Serbian politician, president of Serbia (1989–1997) and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1997–2000). A fervent nationalist, he is widely held responsible – as supporter or instigator – for policies of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia Hercegoving (early 1990s) and in Kosovo (1998).
A law graduate of Belgrade University (1964), Milošević joined the League of Communists of Yugoslavia while still a student. However, he initially concentrated on a career in management rather than politics, becoming a director of the gas company Tehnogas and then president of Beobanka, Serbia's largest bank. His entry to the political elite, as a member of the presidium of the Serbian League of Communists, came in 1983. Milošević then rose rapidly, succeeding Petar Stambolić, his political patron and predecessor as director of Tehnogas, to become president of the Serbian League of Communists in 1986. The following year marked a turning point in Milošević's career when he promised support to the Serbian minority in the province of Kosovo, which had an Albanian majority. In 1988, having replaced Stambolić as president of Serbia, he imposed direct Serbian rule on Kosovo, successfully seeking popular endorsement for his actions by manipulating nationalist mobs.
The disintegration of the League of Communists in 1990, followed swiftly by the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia itself in 1990–91, led Milošević to create the Socialist Party of Serbia as his power base in a period of chaos. The fragmentation of his opponents enabled him, with less than 50 per cent of the vote, to take almost 80 per cent of the seats in the Serbian parliament. It also effectively allowed him to control the parliament in the new (1992), but internationally unrecognized, rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, consisting solely of Serbia and Montenegro.
Milošević is widely held by his western critics to be responsible for exacerbating the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. In 1991–92 he ordered the intervention of the Serb-led Yugoslav army in Slovenia and Croatia and in 1992–94 he actively supported Serb militias and their policies of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia-Hercegovina (1992–94). He is therefore held culpable for thousands of deaths, despite his apparently conciliatory role in the US-brokered Dayton Agreement (1995), which brought the fighting to a close. Milošević has survived hyperinflation and the devastation of the Serbian economy by the strains of war and international sanctions and remains for many Serbs a symbol of national pride. In 1998 he faced resolute world condemnation and the prospect of NATO military intervention as a result of continuing ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo.
Subjects: History — Social Sciences.