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Veton Surroi, editor and publisher of Koha Ditore in Kosovo, was a leading player of the Kosovar resistance during the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

By Veton Surroi

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- When we met in 1989, Zoran Djindjic had a ponytail and an earring, had written an excellent analysis about why Tito's Yugoslavia was going to disintegrate and had still to build his public image after earning a PhD in philosophy in Germany with Jurgen Habermass. Lazying around in a Belgrade cafe, we had all the time to discuss the death of communism and the new world upon us.

Some months ago we met in his new reincarnation, in Davos in Switzerland, looking as self-confident as ever in his trademark Armani suit and busy schedule. A very sharp mind had remained this time as well, as during the years of spontaneous meetings around the world.

The two faces of Djindjic throughout these years were of the same man. His basic belief in democracy and bringing his people and country to the Western culture cohabited with his driving instinct of pragmatism. Philosophy in Germany cohabited with him selling used textile machines to companies in Serbia; planning to overthrow Milosevic cohabited with cutting deals with the bloodiest of the Serb paramilitaries (serial killers involved in all the wars of ex-Yugoslavia); a brave extradition of Milosevic to The Hague cohabited with keeping alive deals of arm sales to Iraq.

A man who could not get more than 10 percent support in Serbian politics of the last and this decade, he was aware that he had to reconcile his basic visions of democracy and Serbia with the environment he lived in, to the extent that some of us who knew him during these years felt that he was continuously pacting with the devil. During the Bosnian war he went to boost his own national image by eating roasted ox with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, as his forces were shelling Sarajevo. In the post-Milosevic era, Djindjic used the same propaganda people Milosevic used, only now for his own purposes.

Bringing Milosevic down, Djindjic was immersed immediately in the power struggle. His three basic missions were to boost his own role in a very wide and dysfunctional governing coalition composed of more than a dozen parties, put Serbia first rather than preserving the illusion of some kind of Yugoslavia, and, finally, get Serbia out of international isolation by giving it for the first time a clear Euro-Atlantic direction.

His sense of pragmatism told him that he could achieve all of this by not dealing with the Milosevic legacy, especially not the wars of the former Yugoslavia, leaving that to The Hague tribunal. Instead he would focus on the present and breaking down the illusion Milosevic created, and most of the people in that country believed, that Yugoslavia was still existent. Indeed, he succeeded. Focusing on economic reforms, he brought some sense of institutional normalcy in the state while at the same time, through a European Union-mediated deal, he got to the point where Yugoslavia did not even formally exist.

At the moment of his death Djindjic was about to embark on his new battle, establishing Serbia as an independent state. Causing furor all over the United States and in EU diplomatic circles, he gave reasons why there should be a final conference in which the present-day Dayton agreements that rule Bosnia and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 ruling Kosovo should be finished, and the final status of all of the ex-Yugoslav republics and provinces established. Characteristically for him, this clever initiative tried to rationalize even the worst ethnic carving of territories.

Continuously knocking out allies from within his own circle, Djindjic the philosopher had a basic notion of movement. As long as you move ahead, the past will not catch up with you, and you will eventually find yourself in a new reality. He had forgotten a basic law of physics, though. That a moving body cannot come to an immediate total standstill. His society had spent 10 years participating in Fascist consensus, led by Milosevic. You can not move directly from fascism into democracy. The price to be paid is, as we have seen these days, violence used against him by people who have lived in a violent society for so many years and a population that approved of it. Eventually, his new allies from the violent world killed him.

Two bullets against Djindjic ended the belief that Serbia could be transformed by the drive of one man. Now Serbia has to deal with its own transformation without his bright mind and drive, engaging on a longer road, that of structural transformation. As such, Serbia will be a relatively unstable country having to deal again with its Fascist past, its state-building present and its unclear European future. And it has not the strength to do any of those for some years.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/18/03)