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Inside Story of ‘Royal Couple’ Has Serbians Flipping Pages

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The hot bestseller in Serbia these days is not a manual on how to get a man, nor the story of a celebrity trial.

At bookstores not owned by the government, and especially at street-corner kiosks, the book that has captured the attention of Serbs is a new expose on the ruling couple--President Slobodan Milosevic and his influential, reviled neo-Communist wife, Mirjana Markovic.

The pair is so secretive, and so all-powerful, that any details that emerge about how they live and govern fascinates a country in turmoil over demands for political change and an end to one-man rule.

Milosevic and Markovic have been the focal point of 11 1/2 weeks of street demonstrations triggered by election fraud and sustained by hope for the faintest introduction of democracy in a land that has known little of political freedom.

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Already the subject of endless speculation and gossip, the royal couple (as critics call them) are now the subject of a 304-page book by respected former journalist Slavoljub Djukic, who has written two earlier biographies of Milosevic.

Djukic’s new work, “He, She and Us,” contains few earthshaking revelations but confirms many of the suspicions people harbor about Milosevic and Markovic and their relationship. And it offers telling insight as to how the Serbian president is responding to the most serious challenge to his power, a crisis Milosevic finally moved to resolve this week by recognizing opposition electoral victories.

“He believes he will rule forever,”

Djukic writes. “He doesn’t even consider the possibility of stepping down or losing elections. Those kinds of conversations make him very nervous.”

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The author recounts a conversation in which a friend of Milosevic reminds him, gently, that his mandate as president of Serbia expires at the end of 1997 but that he should consider the presidency of the rump Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and tiny Montenegro, which would give him another seven years in power.

“Who is he to count my years!” Milosevic angrily responded to the suggestion. “I will rule as long as I want.”

Milosevic is also made nervous by crowds in the streets, Djukic says; he fears out-of-control crowds more than a coup d’etat or a challenge by organized political parties.

Djukic apparently based his research on several people, none named, who are close to Milosevic and, to a lesser extent, Markovic. Djukic found the Serbian first lady, who he said fancies herself a “rare intellectual,” to be a more difficult character to analyze. Milosevic confides almost exclusively in his wife and receives important information through her filter, Djukic writes.

“Normal circumstances paralyze him,” Djukic writes. “He creates disorder and manages to convince people only he can resolve it. He is both the pyromaniac and the fireman.”

One of the tales that the Serbian public seems to most enjoy is a description of a conversation Markovic is said to have had with a relative in the fall of 1968, when Yugoslavia was intact and ruled firmly by the late Josip Broz Tito and Milosevic was little more than an unknown, mid-level bank official.

Eyeing a picture of Tito hanging in a shop window, Markovic tells the relative that pictures of Milosevic will one day similarly be on display, and that he too will be revered by the Yugoslav nation.


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