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Milošević began off as a banker, working for the Beogradska Banka (Belgrade Bank), at times even residing in New York as their official representative abroad. He then emerged in April 1987 as the leading force in Serbian politics, which some termed as nationalism despite the fact that his ideology was strongly marked by Socialism and other leftist viewpoints. Replacing Ivan Stambolić as party leader in the Serbian section of the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia in September.
He was elected president of Serbia by the national assembly in May 1989, and presided over the transformation of the League of Communists of Serbia into the Socialist Party of Serbia (July 1990) and the adoption of a new Serbian constitution (September 1990) providing for a direct election of a president with increased powers. Milošević won direct election as president of Serbia in December 1990 and December 1992.
Milošević's rise to power coincided with the growth of nationalism among all of Yugoslavia's republics following the collapse of communist governments throughout eastern Europe. In June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federation, followed by the republics of Macedonia in September 1991 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 1992. The presence of large Serb minorities in Croatia (580,000) and Bosnia (1.6 million) led to wars in each, in which Serbs demanded the same right of self-determination given to their Croat and Muslim neighbours and demanded that their sections of Bosnia and Croatia remain in Yugoslavia, and were supported by the Yugoslav government and army for a short time until 1991-2. On February 4, 1997 Milosevic recognized opposition victories in the November 1996 elections after contesting the results for 11 weeks.
In 1995 the Dayton Agreement brought an end to the Bosnian civil war, and Milošević was credited in the West as one of the pillars of Balkan peace. The government of President Clinton supported his rule during this period, until the beginning of the uprising in Kosovo and start of the hardline Serb crackdown on Albanian separatist and terrorist actions in 1998. In the winter of 1996, after fraud in local elections, there were student demonstrations which lasted 3 months, filling the streets of Belgrade daily, and protesting Milošević's rule. But the West failed to support the Serbian opposition, opting for Milošević instead, and he managed to stay in power. However, his image was badly damaged, and despite a substantial rise in popularity after the NATO bombing in 1999, this led to his eventual downfall.
Constitutionally limited to two terms as Serbian president, in July 1997 Milošević assumed the presidency of the Yugoslav Federation (currently Serbia and Montenegro). Armed actions by Albanian separatist groups and Serbian police and military counter-action in Serbia's previously autonomous (and mostly Albanian-populated) province of Kosovo culminated in escalating warfare in 1998, NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia in March-June 1999, and Serbia's subsequent military withdrawal from the province. During the Kosovo War he was indicted on May 27, 1999 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo, and he is currently (2003) standing trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Milošević's rejection of claims of a first-round opposition victory in new elections for the Federal presidency in September 2000 led to mass demonstrations in Belgrade on October 5 and the collapse of the regime's authority. Opposition-list leader Vojislav Koštunica took office as Yugoslav president on October 6. Ironically, Milosevic lost his grip on power by losing in elections which he schedulled prematurely (before the end of his mandate) and that he did not even need to win in order to retain power which was centered in the parliaments which his party and its associates controlled.
Arrested on April 1, 2001 on charges of abuse of power and corruption, Milošević was handed over by the Serbian government on June 28 to the United Nations [[International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Kostunica was opposed to it.
After Milošević's transfer, original charges of war crimes in Kosovo were upgraded by adding charges of genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia. On January 30, 2002 Milosevic accused the war crimes tribunal of an "evil and hostile attack" against him. The trial began at The Hague on February 12, 2002 with Milošević defending himself though refusing to recognise the court's jurisdiction. Some observers found his popularity among Serbs rising sharply since the beginning of the trial. Some who have observed the trial say it is a travesty of justice, and that it appears designed to justify NATO bombing actions and sponsorship of Albanian terrorist groups during the 1990s.
In private, Milošević is patriarchal and conservative, devoted to his family and wife, Mirjana Markovic, who was his high-school sweetheart. His personality is marked by stubbornness (of which he is proud) and rigid adherence to personal moral beliefs. Modest and unassuming during his years in power, he was often opposed to appearing on state TV, and his presence in the media was consequently rare and discreet. His most devoted followers are older people, pensioners who spent most of their lives in another era, whose moral code Milošević followed flawlessly. His stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise or betray his principles is at least partly to be credited for the political problems and wars which marked his years in power.
His strong defense in the trial has also to do with this stubborn personality. He has a team in Belgrade that helps him, often sending him information available from the secret police files. Serbian insiders are often biased and support Milosevic's point of view, while Croatian witnesses have offered a lot of useful testimonies. Tribunal has to prove he had command responsibility in Croatia and Bosnia, at least de facto, since formally as a president of Serbia at the time he was not in charge. His influence may have went beyond his formal duties, but there is little to no record of this, as he always preferred to deal with his subordinates confidentially and in person.
Milosevic was not considered to be a radical nationalist himself (although some of his followers were), and he had bitter dispute with Bosnian Serbs in 1993, closing border over the Drina river and applying heavy pressure on them. Milošević's rhetoric never included hate speech or even war-mongering. After the Dayton Agreement in 1995, Serbian nationalists (Vojislav Šešelj's radical party) became his sturdy opponents, up until 1998 when they joined his party in a coalition government.
While opinions about Milošević and his trial are far from being unanimous, people at least agree that the proceedings have plenty of bizarre and amusing moments. Currently, the trial is covering war in Croatia, and is being under close attention of Croatian and Serbian public.
In local media, Milošević is nicknamed Sloba; in Western media his nick is most oftenly Slobo, presumably after vocative of "Sloba" that could be heard chanted at various political manifestations where he was present.