On October Fifth, Serbians will mark the first anniversary of the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is now in The Hague awaiting trial on war crimes charges.
The cafes on Republic Square are filled on this soft autumn afternoon. School children make their way home from classes. Shoppers pause for coffee, cell phones chirp, traffic is backed up in front of the national theater. Outwardly, things are much improved. Belgrade again seems like a normal European city.
But scratch beneath the surface and much of the optimism of one year ago is gone. Nebojsa Tasic, a human rights activist and long-time Belgrade resident, is typical of many people in their 20s. "Well, my answer is no, life is getting worse, I think. Living is harder now because the social part of life is much more difficult. Prices are higher. The economy is not doing well. Definitely," Tasic said.
After Mr. Milosevic's ouster, Western governments promised Yugoslavia's new leaders financial support. But, almost one year later, Belgrade has had little money from the West. The economy remains stagnant. Unemployment is still very high and wages are very low.
Lilliana, a student of English and Spanish at Belgrade University, says she likes the political changes of the past year, but she says day-to-day life has not changed all that much. "Maybe we can feel in the air that some things are easier, that we are a little bit more open to the world. Only this. But economically and other things like jobs, we can't find jobs for young people. Many things in connection with things for living are not very good," Lilliana said.
But politically, things have undoubtedly improved. Yugoslavia's isolation has ended. The borders are open. Slobodan Milosevic is gone and his party shows no signs of making a comeback. And despite predictions of an early vote for independence, Montenegro still remains Serbia's partner in the Yugoslav federation.