Death of a Manager

"I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." – (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene II)

Two shots – one in the chest, one in the stomach – abruptly ended the reign of Zoran Djindjic at lunchtime Wednesday, as a yet unidentified sniper assassinated the Prime Minister of Serbia. Djindjic was killed at the pinnacle of his career, just after he finished securing his grip on power in Serbia without ever standing for election.


As of Wednesday afternoon, there were no confirmed reports on the identity or motives of the assassins, though speculation has, of course, been plentiful. The attack was universally condemned as "terrorist," which it was.

The culprits could have been the organized crime syndicates – produced and nurtured by the Balkan wars, a decade of harsh statism and the US-imposed blockade – with which Djindjic had numerous ties. Somewhat less likely, but still possible, it could have been the Albanian terrorists, trying to stop Djindjic from interfering with their plans for Kosovo independence. There has even been speculation of possible revenge by Milosevic supporters, though they could have murdered Djindjic at any time over the past decade, had they been so inclined. Indeed, the spokesman for Milosevic’s party harshly condemned the assassination.

Given the blatant incompetence of Serbian police officials – which, ironically, Djindjic appointed – his murder may never be solved unless the assassins claim responsibility.

Obviously, Djindjic’s Machiavellian ways have made him a lot of enemies, though until Wednesday they were hardly considered both willing and able to actually kill him. Because modern Serbia is a dangerous place, Djindjic was always surrounded by bodyguards and drove around in armored cars. But he could not be protected from just this kind of attack: from a distance, while stepping out of a car, and in front of his office building. The method suggests that whoever shot him knew not only his vulnerabilities, but also his schedule. In the habitually relaxed Balkans, Djindjic’s westernized organization and time-management skills may have been his undoing.

Empire’s Condolences

A man is judged not only by his enemies, but by his friends. According to reports cited by the pro-government B92 media network, the entire EU leadership, Kosovo’s Viceroy Michael Steiner, and even Adem Demaqi, a Kosovo Albanian separatist leader, expressed shock and sorrow at the news of Djindjic’s death. Croatia’s president Mesic called the murder an "act of madness."

"This is not good for Serbia, not good for us in the neighborhood. Serbia has been through a difficult period… and this assassination will slow down its progress toward democracy," he said.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who gained notoriety for her anti-Serb diatribes and ‘advocacy journalism’ during the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, deeply regretted Djindjic’s demise as well: "This is a very, very severe blow to all those in the international community trying to engage with Serbia," she was quoted by CNN. She called Djindjic a "courageous man" and an "emblem of democracy."

While the often Serbophobic Guardian praised Djindjic for his opposition to Milosevic, it also noted he "often took harshly nationalistic stances," and was known for "authoritarian tendencies." "The Associated Press, on the other hand, commended Djindjic for "his willingness to surrender Milosevic despite a constitutional ban on extraditing Serbian citizens," and called him a "the man who personified Serbia’s hopes for a better future."

The Head Inquisitor of the Hague ‘Tribunal’ Carla DelPonte mourned Djindjic’s death by saying, "He worked very hard to help us."

And BBC carried a statement by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former advisor to the first Viceroy of Bosnia: "Here was a man who more than any other single figure stood for the reform process, and… it now throws all the cards in the air."

What all these statements have in common is Djindjic’s importance to "democracy in Serbia." Apparently, Djindjic was not just another Prime Minister, but the irreplaceable champion of Western values (at least of the modern political variety). No one mentioned his honesty, honor, or integrity. Perhaps they wished to avoid mocking the dead?

Issues of Succession

However, Neville-Jones raised a valid point, as cards in Serbia are very much "in the air" right now. Djindjic’s politics were very much driven by his personal talents. His party, and his governing coalition, will find him impossible to replace. For over two years, Djindjic ran Serbia almost single-handedly, with a host of others hanging on as decorations. Now it’s up to the decorations to rule.

According to reports that trickled in from Serbia during the day Wednesday, the emergency government session was chaired by Deputy PM Nebojsa Covic, the government’s special envoy for Kosovo and Presevo valley issues, who has recently drifted away from Djindjic. Covic addressed the reporters after the session, possibly indicating his rise to Prime Minister. But the coalition of two-bit parties Djindjic has assembled as a rubber-stamp majority is extremely fragile, and Covic may not have the temper nor the cunning to keep them in line. Serbia is certainly headed into a period of political confusion, as various factions jockey for power.

In the meantime, the President (Djindjic appointee Natasa Micic) has declared a state of emergency and a three-day period of national mourning.

Serbia’s Richard III

This column has never held much respect for Zoran Djindjic. The man was a Marxist philosopher who wrote a Ph.D. on utilizing crisis situations to seize power. He was a technocratic statist of the worst stripe, a man who put "manager" – his nickname, no less – in "managerial state." Under his rule, Serbia went from a damaged but surviving post-war, post-sanctions economy into a sharp tailspin. His ministers have engineered tax and privatization policies that have pilfered the people of what little wealth they still had, while pushing Serbia into a mountain of debt. And, almost as a side note, they’ve managed to rip up the Constitution, cheat the democratic process (however flawed and bogus it was to begin with), and dismantle the country they’ve taken over.

Indeed, Zoran Djindjic was the champion of the worst kind of social engineering, trying to remake Serbia into an obedient Imperial vassal mired in cultural Marxism and political correctness, all in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ which he cared not a whit about. There is no reason to renounce any of these judgments now. Serbia is better off without him.

That said, his murder was brutal, foul and worthy only of condemnation. It is a deeply uncivilized act, for a deeply uncivilized society which Serbia has become over the past decade. Yes, it was a society Djindjic helped shape during his time in power, and there is certainly an irony that he died at the hands of someone even more unscrupulous. But no one deserves to be murdered.

Djindjic can do more good in death then he did in life; if his assassin is caught and given a fair trial, it will mark Serbia’s return to civilization. Serbia’s new leaders, whoever they end up being, should bear in mind the last lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III:

Inter their bodies as becomes their births.
Proclaim a pardon to the soldiers fled
That in submission will return to us;
And then, as we have ta’en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red.
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frowned upon their enmity!
What traitor hears me, and says not amen?
England hath long been mad and scarred herself;
The brother blindly shed the brother’s blood;
The father rashly slaughtered his own son;
The son, compelled, been butcher to the sire:
All this divided York and Lancaster,
Divided in their dire division,
O, now let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heirs (God, if thy will be so)
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land’s increase
That would with treason wound this fair land’s peace!
Now civil wounds are stopped, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say Amen!

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.