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Last Updated:  Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 21:45 GMT
Obituary: Zoran Djindjic
Zoran Djindjic
Assassinated: Zoran Djindjic
The assassinated Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was a reformer who courted controversy in his own country with his pro-western stance.

A former philosophy teacher, Mr Djindjic first came to international attention when, in October 2000, he spearheaded the popular demonstrations which toppled the then Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

As prime minister, Mr Djindjic reformed the Serbian economy, to international approval, and was uncompromising in his calls for his country to co-operate with the UN trials of alleged Serbian war criminals.

It was Mr Djindjic who ordered Mr Milosevic's arrest and extradition to The Hague, where the former Serbian president is currently being tried for war crimes.

The son of an army officer, Mr Djindjic was born in Bosnia. As a student, he was a high-profile opponent of the country's communist system and was jailed for his dissident activities.

The Serbian parliament surrounded by demonstrators
Djindjic led the demonstrations which toppled Milosevic
Moving into exile in Germany, Mr Djindjic eventually gained a doctorate in philosophy in 1979.

His greatest influence, the philosopher Jurgen Habermas who taught Mr Djindjic, was a critic of 19th century nationalism and was an early advocate of a European constitution.

Returning to Yugoslavia, Mr Djindjic formed the moderate nationalist Serbian Democratic Party in 1989.

Following the bloody Balkan wars of the early 1990s, Mr Djindjic publicly roasted an ox with the Bosnian Serb leader - and war crimes suspect - Radovan Karadzic.

Whether this was a cynical political stunt or a public show of support for Mr Karadzic is still unclear.


In 1996, after Slobodan Milosevic ignored an opposition victory in local elections, Mr Djindjic organised three months of daily protest rallies in Belgrade.

Mr Milosevic eventually relented, and Mr Djindjic became the first non-communist mayor of the city.

But Mr Milosevic's time as Serbia's leader was running out. His disastrous war in Kosovo led to Nato air strikes on Belgrade in the spring of 1999.

Slobodan Milosevic on trail in The Hague
On trial: Milosevic in The Hague
In September 2000, opposition parties, led by Vojislav Kostunica, defeated Mr Milosevic at the polls.

When the president refused to step down, Mr Djindjic and Mr Kostunica organised the huge demonstrations which drove Mr Milosevic from power.

Mr Djindjic recently said that, at the time, he was playing for the highest stakes.

Championed free market

"Milosevic made it clear that it was either him or me," he told one interviewer. "We had to beat him otherwise he would have arrested us and killed us at the first opportunity.

"That made it easy for us. We knew we had to win."

Elected prime minister in Serbia's first non-communist government in January 2001, Mr Djindjic faced hyper-inflation and a chaotic government system where public sector workers often had to wait months to be paid.

As the leader of a diverse coalition of 18 political parties, Mr Djindjic was strengthened by the fact that 64% of Serbians voted for it, far outstripping any opposition groupings.

He called for the introduction of a market economy and said that Serbia's future lay in closer integration with the West.

Djinjic and his wife, Ruzica
Djinjic and his wife, Ruzica
Mr Milosevic's arrest and deportation led to a rift between Mr Djindjic and Mr Kostunica - by now President of Yugoslavia - who was shocked at the way that Mr Djindjic used the law to seal Mr Milosevic's fate.

For much of the past two years, there had been a power struggle between Mr Djindjic and Mr Kostunica.

Mr Kostunica enjoyed popularity, while Mr Djindjic earned grudging respect for his energy, businesslike approach and determination to push through reforms.

Charismatic and youthful, he was a strong believer in facing up to what he saw as political realities.

But he was widely criticised for being arrogant and for getting involved in a whole range of potentially shady backroom deals to consolidate his power.

Like many Balkan leaders before him, though, he fell victim to an assassin's bullet. If the region's history is anything to go by, Zoran Djindjic will not be the last to die in such a fashion.

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