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Journal of Democracy 12.3 (2001) 96-110

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Serbia's Prudent Revolution

Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic

The fall of communist East Central Europe is now complete. A bloodless democratic revolution has come to Serbia. The corruption-ridden 13-year-old regime of Slobodan Milosevic is gone for good; the rule of law has returned, after all too long an absence. Milosevic and his allies have been replaced by committed and in some cases remarkably able democrats. The consolidation of this change will in all likelihood make the Balkans (of which Serbia is the most influential entity) geopolitically stable and economically viable. The manner in which this revolution was conducted, and the political and intellectual formation of its two main leaders, make it appropriate to call it the Prudent Revolution.

The first and psychologically decisive phase of Serbia's Prudent Revolution ended on 6 October 2000, the day Milosevic finally recognized Vojislav Kostunica as the democratically elected president of Yugoslavia. (The election, in which Kostunica took slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in a five-man race, took place on September 24.) The second and politically decisive phase ended on December 23, with the Serbian parliamentary elections. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), an 18-party coalition with Zoran Djindjic leading its electoral list, won with almost two-thirds of the popular vote, making Djindjic Serbia's new prime minister. The third phase--the political, legal, social, and economic transformation of Serbia--will continue for as long as it takes the prudent revolutionaries to fulfill their promise of building, in Kostunica's words, "a state without rivers of blood for bor-ders, a good, efficient, democratic, European state, one that is free inside [End Page 96] and free abroad, that is independent, with a normal economy, industry, banking system, social and health care, and media."

In contrast to the leader of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, Václav Havel, a playwright by training, Serbia's two most important prudent revolutionaries participated seriously in politics prior to their assumption of political power. The first, 56-year-old Vojislav Kostunica, is a constitutional lawyer and scholar who has written extensively about the political science of John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the role of the opposition in multiparty democracies and later translated the Federalist into Serbian. In 1974, he, along with several others (led by Mihailo Djuric), was removed from his teaching post at the University of Belgrade as a result of his vocal opposition to constitutional reforms proposed by President Tito. In 1989, Milosevic, who by that point had become president of Serbia, offered to reinstate him and the others to their teaching positions. All accepted, save for Kostunica, who wanted nothing to do with the communists' superficial efforts at reconciliation with the regime's opponents. The second, 48-year-old Zoran Djindjic, also got in trouble in 1974, when he attempted to set up a noncommunist student organization at the University of Belgrade. Soon thereafter, he left for West Germany, where he received his Ph.D. in philosophy under Jürgen Habermas. During the 1980s, he stayed mostly in Germany, holding various teaching positions and becoming a successful businessman. In 1989, both men helped to found the Democratic Party (DS). Three years later, Kostunica left the DS to found his own party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). Both men served as members of Serbia's parliament from 1990 to 1997.

It is true that Serbia's two main prudent revolutionaries do not always agree on all policy issues, and that they have rather different personalities. Djindjic is more of a Jacobin, although since becoming Serbia's prime minister he has begun to emphasize the crucial importance of due process and the rule of law. A shrewd and intelligent political operative, Djindjic is not interested in power for its own sake, nor is he interested in getting rich on the job. Rather, he wants to go down in history as an efficient manager, as the man who brought Serbia out of its decade-long economic slump. Kostunica...


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