World

Yugoslavia’s unlikely giant-slayer

D’Arcy Jenish October 16 2000
World

Yugoslavia’s unlikely giant-slayer

D’Arcy Jenish October 16 2000

Yugoslavia’s unlikely giant-slayer

He hardly seems the type to

topple a tyrant. A quiet man and, until this past summer and fall, an obscure politician, 56-year-old Vojislav Kostunica lives in a modest apartment in central Belgrade with his wife, a dog and two cats. The onetime University of Belgrade law professor, who spent most of his career editing academic journals or working as a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory, drives a scuffed white Yugo and walks the city like any other resident. During the NATO air strikes in the spring of 1999, he sought safety in bomb shelters, along with thousands of ordinary citizens. “It is nothing short of a miracle that Kostunica polled more than 15 per cent of the vote on Sept. 24,” says Serb writer Srdja Trifkovic,

a foreign-affairs specialist with the Rockford Institute, a Rockford, Illbased social-policy research centre.

Considerably more. In that historic election, Kostunica got almost 50 per cent—not bad for a man who, until this summer, was only the leader of the small, moderate Democratic Party of Serbia. But at the start of the campaign, which began in August, he was chosen to head a coalition of 18 opposition groups. Kostunica had at least two things going for him. Unlike more prominent opposition leaders, he had never been tainted by making deals with Slobodan Milosevic. Nor had he, like some other politicians, allied himself too closely with Western countries. And he demonstrated immense personal courage during the campaign, with-

standing a barrage of rotten vegetables hurled by Milosevic supporters at one stop, and remaining undaunted by vicious personal attacks in the Milosevic-controlled media.

Trifkovic, who meets Kostunica two to three times annually during trips to Serbia, predicts he will seek better relations with the European Union and Russia, but will keep his distance from the United States. “He wants Serbia to be a middle-of-theroad country with a normal economy, normal health and normal education,” Trifkovic says. “It will be a normal European country in which minorities enjoy the same rights as in any democratic country.” Getting there will be an uphill batde, but Kostunica has shown he is more than ready for a fight.

D’Arcy Jenish