Serbia, 20 years after a sniper’s bullet killed Zoran Dindic
Twenty years ago, on 12 March 2003, the news of the assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić shocked Serbia, the wider region, and the whole of Europe.
In Croatia, Đinđić’s death was seen as an event that would have long-lasting negative consequences for Serbia, and the region as a whole.
When expressing condolences to the Serbian government and Đinđić’s family, the Croatian foreign minister at that time and the co-author of this message, Tonino Picula, highlighted his belief that a strong democratic reform potential of Serbia will prevail. "The progress that has been made in the region in the past years, also thanks to Zoran Đinđić, cannot be stopped or reversed," he said. Those were the hopes of many.
A day after the assassination, at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, a profound shock and condemnation were expressed regarding the murder.
Đinđić, also president of the Democratic Party, was a key opposition figure during the destructive rule of Slobodan Milošević who was indicted for war crimes. After the latter had been overthrown, Đinđić became prime minister in 2001.
He fought for pro-democratic reforms and Serbia’s integration in the EU. He was a symbol of hope for a better future for Serbia as a key factor of stability in the Western Balkans. Therefore, his murder was a brutal attack on Serbia’s democratic and European aspirations, as well as on the endeavours to stabilise and reconcile the region wrought by the wars in the territory of former Yugoslavia.
Đinđić died because he was a reformer and his country was not ready for democratic and social changes. His death was a colossal political tragedy, but it was also an opportunity for Serbia to self-reflect and build on his legacy.
So, what is even more tragic than his murder, is the fact that Serbia has not been able to seize this opportunity and free itself from the destructive ideology that brought about the devastating wars in the region. Instead, it created a situation of frozen conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo.
After Đinđić’s death, the situation in the country started deteriorating. Twenty years later, Serbia seems closer to Russia and China than to the European Union. Current Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić used to be a minister of information under Milošević’s regime. From that time, he is remembered for introducing restrictive measures against journalists, in particular during the Kosovo war.
Under his presidency, democratic aspirations have too often been overruled by autocratic tendencies aiming to get total control over political processes and all the media.
However, we are convinced that even after two lost decades, Serbia still has a chance to join its social democratic forces and ensure that its reformist prime minister did not pay with his life for nothing. Serbia can still become a key factor of stability in the region, a relevant player in Europe, and in the future a member of the European Union.
This will be our message on Thursday (16 March) during the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, where we will gather to commemorate Đinđić’s assassination in the framework of the S&D’s Willy Brandt working group for strengthening ties with social democrats in the Western Balkans and Eastern neighbourhood.
The first democratically-elected Serbian prime minister knew very well that there would be no prosperity and modernisation of Serbian society without dealing and reckoning with Milošević’s war-criminal legacy. So it comes as no surprise that Đinđić has often been compared to former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to strengthen cooperation in Western Europe and achieve reconciliation between West Germany and the Eastern European countries.
As Brandt’s mission was to free Germany from the burden of the Nazi ideology, Đinđić’s mission was to redirect Serbia from Milošević’s devastating narrative towards a democratic and prosperous European future.
In the spirit of the actions and words of these two great statesmen, Brandt and Đinđić, we must continue to believe in the possibility of a better future for Serbia and strive to realise its late prime minister’s vision of his country deeply anchored in the European Union.
This would be the best guarantee for lasting peace in the region, which in times of the current war in Europe proves to be more important than ever.