The American Interest

A Balkan Tragedy

For the past two-and-a-half millennia, our civilization has cultivated tragedy as an art form that articulates some of the key problems of our existence.  Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III—these works speak timeless truths in an ever-contemporary language.

In the case of Serbia’s former president Slobodan Milosevic, reality has proved equal to inspired imagination.  His life, which ended under suspicious circumstances in a prison cell at The Hague on March 11, could have come straight out of Shakespeare.  All of the necessary ingredients were there: ambition, pride, power, violence, a malevolently overbearing wife, manipulation, duplicity, hubris, fall—and, finally, fortitude in misfortune, soon to be followed by posthumous redemption among the people he had let down.

Milosevic’s 64 years can be divided into four periods of unequal duration and significance.  The first, from his birth in 1941 to his meteoric rise to power in early 1987, was the longest and least interesting.  The only unusual element in his early biography is the suicide of both of his parents, who had separated when he was a child.  At 24, he married his only sweetheart, Mirjana Markovic, the illegitimate daughter of a high-ranking communist official.  She was neurotic, uncompromisingly hard-left in her politics, ambitious, and able to dominate “her Sloba” until...

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