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Yugoslavia: Psychiatrist Says Milosevic Programmed For Martyred Defeat

  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. specialist in psychological profiles of world leaders says that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has acted predictably in his confrontation with NATO over Kosovo.

The psychiatrist says that Milosevic is playing out recognizable patterns in his personal history and in Serb national history when he defies the Western allies' overwhelming military force. The same is true, the profiler says, when Milosevic alternately negotiates agreements under pressure, then goes back on his promises, and when he brings down disaster on his own countrymen.

Jerrold Post is director of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He has prepared psychological profiles of world leaders such as Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and Saddam Hussein for use by U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats. And recently, he completed a profile of Milosevic.

Post said in a telephone interview that Milosevic's troubled childhood and early traumas suffered by his wife probably contributed to a lack of compassion for the suffering of his fellow Serbs and for Kosovar Albanians.

The psychiatrist told RFE/RL South Slavic Service broadcaster Vlado Azinovic that most Serbs until 1987 regarded Milosevic as an undistinguished bureaucrat. That year, his government dispatched him to Serbia's Kosovo province to quell a growing confrontation between Serbs and ethnic Albanians there.

Instead of ameliorating the tension, Post said, Milosevic made a provocative speech. Post said:

"Rather than calm the troubled waters, he added fuel to the flames when he said to the Serbs, 'Unless you fight for Serbia, your ancestors will be betrayed, your descendants will be shamed. These are your lands, your fields, your gardens, your memories.'"

With that one speech, Post said, Milosevic's reputation was transformed. Suddenly he was a hero of Serbian nationalism. Post said that Milosevic deliberately resurrected the memory of an old battle against the Ottoman empire that is central to the Serbian sense of history.

"What he was evoking was the spirit of the Battle of Kosovo Polje of 600 years earlier in 1389, when rather than yield to the overwhelming force of the Ottomans, instead the Serbs under Prince Lazar fought to the end and, as Lazar said, 'better to die in glory than to live in shame.' And it is that same theme that he has awakened now within Serbia so that the relatively divided population before this occurred now is behind him as he has the image of standing up bravely against a superior force."

Post said that there is a key to understanding the behavior of Milosevic and Serbia's other leaders in the Kosovo-NATO confrontation. He said it lies in recognizing that the chosen trauma of the Serbian people is a great defeat and that, in his words, "what they celebrate is martyred courage."

In the interview, the George Washington University professor said that Milosevic has been clever and successful in disseminating his line that the Kosovar Albanian refugees fled Kosovo not so much because of Serbian atrocities as because of NATO bombing.

Milosevic has been successful also in using memories of Yugoslav defiance of Nazi Germany during World War Two to win support at home in the current situation. Post said: "Not just the battle of 1389 but by calling NATO 'Nazis,' by calling Clinton Hitler, he also is evoking the courage of Yugoslav citizens during World War Two in standing up against the Germans."

The psychological profiler said that he calls Milosevic, as Post put it, "a crisis maker." Post said that the Serbian leader has perfected a technique of turning attention away from his mistakes and failures by creating crises.

"His only interest is surviving in power and maximizing his power and, regularly, when there has been internal dissent, he has created an external crisis in order to deflect attention from his failed leadership."

Post, who also has profiled Saddam Hussein, said that similarities exist between the two autocratic leaders. Both exist from crisis to crisis, he said. Both are intolerant of criticism. Each has made himself vulnerable by surrounding himself with sycophants who fear to give him negative news. And, Post said, both have limited compassion for their victims, for the ethnic cleansing of their own people. After all, he said, the Kurds in Iraq are Saddam's countrymen just as the Kosovar Albanians are Milosevic's countrymen.

RFE/RL interviewed Post before last week's apparent capitulation by Milosevic. The apparent Milosevic surrender was followed by the Serb military's balking at essential parts of the West's conditions for ending NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia. Post virtually forecast the latter development.

A psychological profile, Post said, is an interdisciplinary picture of a subject drawn by use of the techniques of historiography, psychology, political science and anthropology. He said Milosevic's personality is that of a person capable of displaying great charm and urbanity, one who seems reasonable and credible. But Post said that Milosevic's personal history reveals a man adept at reversing himself.