Zoran Djindjic: Serbia’s Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York,
And all the clouds that loured upon our house
In the deep bosom of ocean buried.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruised arms hung for monuments.
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures."

(W. Shakespeare, Richard III, 1:1)

In a normal time, an actor of the Yugoslav Drama Theater would be delivering these lines in front of a full house. These days, as a winter of somewhat different discontent approaches in Serbia, the phony accolade of earl Gloucester is echoed by his modern-day counterpart of somewhat nicer physical stature, but equally vile in spirit.

This time, the man who is "determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days" is Zoran Djindjic, the slippery leader of the Democratic Party, a longtime enemy of President Kostunica, and – by irony uncommon even in the Balkans – his right hand.


Djindjic is charismatic, intelligent and vain beyond comprehension. He was one of the minor founders of the Democratic Party (Demokratska Stranka - DS) in 1989, along with Kostunica. During 1991, Djindjic’s wing of the DS argued for cooperation with Milosevic as the way to power, and dismissed the Serbian national question as irrelevant. This was anathema to Kostunica, who founded his own party – the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) in early 1992. Since then, these two men have been bitter enemies – united only in their opposition to Milosevic.

Even that is not entirely true. Djindjic’s takeover of the DS in 1994 – an inter-party coup that left its former chairman, Dragoljub Micunovic, no choice but to back down in favor of the younger firebrand – is eerily reminiscent of the way Milosevic gained control of the Serbian Communist League in 1987. Furthermore, Djindjic kept lines of communication with Milosevic open at all times, even during the 1996-97 street protests, which gave him the plum post of Belgrade’s mayor.

NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 revealed the extent of Djindjic’s conceit and cowardice. As bombs rained on his people, Djindjic first bemoaned their least significant consequence – a unification of Serbs under Milosevic’s banner of resistance – then fled to Montenegro, which backstabbed its federal partner by declaring neutrality. There he met with American and other NATO officials, trying to fashion himself into a leader of the unified anti-Milosevic opposition that would enjoy US support. It was a far cry from the man who razzed NATO in 1994 while sharing a roasted ox with Radovan Karadzic on a hill above Sarajevo, but completely in character. Djindjic has always had a nose for power, and whatever could give him more of it was target of his entreaties.


Power was also the main motivator of Serbia’s now former ruler, Slobodan Milosevic. Despite a long list of accusations by his enemies that painted him as a Communist, a genocidal fascist, or a national-chauvinist, Milosevic really respected and fought for power alone. His constant betrayal of Serbs – whether in Krajina, Bosnia, Kosovo, or inner Serbia – is evidence enough of this motive. But while "Slobo" was the grand master of power, Djindjic is still but an apprentice. One of Serbia’s most pointed journalistic pens, Aleksandar Tijanic, labeled him "Mali Sloba" – Little Slobo.

It is Tijanic who first publicly raised the specter of Djindjic’s takeover, in his October 27 column in Danas daily [currently available only in Serbian]. Acknowledging Djindjic’s skill and pragmatism, Tijanic nevertheless warned that Little Slobo is perfectly capable of pulling a Yeltsin on Kostunica’s stunned Gorbachev – namely, using Kostunica’s name to win the Serbian elections in December, then use his connection with Montenegrin separatists to declare Serbia and Montenegro separate nations and dissolve Yugoslavia. This would leave Kostunica without a job and the Serbs saddled with another power-hungry maniac. Truly, a gambit worth of Richard III.


There is plenty of evidence to prove Tijanic’s hypothesis. Djindjic was one of the main organizers of the October uprising, making behind-the-scenes deals and coordinating attacks on the Television, the Parliament and numerous other state institutions. While Kostunica was addressing the crowds the evening of October 5, Djindjic was busy setting up "crisis committees" that would govern major enterprises and state institutions, such as the Customs Service.

Soon thereafter, Djindjic bragged to UPI how he single-handedly won the "Revolution" by securing the allegiance of the Special Forces. Within days, The Independent declared him "the Shadow Kingmaker" of Serbia, running the show behind the scenes.

In the immediate aftermath of Milosevic’s defeat, it was difficult to notice how much of Kostunica’s authority was actually usurped by Djindjic. First of all, because most Western journalists tended to attribute statements to anonymous "DOS leaders," a tag made pointless by the fact that there were eighteen men who could be so labeled, each quite different from the others. Secondly, with Djindjic being Kostunica’s official campaign manager, it was taken as completely normal for him to make official statements even though Djindjic held no office in the new government.

Still, Djindjic was one of the loudest voices of the new government – meeting with the separatist leadership of Montenegro on matters of constitutional importance, announcing from Belgrade that the "Milosevic menace" still threatens Serbia, calling for purges in the military and police leadership, even threatening violence unless the Socialist government of Serbia did not resign and call for a new election. Kostunica seemed reduced to a ceremonial role – meeting foreign dignitaries, giving "confessions" on CBS and visiting funerals of dead poets – while Djindjic all but ran Serbia behind his back.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malich left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and had contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specialized in international relations and the Balkans, Malich has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, which were published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Zoran Djindjic: Serbia’s Richard III

Wheels of Injustice

The Tragedy of Bosnia

The Suspended Castle

Hand Of The Empire: Decision in Kosovo

Introduction: The Balkans Babylon

ITN: Case Closed



Kostunica was no pushover, though. When Djindjic announced in mid-October that General Nebojsa Pavkovic – CO of the Third Army during the Kosovo war and the current chairman of Yugoslavia’s Joint Chiefs – was to be sacked, Kostunica denied that statement and kept Pavkovic in his post for the sake of state stability. More recently, Djindjic’s faction in DOS threatened to quit the new transitional government unless Rade Markovic, head of Serbia’s State Security (a cross between the NSA and the KGB, and about as sinister) and a former Milosevic loyalist, resigns. Kostunica refused to fire Markovic, saying that Markovic was responsible to the Serbian government, which is yet to be elected, and not the federal government. More recently, Kostunica appointed Goran Svilanovic as his Foreign Minister, a rare DOS leader who, according to Mr. Tijanic, is not afraid of talking back to Djindjic.

The New York Times’ Belgrade correspondent covered this conflict in detail. In the NY Times article, Djindjic went on record as saying that "It is sure that Milosevic has his fingers in everything that is happening in the part of state security where [Rade] Markovic is the boss." General Momcilo Perisic, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a bitter enemy of Milosevic, said Markovic and Pavkovic were "protecting Milosevic and his interests." The NY Times also attributes to Perisic the accusation that Pavkovic’s and Markovic’s presence is "part of a general effort by Milosevic supporters to sabotage normal life, including electricity supplies and prices."


The fact that gen. Pavkovic and Mr. Markovic were accused of loyalty to Milosevic was not an accident, but rather a part of a clever strategy employed by Djindjic and his supporters. President Kostunica enjoys an approval rating of 85%, a dream of every Western politician. Anyone criticizing him openly would be shredded by the public opinion. On the other hand, striking at Kostunica by attacking former Milosevic loyalists who are now supporting him is a perfect double-blind, as Kostunica cannot defend them without appearing to defend Milosevic. As long as Kostunica keeps Pavkovic, Markovic and others like them in positions of power, Djindjic can discreetly smear him as a "softie" on the ancien regime.

Supported by the Army and in possession of the SDB files on opposition leaders – which Milosevic had gathered as leverage – Kostunica can deflect any dirty tricks by individuals or groups intent on taking over the country by less than legitimate means. The power of their organizations is too great to be wielded by anyone but the legitimate government. Demonstrating this is a line from the NYT report, stating that "There have already been leaks from some of those files, of uncertain authenticity, intended to undermine Mr. Markovic’s position and embarrass Mr. Kostunica."


There are indications that more sinister forces are involved as well. Mr. Tijanic’s above-mentioned analysis drew a vehement attack by Vesna Pesic, former head of Mr. Svilanovic’s Civic Alliance universally scorned for her elitist pseudo-intellectualism. Sonja Biserko, head of Serbia’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, called Kostunica a "Nazi" right after the elections. Her associates have been very fond of Djindjic, and considered him the right man to lead Serbia on the path of salvation – as they envisioned it. Biserko, incidentally, testified passionately in front of the US Senate immediately after the bombing (June 29, 1999) and called for some sort of occupation of Serbia in order to collectively reeducate its "Nazified" populace.

Again, it is not an accident that Djindjic enjoys the support of this pseudo-intellectual elite. Part and parcel of his vanity is a feeling of arrogant elitism. Whether because he was educated in Germany, or because his life insulated him from the masses, Djindjic never really connected with the Serbian farmers and small-town folk, who constitute the majority of that republic’s population. In a statement to the Washington Post right after the elections, he said Kostunica was a better candidate because the people liked his nationalism, while Djindjic’s views were "too European for now."

A recent report by the Washington Post makes it obvious where Washington’s preferences lie, describing the "liberal, pro-Western views" of Djindjic’s party as opposed to Kostunica’s "conservative Serbian nationalism."


In control of a private militia (armed followers, special Security Forces), most of the Serbian media, much of the government and many state enterprises, Djindjic is well situated for the coming showdown with Kostunica. All he lacks now is legitimacy – which could make him or break him in the end. Vuk Draskovic and his SPO, once a large and powerful party, lost legitimacy when they declined to support Kostunica in September. Because of that, the SPO sank faster than the Titanic after bumping an iceberg. Djindjic is aware of that danger, and plans to circumvent it by having Kostunica do all the work. Kostunica’s name on the ballot will easily win Djindjic the presidency of Serbia, opening the door to Yugoslavia’s – and Kostunica’s – demise.

And as things are, Kostunica is so determined to remove Milosevic’s party from power that he is willing to preserve the integrity of DOS at all cost – even if that means sacrificing himself. In doing so, he may actually be dooming the very people on whose behalf he is ready to fall on the sword. Or in this case, the poisoned dagger.

Alas, there is no Earl Richmond on the horizon to defeat this Richard III-wannabe on some Serbian Bosworth Field. Kostunica will have to do it. It may not be entirely fair to a man who just rid the Serbs of a false-minded leader to have to fight another, but few things are fair these days. And if Djindjic has his way, few will ever be.

Please Support Antiwar.com

A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form


Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325

Your Contributions are now Tax-Deductible

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us