A death foretold
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's assassination last week might have surprised the West, but not his fellow citizens. Adisa Busuladzic reports from Belgrade
The crowd of several hundred thousand who attended Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's funeral in Belgrade on Saturday outnumbered the people who supported him when he was alive. Many of those who marched behind his casket were indeed grieving for their leader; many more for their own selves, dreading their lives in an uncertain post-Djindjic Serbia.
Click to view caption
Mladjan Micic, better known as Pacov (or Rat in Serbian) in a police station in Pozarevac, 60 kms southeast of Belgrade. Investigators have accused an underworld clan linked to Milosevic's allies of killing Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Serbian officials say 181 people have been arrested so far, including Micic
Djindjic rose to power in October 2000, riding on the wave of street protests that led to the overthrow of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Several months later, Djindjic made numerous enemies by handing Milosevic over to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.
A reform-minded technocrat whose telegenic appearance and pro-Western outlook bought him the support of the Western media, Djindjic antagonised many hard-line nationalists because he continuously cooperated with the West. He engineered, among other things, the hand-over of some key Milosevic supporters and alleged war criminals to The Hague.
Djindjic was instrumental in negotiating the dissolution of Yugoslavia into a loose federation between Serbia and Montenegro. In addition, he liberalised the economy and established the rule of law in a country torn apart by four civil wars.
Following Djindjic's assassination, the Serbian government immediately accused Milosevic's allies of his murder. The police investigation indicated that a Mafiosi gang, as well as some other groups belonging to Milosevic's old security police, were involved.
Acting Serbian Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that "close ties were created during Milosevic's regime between ordinary criminals, war criminals and war profiteers." These elements, Covic said, in all likelihood joined forces to prevent Djindjic from further cracking down on crime and bringing war criminals to justice.
Covic and four other cabinet members will be rotating as acting prime ministers until parliament elects a successor.
Meanwhile, the government declared a state of emergency following the assassination, thus giving the police and military a free hand to arrest suspects without warrants and detain people for up to 30 days without charges.
The police have been targeting members of the Zemun clan, a shadowy crime network named after a Belgrade suburb, whose ranks included former paramilitaries loyal to Milosevic. They also detained Milosevic's former state security chief, Jovica Stanisic, and his deputy, Franko Simatovic, who headed notorious Serb paramilitary units in the Bosnian and Croatian wars of the early 1990s.
The two are believed to have maintained significant influence among police and mob circles even after Milosevic's ouster.
The police is still looking for the Zemun clan ringleader, Milorad Lukovic, nicknamed Legija, who went underground after Djindjic's killing. Lukovic succeeded Simatovic in 1997 as commander of the units that committed a myriad of atrocities against civilians during the Balkan wars.
During his rule, Djindjic was also opposed by the supporters of Vojislav Kostunica, his former ally and Milosevic's successor. Kostunica and Djindjic clashed over the pace of reform and Milosevic's hand-over despite a constitutional ban on such extraditions. Djindjic accused Kostunica of nationalist rhetoric and pessimism, while Kostunica accused Djindjic of seeking to turn Serbia into a "Colombia-style" Mafiosi state. Djindjic outmanoeuvred Kostunica when Yugoslavia was transformed into a new, loose federation renamed Serbia and Montenegro, effectively dismissing Kostunica. He also angered other coalition partners who accused him and his associates of attempting to take control of mismanaged state enterprises
Djindjic was born in Bosanski Samac, Bosnia, then part of the former Yugoslavia's six-state communist federation. His father was a career officer in the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), stationed in the province. But Djindjic was raised and educated in Belgrade. He never joined the Communist Party and co- founded the Democratic Party in 1993, championing liberalism and technocratic reform.
He adopted a hard-line stand on Bosnia's civil war (1992- 1995) and supported a Bosnian Serb separatist campaign to break up the ex-Yugoslav republic, saying Bosnian Serbs would not be safe cohabiting with Muslims in the new state. In 1994, he even visited the Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale as they laid siege to nearby Sarajevo.
During the 1999 NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia, Djindjic fled to Montenegro fearing attack by Milosevic agents. Upon his return to Belgrade, he formed an 18-party coalition and, after Milosevic called early elections, Djindjic endorsed Kostunica to lead a democratic coalition against their common long-time foe.
When Milosevic failed to acknowledge Kostunica's victory in the September 2000 presidential election, Djindjic played an instrumental role in organising the street protests that forced Milosevic to concede defeat. As protesters stormed the parliament building on 5 October, Djindjic was said to have kept in close touch with Milosevic's defecting security forces.
In February 2000, Djindjic became Serbian prime minister and tried to bring the country into Europe's mainstream. Although the younger generations perceived his economic policy as their only hope of joining the European Union and the only way out of their 60 per cent unemployment rate, low living standards and staggering inflation, his pro-Western stance became increasingly unpopular. This was especially true in Serbia, where nationalism still prevailed and where many believed that the West was essentially anti- Serb.
Nevertheless, Djindjic pledged to continue on the reform path, declaring an open war on the region's thriving Mafia. His assassination last Wednesday starkly reminded the West that it will take a lot more than overthrowing Milosevic to transform Serbia into a democratic and prosperous country.