Born in 1941 in the Serbian city of Pozarevac, Slobodan Miloševic emerged from April 1987 as the leading force in the revival of Serb nationalist feeling, replacing Ivan Stambolic as party leader in the Serbian section of the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia in September.
Elected president of Serbia by the national assembly in May 1989, he presided over the transformation of the League of Communists of Serbia into the Socialist Party of Serbia (July 1990) and the adoption of a new Serbian constitution (September 1990) providing for a direct election of a president with increased powers. Miloševic won direct election as president of Serbia in December 1990 and December 1992.
Miloševic's rise to power coincided with the growth of nationalism among all of Yugoslavia's republics following the collapse of communist governments throughout eastern Europe. In June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federation, followed by the republics of Macedonia in September 1991 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 1992. The presence of large Serb minorities in Croatia (540,000) and Bosnia (1.6 million) led to wars in each, in which Serb secessionists seeking union with Serbia proper were supported by the Yugoslav government and army.
Constitutionally limited to two terms as Serbian president, in July 1997 Miloševic assumed the presidency of the Yugoslav Federation, now reduced to Serbia and her smaller neighbour Montenegro. Armed actions by Albanian separatist groups and Serbian military counter-action in Serbia's autonomous (and mostly Albanian-populated) province of Kosovo culminated in escalating warfare in 1998, NATO air strikes against Serbia and her armed forces in March-June 1999, and Serbia's subsequent military withdrawal from the province.
Miloševic's rejection of claims of a first-round opposition victory in new elections for the Federal presidency in September 2000 led to mass demonstrations in Belgrade on October 5 and the collapse of the regime's authority. Opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica took office as Yugoslav president on October 6.
Arrested on April 1, 2001 on charges of abuse of power and corruption, Miloševic was handed over by the Serbian government on June 28 to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. His trial on charges of genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia and Kosovo is expected to begin at The Hague in February 2002.