Mira Markovic: The Lady Macbeth of Belgrade

Wife of the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Miloševic was at least as responsible for the wars and bloodshed that marked the breakup of their country in the 1990s

Mira Markovic and her husband Slobodan Miloševic. She developed capitalist tastes with a penchant for fur coats, caviar and expensive chocolate. Photograph: BBC

Mira Markovic and her husband Slobodan Miloševic. She developed capitalist tastes with a penchant for fur coats, caviar and expensive chocolate. Photograph: BBC

 

Mira (Mirjana) Markovic, politician and academic, born July 10th, 1942; died April 14th, 2019

Her first name means “peace”. Yet Mira Markovic, wife of the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Miloševic, was at least as responsible as her husband for the wars and bloodshed that marked the breakup of their country in the 1990s.

When Miloševic’s party lost local elections in 1996, it was Markovic who persuaded her husband to overrule the poll. She did the same again when he lost elections in 2000, in the wake of the Nato bombing campaign that led to the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo.

“Miloševic has never had any political ideas of his own,” the former president of Yugoslavia Ivan Stambolic and Miloševic’s sometime mentor, said in an interview not long before he was kidnapped in 2000 (his body was found in 2003). “They’ve all been hers.”

Markovic and Miloševic met as teenagers at school in their home town, Požarevac, in eastern Serbia, and from the beginning of their intense relationship, Markovic was seen as the dominant partner.

Deeply psychologically scarred

Her influence over Miloševic might not have been so cataclysmic for the Balkans had she been a more stable woman. But she was deeply psychologically scarred by the death of her mother, Vera Miletic, a second World War communist partisan fighter who was captured by the Nazis in Yugoslavia in 1944.

Miletic reputedly betrayed her communist comrades when tortured by the Gestapo and the partisans ordered her execution after the Germans released her.

Her daughter, Mirjana, who was then two years old, later took the name Mira in memory of her mother, who had used it as her nom de guerre. The story goes that a bowl of flowers was on the table in the family home on the day that Vera was taken away to be shot, and that is why Mira often wore a flower in her raven-dark back-combed hair.

Her father, Milomir Markovic, also a former partisan fighter, refused to acknowledge his daughter until she was 15 years old, and she was raised by an aunt. She spent much of her life trying to clear her mother’s reputation and all documents referring to Vera disappeared when Miloševic began his rise to power in the late 80s.

Lifelong bond

Against this background, Markovic formed an instant and lifelong bond with the young Miloševic, whose own parents had depression and who both took their own lives. The teenage Slobodan was already hungry for political power and spent his time forging contacts with the party elite in Požarevac.

Miloševic, a law student, and Markovic, who gained a PhD in sociology, studied at Belgrade University and married in 1965. Markovic, who would later be known as the Red Witch and the Lady Macbeth of Belgrade, took to dressing in black and reading Dostoevsky and Sartre.

The couple had two children, a daughter, Marija, and a son, Marko. Marko, whom she called “my wild mustang”, went on to build a multimillion-pound business empire. He fled in 2000 after his father’s fall from power and was granted refugee status in Russia.

Markovic’s relationship with her daughter was often strained. “My mother believes in a communist utopia,” Marija said wryly in 2002, “where no one needs money and every day is sunny.”

Fur coats

Markovic herself developed more capitalist tastes, however, with a penchant for fur coats, caviar and expensive chocolate.

As their married life progressed, Markovic fiercely fought for Miloševic’s promotion within the communist party hierarchy. When he took control of the party from Stambolic in 1987, the betrayal of his mentor would have been with the approval, if not at the suggestion, of his wife.

Markovic, meanwhile, became a teacher of sociology at Belgrade University and wrote numerous books and a rambling column in the Belgrade press, which she used to launch diatribes against her political enemies. It became required reading for anyone interested in knowing who was in or out of favour.

As the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and finally Kosovo broke out through the 90s, Markovic frequently accused foreign forces of plotting Serbia’s demise. She launched vicious verbal attacks on any Serbian critics of Miloševic, accusing them of being “criminally insane”.

Nato bombardment

Her name was linked with the disappearance and death of some high-profile critics, including Slavko Curuvija, a newspaper editor who turned against Miloševic in the run up to the Nato bombardment of Yugoslavia, and Stambolic.

As the war in Bosnia ended in 1995, Markovic founded her own political party, the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), which governed in coalition with Miloševic’s Socialist party. JUL ran the television station TV Pink, which broadcast pop and rock music, and imported films and programmes such as Only Fools and Horses.

As opposition to Miloševic’s regime grew through the latter half of the 90s, the station’s aim was to persuade Serbia’s young people to forget about politics and concentrate on having fun.

After Miloševic was arrested and sent to The Hague to face war crimes charges in 2001, Markovic described the tribunal as “the new Gestapo”. The couple spoke daily by telephone and she made frequent visits to see her husband in prison until, in 2003, facing charges herself, she fled Serbia, and did not return after Miloševic’s death in 2006 to attend his funeral in Požarevac. She joined Marko in exile in Russia, where she remained until her death. She is survived by Marko and Marija.