Slobodan Milošević was the President of Serbia from 1989 until 1997 and then the President of Yugoslavia from 1997 until 2000. He was an important figure in the Bosnian War of the 1990s and was considered to be responsible for some of the atrocities of the Bosnian Genocide. He ruled over Serbia and Yugoslavia as an authoritarian who held absolute control.
Slobodan Milošević was born on August 20th, 1941 in the city of Pozarevac in eastern Serbia. His father, Svetozar Milošević was a Serbian Orthodox theologian, while his mother, Stanislava Milošević was a school teacher. As a young man, Slobodan Milošević studied law at the University of Belgrade. While there, he joined and became the head of the committee of the Yugoslav Communist League’s (SKJ) student branch. While in University he made several connections which would benefit him later in life and allow him to rise to power. He graduated in 1966 an immediately began working in Serbia. For instance, he worked as an economic advisor to the mayor of Belgrade, and later worked in the banking industry.
While working Slobodan Milošević continued his involvement in the Yugoslav Communist League and on May 28th, 1986 he was elected the president of the Serbian Branch of the SKJ. At the time, Serbia (and much of the Balkan region) was struggling due to ethnic and political unrest between the different ethnicities that all lived in the area. He was both praised and criticized for this policies and views related to these ethnic clashes, but it allowed him to gain in popularity across Serbia throughout the late 1980s. Finally, in February of 1988, Slobodan Milošević became the president of Serbia and immediately began to implement economic and political reforms. Furthermore, he carried out policies that brought down some of his political rivals and instead promoted people to positions of power that were allied with him.
However, Slobodan Milošević is likely best known today for his role in the Bosnian War and Bosnian Genocide. The Bosnian Genocide is considered to be a significant example of genocide and crimes against humanity in the 20th century, alongside others, such as: Armenian Genocide, Holodomor, Nanking Massacre, Holocaust, Cambodian Genocide, and the Rwanda Genocide. A genocide is defined as a mass killing of a certain group of people based on their religion, ethnicity or cultural background. A crime against humanity is considered to be when a group of people are subjected to humiliation, suffering and death on a mass scale by another group. The Bosnian Genocide occurred in the former country of Yugoslavia between 1992 to 1995. The former country of Yugoslavia was located in southeastern Europe in the region of the Balkans. Many modern countries emerged out of Yugoslavia after it fell apart in 1992, such as: Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The genocide and crimes against humanity that occurred in the country are considered to be the result and actions of an ethic clash that occurred between Serbians and ‘non-Serbs’ during the larger Bosnian War that took place from 1992 to 1995. Historians generally agree that as many as 100,000 people were killed during the events of the genocide.
The country of Yugoslavia fell under the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in eastern Europe throughout the majority of the 20th century. However, as the Cold War came to an end in the early 1990s, communism as an ideology began to struggle and the country of Yugoslavia dissolved into several different nation states. Yugoslavia was made up of many different ethnicities and struggled to maintain peace throughout its history. As such, when the country ‘broke up’ in 1991 and 1992 ethnic tensions were at a dangerous level. For example, Bosnia announced its departure from Yugoslavia in 1992 following the earlier secessions by Slovenia and Croatia in 1991. At the time, Bosnia was made of several different ethnicities, including: Muslim Bosniaks, Christian Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Muslim Bosniaks made up the highest population at 44% of the country while Christian Orthodox Serbs were 32.5% and Catholic Croats were 17%. Soon a conflict emerged between the different ethnic groups and led to the Bosnian Genocide.
For his part, Slobodan Milošević was blamed by some for the rise in ethnic tensions as his government was accused of controlling the media in the country at the time. As well, the media in Serbia were known to express nationalism and patriotism while also supporting negative views towards non-Serbians. This included both print media and news media outlets. As such, many consider Slobodan Milošević and his government to be responsible for the increased tensions present in Yugoslavia, which eventually escalated into the Bosnian Genocide.
Soon after Bosnia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs and the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević began a military conflict in order to capture territory in Bosnia specifically for the Serbian population. This led to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaign carried out by Serbians against non-Serbs in the region. In general, ethnic cleansing is best defined as a method of forcibly removing an ethnicity or group of ethnicities from a particular region through several different means, including: forced migration, intimidation, and genocide. This ethnic cleansing campaign and other atrocities carried out throughout the area marked the major events of the Bosnian Genocide during the overall Bosnian War. Today, it is understood that all sides carried out atrocities against each other, most (90%) of the crimes against humanity were carried out by Serbians against non-Serbs. In total, it is estimated that the upheaval of the Bosnian War and the resulting campaign of ethnic cleansing led to the displacement of nearly 3 million people in the area of eastern Europe.
While no evidence has ever been discovered to suggest that Slobodan Milošević directly ordered the murder of people in the Bosnian Genocide, his critics argue he was responsible nonetheless. For example, he controlled the country as an authoritarian and had direct control over all aspects of the conflict. Second, he controlled the state media, which escalated the ethnic tensions in the country that eventually led to the killings. Finally, he was criticized for not preventing the genocide and for not holding those who carried out the attacks accountable.
In the late 1990s, protests began to erupt throughout the region against the presidency of Slobodan Milošević. The growing political instability and civil unrest eventually forced Slobodan Milošević to resign from the presidency in October of 2000.
Just as in other genocides in the 20th century, there was an effort to hold those accountable for their role in the ethnic cleansing campaign that overtook the Bosnian War. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations in May of 1993 in order to prosecute the perpetrators of the genocide. The ICTY was located in The Hague, Netherlands and was tasked with judging the following during the Bosnian War: customs of war, genocide, crimes against humanity. The maximum sentence it could impose was life imprisonment. In total, the ICTY oversaw the trials of 111 people and dissolved as an organization in December of 2017.
Slobodan Milošević is likely the most famous person tried by the ICTY in The Hague. He was the President of Serbia and oversaw much of the Bosnian War. He was a driving force behind Serbian nationalism at the time and hoped to establish a Serbian state out of the collapse of the Yugoslavia. Eventually he was charged by the ICTY for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. His five-year trial began in 2002 with him acting as his own defense. He denied knowledge or responsibility of the atrocities carried out during the Bosnian War and argued that they ICTY had no authority over him. Regardless, no verdict was reached as he died in his prison cell in The Hague on March 11th, 2006 before the end of his trial.
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