The Cult Of Milosevic

The personality cult surrounding Yugoslav President Milosevic has reached a new crescendo over recent weeks following calls to deem him 'national hero'.

The Cult Of Milosevic

The personality cult surrounding Yugoslav President Milosevic has reached a new crescendo over recent weeks following calls to deem him 'national hero'.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Local authorities and Serbian state media have been busier than ever during recent weeks in promoting the personality cult of the country's president, Slobodan Milosevic.

In a typical evening broadcast, RTS, the main state news, leads with breathless coverage of yet another local authority adopting by acclimation another declaration proclaiming the heroism and wisdom of the great leader. Telegrams of support are read out, interviews with gushing town councillors are featured, and clips of Milosevic being presidential are aired.

The campaign started on October 27, when the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), the party headed by Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, proposed that Milosevic - indicted by The Hague as a war criminal - be awarded the decoration of 'national hero'.

The proposal originated in Varvarin, a very poor town some 150km south-east of Belgrade. The members of the local JUL declared that the president of Yugoslavia, Milosevic, is "a symbol of our freedom, our existence and survival, our faith and hope, our present and future."

The proposal went on: "Milosevic has astutely and heroically issued a decisive 'no' to the strong-men of the New World Order and firmly, daringly and heroically placed himself at the helm of his people in the defence of the nation's sovereignty and the integrity of the country."

Public support for the idea quickly followed. First to add their voices was the World War Two Veterans' Association from Pozarevac, birthplace of the Milosevic-Markovic couple.

Describing Milosevic as "the most eminent statesman", the Veterans Association went on to commend the president for his "fight against the violations of all norms of world civilisation committed by the US, NATO and world terrorism."

Sinisa Vucinic, leader of the Radical Party "Nikola Pasic", has also added his support to the proposal. He believes that Milosevic has turned Yugoslavia into the "only bastion of true democracy in Europe".

Vucinic's party, which some critics claim consists of himself and his typewriter, has joined the Yugoslav Left.

Support for the elevation of the Milosevic couple does not, however, end there. On November 8 in Lebane, 300 kilometres south-east of Belgrade, the local authorities, which are controlled by JUL, declared Milosevic's wife an honorary citizen.

A ceremonial session at the local parliament described "the works of Mirjana Markovic" as "an endless source of inspiration."

Radio-Television Serbia has been broadcasting these declarations as "headline news" illustrating the people's devotion to their leader and his wife.

Meanwhile Milosevic has been reciprocating this admiration, handing out handfuls of awards and honours to loyal citizens. On November 6 he awarded 150 medals to mark the end of the first phase of reconstruction following the NATO bombing campaign. Most of those decorated were construction workers, welders and a few engineers. Milosevic also announced plans to nominate one day in November as a national holiday - Builders' Day.

Of course, the propaganda campaign to glorify Slobodan Milosevic and his work is not new. But the nature of the campaign and its methods has changed. The incorporation of Mirjana Markovic is new. And the media's focus on the elevated and presidential style of Milosevic has steadily increased. Now it has gone into overdrive.

During the first three years of the Milosevic presidency the personality cult was constructed in a thoughtful and planned manner. Milosevic was presented as an important and wise politician, a man of modest, if not ascetic taste. Journalists and reporters were forbidden from using images that would damage this impression.

For example, Milosevic was never to be seen with a drink in his hand. At this time Milosevic would use only one, ordinary car and be escorted by one police vehicle, during his frequent trips around Serbia. State broadcasters would discreetly stress that he lived with his family in an "ordinary" flat, in an "ordinary" suburb of Belgrade, Vracar.

His wife, although known as very influential in Socialist Party circles, almost never appeared in the media.

All this changed in 1990. The emphasis shifted to the glitter surrounding the president. When Milosevic toured the country he was escorted by dozens of vehicles, numerous policemen and several TV crews. RTS turned the trips into special shows and would broadcast them over and over again.

Milosevic moved his family to luxurious house on Tolstoy Street in the exclusive suburb of Dedinje. The move was justified on security grounds. But Milosevic bought the property from the state at a discount price and is now sitting on a very valuable private property.

Following his election to the presidency of Yugoslavia in 1997, Milosevic acquired the Beli Dvor ('the White House') as another residence. This palace was the property of the pre-war Karadjordjevic royal dynasty, and the post-war residence of the president of former Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito.

At virtually the same time, the Milosevic-Markovic family also moved into Tito's old house in Uzicka Street, Belgrade. This house was part of a museum complex in Dedinje. This house was destroyed during the NATO bombing.

The personal fortune of Milosevic and Markovic seems to be increasing at a rate inversely proportional to the declining wealth of Yugoslavia's citizens. But this hardly figures into the media coverage of the honorary citizen of Lebane and her husband, Yugoslavia's soon-to-crowned national hero, Slobodan Milosevic.

Vlado Mares is an IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.

Balkans, Serbia
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