NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 - but much remains the same

March 20th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

By Thomas Brey
Belgrade, March 20 (DPA) When NATO bombed Serbia in 1999, it wanted to end bloodshed in Kosovo. Cracking Slobodan Milosevic’s autocratic regime in the process and paving the way for his fall 18 months later was an added bonus.

But though the pro-Western reformist Zoran Djindjic replaced Milosevic in Belgrade, the list of Serbian achievement on the 10th anniversary of the NATO attack remains disappointing.

“All our ideals turned into their opposite,” says Dragana Srdic, one of the icons of the opposition to Milosevic. Like many observers, she had hoped that much would have been different by now.

Any changes were put into reverse six years ago with the assassination of Djinjdic. Milosevic’s officials began re-emerging in structures of authority. The slain premier’s party even reconciled with the late strongman’s Socialist Party (SPS).

While Djindjic was killed by rogue policemen nurtured under Milosevic’s regime, Milosevic died of a heart attack in a prison cell at the United Nations war crimes tribunal, where he had been sent by Djindjic.

Djindjic’s successors today sit in the ruling coalition with Milosevic’s closest subordinates. This year they acclaimed Milosevic as a hero of all heroes.

Vuk Draskovic, an early leader of the opposition to Milosevic, recently warned of a return to the “pathology of seeing violation as virtue and criminals as heroes”.

President Boris Tadic, who declared himself the sole heir to the Djindjic legacy, pledged to break the “network of organised crime, politics and justice”.

But Serbia’s leading caricaturist, Corax, summed the sceptical sentiment of the nation with a single cartoon portraying a minute Tadic standing under the huge figure of powerful tycoons who became rich through murky dealings in the Milosevic era.

“There were no far-reaching reforms,” in the time since Djindjic’s assassination, says Suzana Grubjesic, a top official of the reformist G17 party, a junior partner in Tadic’s coalition.

Lagging reforms, a self-serving mentality among politicians and corruption scandals have embittered the Serbs. Today, a decade since the last war, two out of each three university students still hope to live in another country.

Serbia’s leading anti-corruption fighter, Verica Barac, said Tadic should back the promise of a crackdown by starting the clean-up in his own Democratic Party and by showing how it is financed.

The party receives secretive financing from dubious sources, which in turn feeds the network of crime, politics and courts. “Politicians must first deal with themselves,” says the private watchdog Transparency.

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