Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic's Personality Disorder

Leaked wiretaps of Milosevic conversations reveal a split personality.
By Drago Hedl

For a man who amassed so much power, Slobodan Milosevic was strangely reluctant to enjoy its trappings. He led an essentially private life. He rarely gave interviews - and in his rare public appearances seemed cold and distant.


Many remember him as a communist apparatchik who spoke wooden phrases in front of the cameras.


A very different Milosevic emerges from the published transcripts of a phone-tapping operation carried out by the Croatian secret service in the 1990s. This reveals Milosevic to be a split personality - an arrogant bully towards his subordinates who swore all the time, and, at the same time, a loving father and husband.


The Croats tapped the former Serbian president from the end of 1995 to May 1998, recording more then 700 telephone conversations that he made during his stay in the Karadjordjevo hunting lodge, in northern Serbia, one of Tito's favourite holiday homes.


This sensational news was carried last week in the Zagreb weekly Globus, which revealed several details from the transcript. That the material was authentic could be seen from the fact that on publication day, Croatia's Office for National Security demanded an investigation into how the tapes were leaked and who removed the "top secret" tag from the material.


The Globus journalist who saw the material claims the documents had been thoroughly combed through - it appears the Croatian secret service removed some of Milosevic's conversations with his associates to use as evidence in Croatia's case against Yugoslavia in The Hague. Zagreb is accusing Belgrade of aggression and genocide.


Most of the telephone conversations were private calls between Milosevic and his wife Mira and with his children Marko and Maria.


Only a couple of conversations reported in Globus have a political dimension.


One of the most important was his talk with the then US president Bill Clinton who called Milosevic from the plane on his return from a visit to Bosnia on January 13, 1996.


The chat focussing on the Dayton peace accords which had just been signed - was polite. Milosevic was very satisfied with it. Afterwards, he called the then Yugoslav foreign minister, Milan Milutinovic, now the Serbian president who is wanted by The Hague.


Milosevic boasted that Clinton was "very friendly". Milutinovic was sceptical and said Clinton must have been hiding in the loo in fear of Madeline Albright, then the US ambassador to the UN, who was in the same aircraft with him.


Milosevic said, "You're joking. You think he's afraid of Albright?" Milutinovic replied, "She's an old bag. You don't know what it's like."


Milosevic's obsession with American good will in the aftermath of the Dayton accord was demonstrated in the unsavoury conversation he subsequently had with Dragan Hadzi Antic, editor of the important pro-Milosevic daily Politika.


The day after the conversation with Clinton, Milosevic called Antic and berated him with a barrage of swear words, expressing his fury over Politika's comment on Clinton's visit to Bosnia.


"How dare you write that Clinton came to the region just for photo


opportunities and to divert attention from his Vietnam draft-dodging and the


Whitewater affair? Are you out of your fucking mind? I'm trying to build


something here and you kick and spit on everything," he raged.


Antic agreed to fix up a more appropriate commentary. "Now. I will write it. I will write a new one...that all was extremely positive," he said.


In a conversation with his daughter Marija, at the end of 1995, Milosevic asked her to get Antic to intervene with Dragan Milanovic, editor-in-chief of Serbian and Radio Television, RTS, to stop glorifying him in the news. "Tell him to remove me from the news. Fuck it, I am sick of myself," he said.


Most of the rest of the transcripts are dominated by internal family matters. In one, Milosevic tried to dissuade his son who was in Italy from having plastic surgery to pin back his stick-out ears.


During his trip to Italy, Marko expressed another idea aimed at improving his image - coloured contact lenses. He told his bewildered father he intended to change the colours to match whatever suit he was wearing.


These family conversations portray a devoted father and husband. Milosevic consoled Marija, then the owner of the Kosava radio station, when she received threats from some businessman who wanted to buy her out. When she complained of the companies that owed her money, he advised her to go to the court to collect the payments.


However, Milosevic was not pleased with her relationship with her bodyguard,


Dusan Vujisic, who had spent eight years in prison for mafia-related crimes.


The appearance of Milosevic's tapped conversations in Globus is not a timed political move. It is only the latest in a series of lucrative trade deals in secret documents that have been leaked in Croatia in recent years.


In the light of his trial scheduled for February 12, the conversations that


showed how Milosevic carried out political decisions and gave orders - which the Croat secret police have removed - would prove more interesting than most of the material that has been revealed so far.


Drago Hedl is IWPR's project editor in Croatia.