Serbian communist-nationalist politician; president of Serbia 1989–97, and president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 1997–2000. Leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia from 1986, he fanned Serbian nationalist sentiment that helped provoke the break-up of Yugoslavia and led to civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992–94 between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. As president of Yugoslavia, Milošević faced international condemnation for the brutal treatment of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces in Kosovo, an autonomous province within Serbia. In March 1999, NATO began a bombing campaign in an attempt to force the Yugoslav government to end the persecution, and in June 1999 Milošević accepted NATO's peace agreement. He was defeated in presidential elections in 2000 by Vojislav Koštunica. In April 2001 he was extradited to the United Nations (UN) International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, Netherlands, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. His trial began in 2002 but he died before it concluded.
During the 1991–92 civil war in Yugoslavia, Milošević wielded considerable influence over the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federal army, and he defied international sanctions and continued to back Serbian militias in Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992–94. From 1994, as the war turned against the Bosnian Serbs, he distanced himself from the more extreme nationalists, to preserve his position. He helped negotiate the Dayton peace accord in 1995, which led to the lifting of international sanctions against Serbia but weakened his popular support within Serbia. After becoming president of Yugoslavia in 1997, he ordered the armed repression of Albanian separatists in Kosovo in 1998, leading to fierce fighting and reports of massacres of Kosovo Albanians. In February 1999 Milošević rejected a Western-sponsored peace plan which had been accepted by the separatists, and NATO responded with a bombing campaign against Serbia. Milošević intensified ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, causing a massive refugee crisis as around 800,000 Kosovo Albanians were forced to flee their homes.
Despite initially refusing to accept the election results in 2000, Milošević was forced out of power by mass demonstrations in Belgrade. At his first appearance before the UN War Crimes Tribunal in July 2001, Milošević remained defiant, refusing to recognize the court's authority. In August the tribunal announced that Milošević would face charges of genocide, in addition to crimes against humanity, for his role in the Kosovo conflict. He was further charged for ethnic cleansing in Croatia 1991–92. The trial opened in February 2002, with Milošević facing a total of 66 charges. Defending himself, he attacked NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and claimed the proceedings were a show trial.
Of Montenegrin descent, Milošević was born in Pozarevac, Serbia, and studied law at Belgrade University. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the League of Communists in the Serbian republic, enjoying support from Ivan Stambolic, whom he succeeded as local party leader in 1987. His wife, Marjana Markovic, who came from a leading Serbian Communist family, also played an important role and became leader of the communist Yugoslav United Left party. Milošević's Serbian national stance attracted popular support and encouraged street demonstrations for the reintegration of the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina into a ‘greater Serbia’. In 1989, he replaced Stambolic as president of the republic of Serbia and repealed the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo since 1974. A year later, Kosovo was annexed. In March 1991 there were 30,000-strong riots in Belgrade, calling for his resignation after the suppression of anti-communist opposition. Despite this, in December 1992 he was directly elected Serbian president.
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