bosnia report
New Series No:32-34 December - July 2003
A radical break is needed
by Sonja Biserko

Following the assassination of prime minister Zoran windic, one has the impression that the abject act marked the beginning of a liberation from the pathological legacy of the Milošević era. In these terms, the assassination will have far-reaching consequences for Serbia and the region, and may open up new possibilities and prospects. However. the following question has to be posed: was it necessary to kill winđić in order to provoke such a turnaround in Serbia?

Djinđić was a controversial personality, but he was at the same time an authentically modern politician, who over the past two years had evolved into perhaps the key statesman in the region. Thanks to this recent political evolution, the general public came to see him as an effective organizer and manager, a man with a vision and a politician bent on reform. He embodied the entire reform effort in Serbia, which involved co-operation with the Hague Tribunal, institutional reforms and the introduction of a market economy. He will be remembered for his courage in extraditing Slobodan Milošević, aware that while the latter was in the country DOS would not be able to govern.

An early death often invests such a man with a halo, which in a neglected country like Serbia might have great significance. winđić was not a popular prime minister. It was only after his tragic death that the citizens recognized his importance. Unexpectedly hundreds of thousands of people, notably young men and women, turned out for his funeral. For the first time in Serb history a positive myth, and also an European myth, is being created: a myth that may play an important role in the self-definition of new generations.

The assassination of Zoran winđić can be explained only in its historical and current political context. Serbia entered the 21st century shouldering the burden of recent wars, crimes and isolation. It had experienced a historic defeat that society had failed to accept and take the right position upon. No clean break with the policies of the former regime was made. Key institutions - army, police and judiciary - were not purged. The masterminds of the failed project, who still await restoration of the old order and harbour illusions about the unification of all Serb lands, have not been condemned.

Ambitious plot

Those who inspired the prime minister's assassination had an ambitious plan envisaging the overthrow of the present authorities and a change of political course. But the reaction of the world, the citizens of Serbia and the DOS - i.e. the government of Serbia - shocked them and brought dismay into their ranks. Their accusations that the world had provoked winđić's assassination by insisting on co-operation with the Hague Tribunal were dismissed by the statements of all the relevant international players. The prime minister's assassination united the Serbian government, and had a sobering effect on the majority of citizens. It is paradoxical that in the recent past all Đinđić’s efforts at reform were foiled and undermined through a campaign of denigration of his personality, while now many almost spontaneously emulate those same reforming endeavours.

Djinđić was sentenced to death after the failed presidential elections, notably when it became obvious that he was accumulating enough power to prevent the retrograde shift in policy desired by his opponents: the conservative bloc and the criminalized segments of all relevant institutions. His appointment of a special prosecutor and a special court were only the first steps in a long-prepared action for a definitive showdown with the mafia. But his determination to crush the resistance of the old structures, and to fight against all the obstructions counterposed by Vojislav Koštunica, cost winđić his head. haste, combined with the slowness of corrupt institutions, made the job easy for his assassins.

Djinđić's assassination merely laid bare the situation in Serbia, which many believed had been normalized. Many believed too that Serbia had the potential for embarking upon a successful transition. But the tragic event showed that Milošević's legacy was still enormous and dangerous, and that a fragile DOS stood no chance of coping with it successfully. Only thanks to winđić's efficiency, speed and resolve was a major dent made in that legacy. Serbia is now entering a period of major confusion. On 5 October Miloševic was removed; but dismantling the structures he left behind has turned out to be no easy job. There was no bloody showdown on 5 October, because an amnesty was promised to all those who assisted Milošević's removal. In the meantime the opposition [SPS, SRS, etc.] and the conservative bloc [DSS, etc.] consolidated their ranks and prepared for a counter-attack.

State of emergency

Following the assassination, in order to prevent anarchy and enable unhindered police investigation DOS introduced a state of emergency. The arrest of several thousand suspects, mostly criminals, was fully backed by the public at large. But the question must be posed why such a purge was not possible before winđić's murder, in view of the smear campaign to which he was exposed, the failed attempts on his life, and the death threats issued to him. There are many pointers to the fact that a broad consensus had been reached for winđić's removal.

It is difficult to predict the future direction of Serbia. Reform-oriented forces are still a minority. Many elements can affect future developments. It is essential that the Serbian government make a clean break, and especially that it carry out a purge in the ranks of the army, since over the past decade the army has been responsible for many crimes. It should be recognized that the government has no adequate substitute for winđić, while the other side is awaiting suspension of the state of emergency in order to strike back. So much hinges on the government’s ability to remain united. Its degree of unity will influence the timetable for new elections, which if Serbia is ready for them at all may in turn lead to a new alignment of political forces. The country has lost all its most important leaders: two are in The Hague (Š ešelj and Milošević), one has been assassinated (winđić), while the rating of Vojislav Koštunica is plummeting (further investigation may even uncover his links with ‘certain circles’).

Without the active engagement of the international community, notably the EU, Serbia's chances for a swift way out of the current situation are slim. In this context, the EU decision to let Serbia accede to the Council of Europe, despite the state of emergency in place, was a sign of European awareness of the risk of leaving Serbia in the hands of local politicians. Serbia needs help. This should be conditional, however, upon continued co-operation with the Hague Tribunal. That is a precondition for any substantive change. In parallel with eradication of the mafia and the establishment of full control over the police and army, it is necessary for all areas of public life to be radically overhauled.



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