In 1984 Milošević committed to political life on a full-time basis, heading the local Communist Party organization in Belgrade. In 1986 he was elected president of the Serbian Politburo of the League of Communists, taking advantage of this post to militate for a Serbian agenda within the Yugoslav federation. In April 1987 he first caught the public eye by rallying support for the Serbian minority in Kosovo, and over the coming years he made the Serbian cause his political focus, overpowering opposition elements as Serbia annexed the autonomous regions of the Vojvodina and Kosovo in 1988 and cynically alienating the leadership of Croatia and Slovenia as the League of Communists disintegrated in January 1990.
After employing the Yugoslav Army to put down demonstrations in Belgrade that were prompted by his presidential victory in Serbia's first multiparty elections in December 1990, Milošević proclaimed on 9 March 1991 the Yugoslav federation to be in its "final agony." The secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the federation on 25 June 1991 prompted him to order armed intervention by the Serb-controlled Yugoslav Army. A European Community (EC) accord ended the fighting in Slovenia by 7 July 1991, but warfare persisted in Croatia until efforts by the EC and special United Nations (UN) envoy Cyrus Vance eventually halted hostilities there on 2 January 1992.
Following the Bosnian declaration of independence in March 1992, Serb forces soon began a campaign of ethnic cleansing along the Drina River, culminating with the eventual death or displacement of more than 50,000 non-Serbian Bosnians. The UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Serbia on 30 May 1992, and the following month, amid international outcry over his apparent sponsorship of war atrocities, Milošević declared that Serbia and Montenegro now constituted the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), a mere vestige of the former Yugoslavia. At the August 1992 London Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, Milošević and FRY Prime Minister Milan Panic disagreed over the latter's willingness to accept international criticism of ethnic cleansing and FRY's territorial claims to Serbian areas in neighboring lands. Milošević successfully rebuffed Panic's challenge in the December 1992 Serbian presidential election.
After Bosnian Serbs demonstrated their noncompliance with the Vance-Owen and Contact Group peace plans espoused by Milošević, he instituted a blockade of the Bosnian Republika Srpska in August 1994. In July and August 1995, multiple Serbian and Croatian offensives precipitated the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing of the Bosnian Serbs. A U.S.-led effort secured a cease-fire in September, and the war was ended by the November 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement in which Milošević was a visible and important player. Yet he had overestimated the degree to which trade and financial sanctions would be lifted. By the winter of 1996–1997, economic hardships endured by Serbia under selective continuing sanctions that blocked its entry into the UN and the World Bank provoked weeks of organized street protests against Milošević, and late 1997 Serbian-Albanian tensions in Kosovo flared into a renewed war of attrition by the summer of 1998. Reports of extensive ethnic cleansing campaigns again brought NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999, and on 27 May Milošević was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In June 1999 Milošević acceded to the terms ending the latest war, which included a NATO presence in Kosovo.
In September 2000 Milošević lost the FRY presidential election to Vojislav Kostunica and on 6 October 2000 announced his departure from office. Milošević was arrested and detained by FRY authorities on 31 March 2001. Delivered to the ICTY in The Hague on 28 June 2001, he died of natural causes there on 11 March 2006 during his trial for war crimes committed in the killing fields of Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
Gordon E. Hogg
Kaufman, Stuart. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.; Sell, Louis. Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.