Slobodan Milosevic Biography

Slobodan Milosevic was the first head of state to face an international war-crimes court. Read this biography to learn more about the Serbian political leader.
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Serbian political leader
Born: 8/29/1941
Birthplace: Pozarevac, Yugoslavia

A longtime Communist, Milosevic joined the Communist Party when he was 18. He studied law at the University of Belgrade and became a successful businessman and banker. In 1984 he became the head of the local Communist party in Belgrade and quickly adopted a populist style, challenging higher up party leaders. He successfully took over as head of the Serbian Communist party in 1987, and as party leader, he challenged the Yugoslav federal government, championed Serbian control of the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, and advocated stridently socialist economic policy.

By 1988, he had replaced party leaders in Kosovo and Vojvodina, and in 1989 he became president of Serbia. As president he resisted political and economic reform, challenging multiparty elections and moderate federalist policies. His actions increased tensions, which led to the breakup of the Yugoslav Republic. His continued opposition to confederation led to Croatian and Slovenian declarations of independence in 1991, and secession of the Croats and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.

Milosevic backed Serbian rebels throughout the three-year civil war. Suffering economic crises and the effects of sanctions, he signed a peace agreement in 1995, ending the civil war in Bosnia. He became president of the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, in 1997. Ethnic violence and unrest continued in 1997 and 1998 in the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo, as a period of nonviolent civil disobedience against Serbian rule gave way to the rise of a guerrilla army.

In March 1999, following mounting repression of ethnic Albanians and the breakdown of negotiations between separatists and the Serbs, NATO began bombing military targets throughout Yugoslavia, and thousands of ethnic Albanians were forcibly deported from Kosovo by Yugoslav troops. In June, Milosevic agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, and NATO peacekeepers entered the region. Demonstrations in the latter half of 1999 against Milosevic failed to force his resignation. Meanwhile, Montenegro sought increased autonomy within the federation and began making moves toward that goal.

During the summer of 2000, Milosevic called for early elections, hoping to beef up his democratic facade. His plan backfired, however, and voters elected the opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, a constitutional lawyer. Milosevic initially refused to concede defeat, but resigned after several hundred thousand Serbs took to the streets in nonviolent protest to demand the end of his 13 years of rule.

The already disgraced leader faced further humiliation in April 2001, when he was arrested after a 26-hour armed standoff with police at his Belgrade home. He was charged with corruption and stealing state funds during his 13-year rule. Milosevic surrendered after Yugoslav officials promised him that he would have a fair trial and would not immediately be turned over to the United Nations war crimes tribunal at the Hague. He was, however, turned over to the UN in June. He was charged with committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo and Croatia. In November the U.N. war crimes tribunal charged him with genocide. The indictment stemmed from his alleged activity during the 1992–1995 Bosnian war. He is the first head of state to face an international war-crimes court. In his trial, which began in 2002, Milosevic defended himself. He died of a heart attack in March 2006 at the UN detention center at The Hague. His death precluded a verdict in his four-year trial, leaving open wounds and dashed hopes that he would be held accountable for the death of more than 200,000 people.

Died: The Hague, 3/12/2006


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