Travel Guide

B92B92 Focus

B92 Focus, March 2003.


Serbia is thrown into turmoil by the assassination of its prime minister

Emergency in the Balkans
| March 14, 2003.

Mar 13th 2003 From The Economist Global Agenda

The killing of Zoran Djindjic, Serbia’s prime minister, has sent shock waves through the Balkans, threatening to upset the region’s precarious stability after a period of relative calm. Mr Djindjic was gunned down outside the main government building in Belgrade, the capital, on March 12th. The government accused Milorad Lukovic—who was a secret-police chief under the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic—and a local crime gang of organising Mr Djindjic’s murder. Several people have been arrested but most suspects are still being sought, a minister said.

Mr Djindjic was a liberal reformer who played a key role in the downfall of Mr Milosevic, who is now on trial for genocide. In June 2001—against the wishes of Mr Milosevic's successor as Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica—Mr Djindjic and his cabinet had Mr Milosevic arrested and packed off to the Balkan war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. The move opened the way for international aid to the rump of former Yugoslavia, which last month renamed itself Serbia & Montenegro.

More than any other Serb politician, Mr Djindjic was synonymous with the post-Milosevic reform process. Modern in both thinking and demeanour, he was a natural western ally. He did not always see eye to eye with his friends in the west, though: in the mid-1990s, he backed the campaign by Serbs in Bosnia to break up the mini-state (which had recently broken away from Yugoslavia), arguing that they would not be safe in a united Bosnia, since it would be dominated by Muslims. The then leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, is now wanted for trial in The Hague.

What was the motive for Mr Djindjic's killing? He made various enemies during his career, first as a pro-democracy campaigner, then as Serbia’s prime minister from early 2001. He had recently been trying to clamp down on organised-crime gangs, so his murder might have been been a reaction to this. Extreme nationalists' anger at his handing-over of Mr Milosevic might also have been a motive.

Or it might have had something to do with Kosovo, the mainly Albanian-inhabited province that became an international protectorate within Serbia in 1999, after NATO-led forces kicked out Serbia’s administrators. Mr Djindjic was scheduled to hold talks with Michael Steiner, who runs the province on behalf of the United Nations, in the coming weeks. In public, Mr Djindjic had continued talking tough, voicing concern that Kosovo was drifting towards independence and saying it must be stopped. In private, though, he was said to have become quietly reconciled to the province’s loss—to the dismay of Serb nationalists.

Mr Djindjic's relationship with the much more popular Mr Kostunica was tempestuous. The two men had come together in late 2000 to topple Mr Milosevic, but had little else in common. They clashed not only over the former president’s fate, but also over reform of the police and security services, and policy towards the ethnic Albanians in the buffer zone between Kosovo and Serbia.

Last December, Mr Kostunica, whose job of Yugoslav president was being abolished, ran for president of Serbia. He came first but the poll was declared invalid because many Serbs, exasperated that their economic fortunes had failed to improve since Mr Milosevic’s downfall, did not bother to vote. Mr Kostunica accused Mr Djindjic of bringing about this outcome by padding the electoral rolls with non-existent voters. Besides clashing with Mr Kostunica, Mr Djindjic also angered his coalition partners by trying to take control of mismanaged state-owned companies.

His murder may not have been the first attempt to do away with him. On February 21st, he survived what he said was an assassination attempt when a lorry swerved into the path of his motorcade as he was travelling to Belgrade airport. He suggested at the time that the incident might have been linked to the government’s efforts to stamp out organised crime, which had flourished on Mr Milosevic’s watch. But there were also rumours that Mr Djindjic himself had become a bit too friendly with gangsters and may have become a target after falling out with them.

The son of an army officer, Mr Djindjic studied philosophy at Belgrade University in the early 1970s, when he was jailed by Yugoslavia’s communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, for trying to organise an independent students’ group. He later studied in Germany, where he became an admirer of Jürgen Habermas, a philosopher who laid bare the myths of 19th century nationalism and has called more recently for a European constitution. He returned to Serbia in 1989 and founded the Democratic Party. The party took 12% of the vote in the 1993 elections, but talks with Mr Milosevic on forming a non-partisan government failed. Three years later, Mr Djindjic co-founded the Zajedno (Together) reform block. Zajedno broke up a year later, after Mr Djindjic had been appointed mayor of Belgrade. He fled to neighbouring Montenegro during the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia in 1999. On returning, he was soon seen as an obvious candidate to replace Mr Milosevic.

The assassination was swiftly condemned by the international community. NATO’s secretary-general, George Robertson, said he was “profoundly shocked” and blamed Mr Djindjic’s killing on “violent extremists who want to return to Milosevic authoritarianism”. He added: “They will not win, they must not win.” The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, said his death was a tragedy and described Mr Djindjic as “a friend of Europe”. President George Bush sent his condolences to the Serbian people.

While the hunt for the assassin continues, a state of emergency has been declared in Serbia. In an emergency session of the cabinet, a deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic, was made acting head of government. Like Mr Djindjic, Mr Covic has also faced accusations from his opponents of getting too close to organised crime bosses. Whatever the motive for the assassination turns out to be, it seems likely to slow Serbia’s painful progress towards democracy.

Other headlines

Less and less Serbs

The percentage of the population over 60 is much higher than the percentage of those under 19. B92’s Snezana Stefanovic reports on democratic predictions that Serbs will be a national minority in their own country within 25 years March 27, 2003

Former police leaders arrested in hunt for killers

Among those arrested in the wake of the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12, are the former head of State Security, Jovica Stanisic, and his assistant Franko “Frankie” Simatovic. This information has been confirmed for TV B92 by Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, but there has been no information as to whether they are among the thousand-odd suspects who have been remanded in custody. B92 has prepared brief biographies of Stanisic and Simatovic March 24, 2003

Interview with Dragoljub Micunovic

Dragoljub Micunovic is the speaker of the Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro and the most senior politician in the government. He is also a longtime friend and associate of the late Zoran Djindjic. He spoke to Radio B92 on Friday, two days after the assassination of the prime minister. March 17, 2003

Serbia Loses More Than a Leader

By LAURA SILBER New York Times March 14, 2003

Djindjic death casts shadow over Belgrade

The Times March 13, 2003

Dreaming of two hundred euros

Employees of Serbia’s justice and health departments, with a monthly pay packet of about 200 euros, see themselves as little better off than the unemployed. B92's Snezana Stefanovic looks at the statistics on Serbia's poor. February 26, 2003

War in Iraq: sooner or later

Radio B92’s Miodrag Vidic looks at Washington’s new project in Iraq in the light of the 1999 attacks on Yugoslavia. Along the way he speaks to George Freedman, the director of Texas information marketer Stratfor, Belgrade political commentator Ejub Stitkovac and Reuters cameraman Fedja Drulovic, currently on assignment in Kuwait. January 21, 2003

More haste, less speed for Kosovo resolution

December 30, 2002

G17 Plus: Plotting the political course

"We're ready for elections. If they were called tomorrow, we'd be prepared." December 21, 2002

Interview with Al-Jazeera’s Belgrade correspondent

Belgrade’s permanent foreign press corps was augmented for last week’s presidential elections by thirteen specially-accredited journalists and crews. These included crews from Croatian television and radio, Polish radio, two journalists from Romania and a correspondent from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Television. Samir Hasan, a journalist from Al-Jazeera’s Sarajevo office, is an Egyptian from Alexandria who has been working in the former Yugoslav territories for the past six years. Antonela Riha spoke to Samir for B92. December 10, 2002

Copyright © 1995-2018, B92. All rights reserved.