On March 12, 2003, at 12:23 pm, Zoran Djindjic, Serbia’s first democratic Prime Minister, was gunned down by a sniper in the yard outside the Government building less than 26 months after the Parliament elected him to head the country’s cabinet.
Serbia declared a state of emergency; the police arrested hundreds of people; the indictment charged the members of the then already dissolved Unit for Special Operations (JSO) and a criminal group with organising and carrying out the assassination.
The primary defendants, according to the indictment, were sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral in Belgrade, but, the political background of the assassination remained unknown.
Djindjic came to power on the wave of the opposition’s victory over the then ruler Slobodan Milosevic. He managed to join 18 parties in the bloc, which ran on a single list in the December 2000 parliamentary elections, after Milosevic lost the presidential vote a few months before.
However, he and his allies did not have enough time to dismantle the old regime’s structure, the state security agency and the police above all.
And, maybe equally important, the cracks with the ruling coalition appeared almost immediately after the victory.
Following years of isolation after being described as a pariah state, the world seemed to have embraced new Serbia, particularly Djindjic as a man seen as a real democrat capable of getting the country out of the blurry times of autocracy, wars and economic failure.
Djindjic was not a loved leader, but his energy and determination earned him respect from many.
On the other hand, political haters and those who feared his reforms’ consequences might have had on them prevailed.
Eighteen years after his assassination, Serbia is again ruled by a single party. The opposition is in disarray. Apart from some economic achievements, Europe openly and increasingly sharply criticises Belgrade for the lack of reforms in the rule of law, violations of media and freedom of speech…
Djindjic’s Democratic Party (DS) is hardly surviving, and his political legacy is dead in Serbia.
The current DS’ head Zoran Lutovac said on Friday, “Djindjic wanted the ethics of good intentions to be replaced with ethics of responsibility if we wanted to make a landscaped state and free society.”
Lutovac wrote in an article for the independent Beta news agency that the pain caused by Djindjic’s murder was also the pain for “Serbia in which we believed.”
“No one today cannot and should not speak on behalf of the man of undoubtedly unique vision and energy who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country,” Lutovac wrote.