BELGRADE — SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC'S serious face stares down with a deep intensity on shoppers on the street. ``It just has to be there,'' the shopkeeper says of the photo of Serbia's Communist Party boss. ``He's honest, he's realistic, he's a real leader.''
Mr. Milosevic is building up quite a personality cult. While most other communist leaders have ended the practice of publicly glorifying themselves, photos of his severe face are everywhere - in stores, in taxi windows, on the cover of a new autobiography featured in every book store.
``It's not as bad as [Romanian leader Nicolae] Ceausescu,'' says one Western diplomat, ``but it's at least like what used to be done for [former Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev.''
Milosevic's advisers defend the cult as spontaneous, not ordered from above. He enjoys genuine popularity, thanks to his vigorous defense of Serbian rights in Kosovo, to his decisive personality, and to his reputation for personal probity, they say.
However, outside of Serbia, the hero worship dismays many Yugoslavs. Many non-Serbs don't think the cult is a reflection of genuine popularity. They criticize Milosevic for having an appetite for aggrandizement - and for using it to oppress them.
The Milosevic autobiography,``Year of Decision,''quickly sold out all 15,000 copies of its first printing in Serbia. But few copies were sold in Croatia and Slovenia. ``One book shop dared to display it here,'' said a Dubrovnik resident. ``Somebody came along and spat at it.''