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An Assassination in Belgrade

Not since Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination has a murder shaken Belgrade as much as the killing of Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic. The bullets that killed Djindjic may also have slain Serbian hopes for normalcy at the very moment that we were emerging from the nightmare of Slobodan Milosevic's long misrule. With the bloody wars of the Yugoslav succession still etched deeply in everyone's minds, does Djindjic's assassination herald the end of an era of political violence or the dawn of a new one?

Milosevic's ouster two years ago was turbulent, but no one was killed. Serbs were justly proud: a dictatorship was ended in a democratic, peaceful way. Milosevic's extradition to face charges of war crimes before the Hague Tribunal--a trial that has proceeded without incident in Serbia--was also peaceful. With relations in the region and with the West approaching something like normalcy, Serbs were beginning to feel, at long last, that they were finding peace with themselves and the world.

Of course, assassinations are nothing new in Serbia. "Arkan," the leader of the most murderous paramilitary group in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and a political power even after Milosevic's fall, was murdered in Belgrade last year. Djindjic himself narrowly escaped a highway assassination attempt only last month. But most Serbs were beginning to believe that the ballot and not the gun was becoming the dominant tool of politics.

Djindjic's effective leadership brought about this change. Although the most popular politician of the uprising against Milosevic was Vojislav Kostunica, who replaced him as president, it was Djindjic who skillfully coordinated the volatile coalition that opposed the regime. His boundless energy and quick thinking delivered success from behind the scenes. As Serbia's prime minister after Milosevic, he resembled a corporate CEO more than the Heidelberg-educated philosophy professor that he was.