giving power to the tiny Serb minority who lived alongside 1.7 million ethnic Albanians.

The Kosovo crisis flared between Serb forces and the local ethnic Albanian guerrilla group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, in 1998 after a heavy-handed crackdown by Serbs drove thousands of ethnic Albanian villagers from their homes.

The failure of peace talks in Rambouillet, France, the following year led to a NATO aerial bombardment of strategic Serb targets.

Milosevicís position at home was strengthened as the population rallied around their beleaguered leader.

Encouraged by his position in Serbia, Milosevic embarked upon a policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe compiled a grim catalogue of mutilation, murder and mass rape, after interviewing 3,000 witnesses and refugees.

About 789,000 Albanian refugees fled to neighbouring Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as third-party countries including the UK.

Repression of opponents and media

As a result Milosevic would be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia at The Hague in May 1999.

The bombing continued until a peace agreement was signed containing agreement on the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force.

Milosevic, however, was able to stay in power largely through a combination of repression of political opponents and control of the mass media.

But a string of fatal missteps led to his spectacular downfall last October, not least his inability to discern the erosion of his power base which meant that he allowed the elections to go forward.

When the outcome of the vote indicated that he had been trounced by Kostunica he refused to recognise the opposition's apparent first-round victory and called for a run-off vote.

At the same time, in a rare television address that showed his anxiety, Milosevic denounced the opposition as puppets of the West who, if elected, would bring on Yugoslavia's dissolution.

But his gravest miscalculation, observers say, was the decision to have the nation's Constitutional Court annul the entire election and call for a new ballot, at an unspecified date that would have allowed Milosevic to cling to power.

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March 30, 2001
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Milosevic: The world reacts
March 30, 2001
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March 27, 2001
Milosevic greets anti-NATO protesters
March 24, 2001

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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