Courtesy Reuters

A Profile of Slobodan Milosevic

BANALITY TRIUMPHANT

In 1989 a collection of speeches and interviews of Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia, was published in Belgrade. His narrow intellectual horizons and limited vocabulary were obvious; the chapter titles, in their arrogant and hollow "simplicity," were reminiscent of Mao Zedong's Red Book. ("The difficulties are neither unexpected nor insurmountable"; "The difficulties should not be a reason to demobilize, but to mobilize ourselves"; "The future will still be beautiful, and it is not far away"; etc.)

Milosevic's dry, overcompressed sentences and his frequent use of ritual formulas made his style mechanical; the use of military vocabulary (mobilization, battle, war) gave the prose a rigid and belligerent tone. This ponderous text seemed to be very much in harmony with the author's large photograph on the book's cover. He appears stiff, inhibited, hierarchical-almost robot-like.

Yet the book was an instant success. A Serbian reading public that considered itself discerning had been seduced by a simplistic, almost naïve book, whose author seemed incapable of presenting a genuine vision of political and social life. To understand why a crude propagandistic tract became a national best-seller is to begin to understand why a former communist party apparatchik has been able to gain the support and adulation of millions of Serbs across Yugoslavia.

One secret of the book's success was that it addressed in a loud and clear voice the problem of Kosovo, which was of greatest importance to the Serbs. Since the late 1960s Serbs had been emigrating from this predominately Albanian province in the republic of Serbia; between 200,000 and 300,000 had left by the mid-1980s, many forced out by Albanian extremists. Many Serbs believed that the ruling communist party had done very little to stop this exodus.

They also resented the fact that the 1974 Yugoslav constitution had largely separated Kosovo, as well as Serbia's other province, Vojvodina, from Serbia. Kosovo and Vojvodina had their own representatives in the federal, state and party bodies, where most of the time they voted against Serbia.

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