Milosevic: A Biography

Milosevic: A Biography

by Adam LeBor


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, June 24


Before his death in March 2006, Slobodan Milosevic was on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for crimes against humanity. This engrossing biography documents the life of the former Serbian leader, whose policies instigated wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo as well as the bloody campaigns of ethnic cleansing that destroyed a once sophisticated multi-national country.

Drawing on his unrivalled access to many of those closest to Milosevic, author and journalist Adam LeBor describes his subject’s unhappy childhood, his marriage, and his important friendships. He offers details about the ascendancy of crime over politics in the new republic and the secret channels used by Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman as they conspired to carve up Bosnia. LeBor recounts the history of the negotiations between Milosevic and the Western diplomats, politicians, and businessmen with whom he dealt, and tells the tragic story of the wars. Finally he portrays the unprecedented international operation that brought down the Milosevic regime in 2001 and led to his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

A gripping account of Europe’s first rogue leader in the post-cold war period, this book is also a revelatory look at the tragic story of the collapse of a country and the role played by the West.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300194487
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 03/12/2004
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Adam LeBor covered the Yugoslav wars for the Independent and the London Times. He is the author or coauthor of Hitler’s Secret Bankers, Surviving Hitler, and A Heart Turned East.

Read an Excerpt


A Biography
By Adam LeBor


Copyright © 2003 Adam LeBor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10317-5

Chapter One


Growing up in Brotherhood and Unity


From the beginning we were all equal. We each had one coat, one shirt and one dress. Everybody looked almost identical, we shared the same ideological views and we believed in Socialism and Communism. Seska Stanojlovic, schoolmate of Slobodan Milosevic.

Slobodan Milosevic arrived in Serbia just over four months after the Wehrmacht, on 20 August 1941. He was born in the eastern town of Pozarevac, about an hour's drive from the capital Belgrade, not far from the Romanian border. Slobodan was a ruddy-faced child, and in later years relatives nicknamed him 'rumenko', meaning red-cheeked. His parents were teachers from the southern province of Montenegro. Svetozar was six foot tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a luxurious moustache. A spiritual man, he was talented at intoning the Serbian orthodox liturgy. He sang beautifully and loved to play the gusle, a traditional one-stringed bowed instrument. If he did not have his gusle in his hand, he carried a book of philosophy, or perhaps some of his own poems.Stanislava was a classical Montenegrin beauty, slim and stately, with flashing black-brown eyes and high Slavic cheekbones above a strong chin.

Svetozar and Stanislava had married in 1935 and their first son, Borislav, had been born a year later. Svetozar had studied Russian and theology at Belgrade University, while his wife was a primary school teacher. Svetozar had not wanted to leave Montenegro, but as an employee of the Yugoslav education ministry, he had no choice. Stanislava made the best of it, but Svetozar hated Pozarevac. It was a drab provincial city of one main street, surrounded by farmland. Its main claim to fame was a nearby large prison where many revolutionaries had been locked away, and for giving its name to a treaty signed in 1718 between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs, confirming Habsburg conquests of former Ottoman lands south from Austria-Hungary to Belgrade.

Their homeland of Montenegro, in contrast, was part of the Mediterranean, a place of wine and sunshine, passion and vendettas, somewhere where life was more colourful and intense. It was a land of mountains and magic, with a proud and stubborn population, ready to spill blood for loyalty or vengeance. Montenegrins were divided into clans, and life was governed by a complicated set of rules defining codes of loyalty, and the punishment meted out to those who broke them.

The Milosevic family, many of whom still live in Montenegro, was well respected as educated and cultured. Svetozar's father, Simeun Milosevic, had been a farmer, he had died before the Nazis invaded. Stanislava's father, Djuro Koljensic, had been an officer in the Montenegrin army, and was killed in 1913 in the Balkan Wars. History, tradition, due respect, these were the building blocks of Montenegrin society. It was also deeply conservative. Although she was born in 1911, Stanislava's papers registered her birthdate as 1914, so that her brother Milislav would be the eldest of the family.

When the German tanks rolled across the borders, Svetozar, Borislav and Stanislava, who was now five months pregnant, had quickly headed south to Montenegro. Svetozar wanted to see his mother, Jokna, and sister Darinka. In the baking heat of a Balkan summer, travel was hazardous, and there was little food. Roads were cut by battles between German and Italian troops, the partisans, and Albanian guerrillas loyal only to themselves. Eventually, the family reached Kosovska Mitrovica, in the province of Kosovo, where intense fighting prevented Stanislava and Borislav going any further. Svetozar pressed on through the mountains on foot, promising to return soon.

Borislav Milosevic now lives in Moscow, where he served as Yugoslav ambassador for his brother's regime. He remembers a childhood of extreme privation. 'My father eventually found his mother and his sister and, three months later, we all returned to Pozarevac and German occupation. Slobodan was born in August, and we spent the war and all our childhood in Pozarevac. They were very miserable times. We were always hungry. It was very hard to find something to eat, and my mother had to sell everything to survive. She sold all her shoes, her dresses and finally even her wedding ring.'

* * *

For a country that prided itself on its warrior tradition, Serbia's collapse was swift and ignominious. At the end of March 1941, under increasing pressure from Hitler, and lacking any real promise of aid from the Western Allies, Yugoslavia's ministers had reluctantly signed up to the Axis. But Yugoslavia's membership lasted less than two days. With the assistance of British secret agents, on the night of March 26, pro-Allied Yugoslav generals had launched a military coup, triggering nationwide celebrations. In Belgrade tens of thousands of demonstrators poured on to the streets, 'Bolje rat nego pakt, bolje grob nego rob,' (Better war than pact, better graves than slaves) the demonstrators roared.

In Berlin an enraged Hitler ordered that the onslaught on Yugoslavia 'be carried out with inexorable severity and that the military destruction be carried out in a lightning-like operation.' On 6 April hordes of Nazi bombers levelled much of Belgrade. The stubborn chants of the demonstrators were no longer expressions of defiance, but a ghastly prediction. Bolje rat nego pakt, bolje grob nego rob. War came to all, and graves or slave labour awaited many.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes-as Yugoslavia was first known-was a weak and uncertain construct, established only in 1918. Yugoslavia roughly translates as 'country of the south Slavic peoples'. But the south Slavs had never before lived together in one state. Yugoslavia had been divided between the Ottoman and Habsburg empires. Istanbul's territories included most of present day Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Vienna ruled Croatia, Slovenia and the northern Serbian province of Voivodina.

Although Yugoslavs spoke the same language-Serbo-Croat, as it was known-they were divided by culture, religion and ethnic identity. Istanbul's Balkan possessions were known-and viewed in the west-as Turkey-in-Europe. For much of the nineteenth century the Serbian capital Belgrade was the northernmost point of Turkey-in-Europe. The main division was between the eastern and western Christian churches dating from the schism of 1054, when the eastern (Orthodox) church was based in Byzantium and the western (Catholic) church in Rome. This division, which cut across the Yugoslav lands, was broadly reflected in the frontier between the Ottoman Empire in the east and the Habsburg Empire in the west. From the sixteenth century until 1878, the western frontier of the Ottoman Empire was roughly the present border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Yugoslavia was a constitutional monarchy, but not a very solid one. In an attempt to forge a centralised state in 1929 King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic abolished parliament and seized power. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (also known as Royal Yugoslavia). It was not enough to guarantee the state's or his survival. Five years later King Aleksandar was assassinated in Marseilles by a Macedonian linked to an extreme Croat nationalist party, known as the Ustasha.

After its collapse in 1941 Yugoslavia's irredentist neighbours greedily helped themselves to its territories. Hungary immediately annexed Voivodina. Bulgaria took Macedonia and parts of southern Serbia. Slovenia was divided between Italy and Germany. Italy also took much of the Croatian coast and its islands in the Adriatic. The Nazis placed Serbia under direct military rule, implemented with customary brutality. The German High Command ordered Wehrmacht units to execute one hundred prisoners for every soldier killed, and fifty for each one wounded. With Italian and German help the Ustasha set up their Independent State of Croatia (NDH) under the leadership of Ante Pavelic, with the support of the Catholic church. The NDH encompassed Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The NDH's strategy for dealing with over two million Serbs on its territory was simple: 'Kill a third, expel a third and convert a third.'

Not surprisingly, many Serb villages demanded to be converted to Catholicism. Catholic priests presided over these mass conversions. But Croat promises of baptism were often a trap. In the village of Glina, in 1941, hundreds of Serbs were locked into a church and burnt alive. Fifty years later, when Croatia again declared independence, Glina was one of the first places to come under attack from Serb paramilitaries. Many of the Yugoslav army generals whose forces attacked Croatia, and later Bosnia, were from families whose members had been killed by the Ustasha. The father of General Ratko Mladic, the military leader of the Bosnian Serbs, was killed in 1945 while leading a partisan attack on Ante Pavelic's home village.

For many Serbs, the NDH's brutality was summed up in a scene from the Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte's account of his wartime experiences, Kaputt. Malaparte interviews Pavelic, and is joined by the Italian ambassador Raffaele Casertano:

While he spoke, I gazed at a wicker basket on the Poglavnik's [Leader's] desk. The lid was raised and the basket seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters-as they are occasionally displayed in the windows of Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly in London. Casertano looked at me and winked, 'Would you like a nice oyster stew?' 'Are they Dalmatian oysters?' I asked the Poglavnik.

Ante Pavelic removed the lid from the basket and revealed the mussels, that slimy and jelly-like mass, and he said smiling, with that tired good-natured smile of his, 'It is a present from my loyal Ustashas. Forty pounds of human eyes.'

There is some debate as to whether this actually happened. It may be an exaggerated version of something not quite as grisly, or indeed a product of Malaparte's imagination. However, the guards at the NDH's network of concentration camps certainly took sadistic pleasure in killing the inmates by hand. Their victims were Serbs, Jews, Roma (Gypsies) and anti-Fascist Croats. The most notorious NDH concentration camp was at Jasenovac. The numbers of those killed there is disputed. Official Yugoslav statistics estimate 600,000 deaths. Franjo Tudjman, the first president of independent Croatia, put the figure at between 30,000 and 40,000. Some Serbs claimed that one million died at Jasenovac. The respected Croatian historian Ivo Banac calculated that 120,000 people were killed in all the NDH camps. In the Balkans, the grim arithmetic of genocide can be a badge of macabre pride, and victimhood is seen as legitimising national aspirations.

Serbia itself was ruled by a quisling, a former general called Milan Nedic. As in the NDH, Nedic's regime quickly set up a network of concentration camps for Jews, Gypsies and anti-Nazis. Thousands of Serbian Jewish women and children were gassed in vans which lumbered back and forth over the Danube. The savagery and brutality of the German occupation proved to be the best recruiting agent for the two main resistance movements. Royalist Serbs joined the Chetniks, who took their name from the ceta, or bands of armed Serb guerrillas that had attacked and harassed the Turks when Serbia was part of the Ottoman empire. They draped themselves in religious symbols of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

By contrast the partisans, led by Tito, stood for a Marxist, classless society. They were proudly multi-national. Any pretence at a common front between the two movements against the Nazis soon collapsed. Instead, both sides fought each other in a murderous civil war. In many areas the Chetniks reached accommodation with both the Nazis and the Italians. In London, Churchill decided to abandon the Chetniks and give wholehearted support to Tito.

Tito and the partisans found many recruits in Pozarevac and its surrounds. This area of Serbia, known as Sumadija, had long been a heartland of Serb resistance, stretching back through centuries of Ottoman occupation. In medieval times bandits and outlaws known as hajduks had found sanctuary in the dense forests that covered the region. The Serbs of Sumadija did not like outsiders giving them orders. As a child Borislav noticed strange comings and goings at odd hours at home. 'During the war my mother carried out underground work. I was young then, but I remember that she hid people in our house. She was not in the forest with the partisans, but she worked as a courier, carrying secret messages. My father knew about it, more or less, but he did not get involved because he had to work as a teacher of religion so we could get some money.'

Tito, born Josip Broz, was himself half-Croat, half-Slovene. Captured by the Russians during the First World War, he became a Communist, and stayed in Russia until 1920, when he returned to Croatia and joined the Yugoslav Communist Party. He rose quickly up the party ranks. In August 1928 bombs were found in his flat in Zagreb, and he was arrested. In court Tito was proud and defiant. He announced that he did not recognise the legality of the proceedings, setting a tradition among Yugoslav leaders on trial that continues to this day. He insulted the court and said he would only recognise a Communist judiciary. He was sentenced to five years.

According to one version, Tito's name came from his habit of giving brief orders: you-Ti-do that-to. As partisan leader Tito's masterstroke was a political strategy that focused not just on some distant millenarian dream of a classless society, but also on a 'national liberation struggle'. First the Germans had to be killed or expelled, and the Yugoslav nations freed from the Nazi terror. Once this was achieved, the partisans would set up a 'liberation committee' to run their new territories.

Momcilo (Moma) Markovic, future father-in-law of Slobodan, joined the partisans with his brothers Draza and Brana. (Brana was killed in 1942, but Moma and Draza later became senior politicians in Tito's Yugoslavia.) Now in his eighties, Draza Markovic lives in Belgrade and vividly recalls his wartime years. 'My duties as political commissar included moral and political education, explaining the movement and the war itself. We were fighting against the enemy occupiers and also struggling for a new society. But the fight against the enemy came first. That's why we had wide support, especially from the peasants who faced inconceivable violence and terror.'

Caught between the Chetniks, the partisans and the Ustasha were Bosnia's Muslims. Bosnia was part of the NDH, and its leadership courted Bosnia's Muslims, declaring them to be 'the flower of the Croatian nation'. This apparent contradiction was resolved by the Ustasha claim that Bosnian Muslims were not really Muslims, but rather were Croats who had converted to Islam under the rule of the Ottoman empire. As such they should be welcomed back into the national fold. (They were also claimed by Serb nationalists.)

Through all these complications one simple truth is evident. Wartime Yugoslavia was a charnel house. Over one million Yugoslavs were killed in the years between 1941 and 1945, but many died at the hands of their compatriots in the civil war. About half of those killed were Serbs. Almost a third of all casualties, 328,000, were killed in Bosnia.

In October 1944, when Slobodan was three years old, Tito and the partisans liberated the capital, Belgrade, and then Pozarevac too. The swastika was replaced by the red flag. Across Yugoslavia a new, Communist regime was established. Although Svetozar was not a party member, as a teacher, and a respected pillar of the local community, he was appointed vice president of the regional Popular Front. Like many, Svetozar was duped. The Popular Front was a deception, widely used in eastern Europe as the Communists took over. The idea was to have a political structure controlled by Communists behind the scenes, but with non-Communist figureheads, to disguise its true orientation.


Excerpted from Milosevic by Adam LeBor Copyright © 2003 by Adam LeBor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews