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Serbia's Revolution: One Year Later - 2001-09-18

October 5 will mark one year since workers and students stormed the parliament building in Belgrade and forced Slobodan Milosevic to surrender the Yugoslav presidency to Vojislav Kostunica, the man who had defeated him in a national election less than two weeks earlier.

Since late June, Slobodan Milosevic has been in The Hague, awaiting trial on war crimes charges. But although he is gone from Belgrade, his legacy is not easily overcome. Part of the reason for this is that he held power for 13 years, first as ruler of Serbia and then as president of the Yugoslav federation, made up of Serbia and Montenegro.

But in addition to ruling for so long, Mr. Milosevic's left behind a republic scarred by corruption, economic depression, and losing wars in Croatia, Bosnia and, finally, Kosovo. Two years ago, Serbia was severely damaged by nearly three months of NATO aerial attacks that drove the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo. Since his ouster, Serbs have sought to reintegrate themselves into Europe, and Europe has for the most part been willing to accept them. It has lifted economic sanctions and ended Serbia's political isolation.

But Serbia has a long way to go, especially economically.

Still, the head of the Yugoslav central bank and the government's leading economic reformer, Mladjan Dinkic, is optimistic. He believes next year will be a good year, with increased foreign investment and higher living standards. "Milosevic is in The Hague only since the beginning of July, the end of June," he says. "This was the last step which opened our country to the world. Now when the first big businessmen come here and realize that if they're present in Belgrade, they can do business in the whole of southeastern Europe, a lot of others will come and follow them."

Another reformer is Boris Begovic, the chief economic adviser to the Yugoslav deputy prime minister. "I think there was no revolution" on October 5, he says. "There instead was a step-by-step movement toward democracy and a market economy. As being someone with the federal government, I think there are a few accomplishments in this period. One is breaking with the past, breaking with the past in terms of policies and in terms of basic institutional framework of the country."

Mr. Begovic concedes that most Serbs have yet to see any economic improvement. The average Serb is still earning a monthly wage of under $100.

Vlatko Sekulovic is a Social Democratic member of the Serbian parliament and a member of Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), the dominant political coalition in Serbia. He says that while there have been political gains in the past year, Serbs have yet to decide what kind of government they want, one that is fully part of Europe or one that that keeps its distance and retains traditional Serb values.

New parliamentary elections are likely in Serbia next year. Mr. Sekulovic says the two principal leaders of DOS, Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and President Kostunica, could be rivals in the election. He says the two men have quite different political views. "Some people are perceiving a Serbia that is more modern. A Serbia that is much more caring for its citizens and the every day life of its citizens," he says. "And the other Serbia, represented mostly by Kostunica, is thinking of a Serbia that is in the European Union but that at the same time is keeping some pseudo-values like traditional values, conservative values, nationalist values, which at the end of the day are incompatible with the modern world."

There can be little doubt that Serbia is a better place than it was a year ago. It is becoming a normal European democracy. There is a free press. The borders are open. Corruption is being attacked. The mood of the people is much improved. But significant problems remain.

Will Montenegro continue as Serbia's partner in what is left of the Yugoslav federation? The constitution has to be rewritten. The privatization and restructuring of industry has yet to begin. And what will happen to largely Albanian populated Kosovo, still technically a province of Serbia, but a place few Serbs expect will ever again be part of Yugoslavia.

But having finally gotten rid of Slobodan Milosevic, many Serbs seem to have a sense of confidence that they can accomplish things they once thought were impossible.