Sunday 25 August 2019

Obituary: Mira Markovic

'Lady Macbeth of Serbia' seen as the brains behind the brutal regime of Slobodan Milosevic

Partners in crime: Mira Markovic and Slobodan Milosevic
Partners in crime: Mira Markovic and Slobodan Milosevic

Mira Markovic, who has died aged 76, was the once-powerful wife of the Serbian leader, former president of Yugoslavia and indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.

Known in Serbia as the "Red Witch" for her strange mix of mysticism and hard-left politics, and to the outside world as the "Lady Macbeth of Serbia", she was said to be the real power in the relationship and was widely blamed for urging her husband on to the nationalist excesses that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

She was born Mirjana Markovic on July 10, 1942 to Yugoslav partisan fighter parents and first met her husband as a teenager at school. Both endured family trauma. Milosevic's parents committed suicide when he was a young man. Mirjana's mother, Vera Miletic, was captured by German troops and allegedly released sensitive information, under torture, to the Gestapo, as a result of which she was executed in 1944 by fellow partisans (or according to some accounts, by the Germans). Her father refused to acknowledge Mirjana until she was 15 years old, and she was brought up by an aunt, later assuming her mother's nom de guerre, Mira.

Milosevic and Mira Markovic both studied to Belgrade University, he reading Law, she Sociology, in which she gained a PhD, later teaching the subject at the university. They married in 1965. At his trial in The Hague in 2002, Milosevic described his wife as an internationally renowned academic and a tireless campaigner against "violence and primitivism", whose philosophical works had been translated into more than 30 languages - a claim which caused some mirth in Serbia where her books were regarded as unreadable.

As Milosevic climbed the Communist Party ladder, he relied heavily on his wife's steely determination for him to succeed - as well as on the patronage of his best friend, Ivan Stambolic, who in 1986 became head of the Serbian Communist Party and made Milosevic his deputy as nationalism was on the rise across the federation of Yugoslavia.

It was, by all accounts, Mira who urged Milosevic to make his bid for power the following year when he turned on Stambolic at a televised Communist Party meeting, embracing the cause of Serbian nationalism and seizing the top job. The Serbs flocked to his banner, signing up in droves for volunteer units formed to fight their ethnic neighbours.

Westerners might have thought that Milosevic, known abroad as the "Butcher of the Balkans" for starting three wars which killed an estimated 250,000 people, was the dominant partner. But many commentators claimed that it was Mira - a hippyish figure who wore flowers in her dyed-black hair and talked in a little-girl voice about pretty clothes and fluffy toys - who told him what to do.

As the war in Bosnia ended in 1995, she founded her own political party, the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), which gave uncritical backing to Milosevic's Socialist party, and she established a network of followers which she used to intimidate her husband's opponents.

When Milosevic's party lost local elections in 1996, it was Mira who persuaded him to overrule the poll. She did the same again when he lost elections in 2000 - less successfully this time. A month later Milosevic was removed from power after a popular uprising.

It was Mira, too, by all accounts, who demanded the removal of some of those who criticised him or stood in his way. It could well have been on her orders that the gangster and former warlord Arkan was gunned down in the Belgrade InterContinental hotel in 2000; and when the body of Milosevic's erstwhile mentor Ivan Stambolic was found in a shallow grave in 2003, three years after he disappeared while out jogging, she was suspected of involvement.

In his 2002 biography of Milosevic, Adam LeBor, who interviewed Mira at length, depicted the Milosevic relationship as a cold folie a deux, in which any criticism or opposition to the family's interests was to be either ignored or crushed - a pathology which the couple passed on to their two unappealing children.

Their son Marko, a hooligan figure widely regarded one of the most feared gangsters in Serbia, built up a multimillion-euro business empire before fleeing to Moscow in 2000 after being indicted for threatening to chop up a former employee with an electric saw. Their daughter Marija, once shot her boyfriend's dog in a fit of temper and was later charged after allegedly firing several bullets at a government official sent to negotiate her father's surrender in April 2001 prior to his transfer to The Hague.

Mira Markovic often boasted in private that she and her husband had been apart for only a few nights during their long and happy marriage, and his arrest seems to have sent her into a deep depression which manifested itself in bouts of childlike tearfulness alternating with violent terrifying rages. "I cannot do anything without him," she told the Croatian weekly Globus. "He has always been around in my life, and now I have to look after everything. I still find him cute and likeable."

She criticised the war crimes tribunal as "the Gestapo of our times", and compared the Scheveningen prison, where Milosevic was being held, to a concentration camp.

She spoke daily to her husband by telephone and made frequent visits to see him in prison until, in 2003, facing charges of corruption in Serbia and wanted for questioning regarding the murder of Stambolic, she joined her son Marko in exile in Russia, where her husband is widely regarded as a hero of pan-Slavic unity.

She remained there for the rest of her life and did not return after her husband's death in 2006 to attend his funeral in Serbia. The revelation that Milosevic had been buried by the tree under which he had first kissed Mira prompted Neil Tweedie of The Daily Telegraph to observe that "given the awfulness of both, and the misery they undoubtedly helped inflict on powerless people, it is rather difficult to shed a tear".

Mira Markovic's children survive her.

She died on April 14.

© Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News