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Experts Optimistic on Belgrade Reform Efforts - 2003-03-17

Despite the political uncertainty resulting from the assassination last week of Serbia's reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, some analysts in Belgrade are optimistic that the pace of reform will continue and could even be stepped up.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund say existing loan programs in support of reform are going forward. Economist Boris Begovic, a close ally of Mr. Djindjic who is behind reform measures in 2001 and 2002, says he is confident reforms will continue.

"I don't think the assassination is sufficient to stop reform because there are a lot of reform minded people in this country. There are a lot of young people in this country who believe in reform, who believed in a new bright future for Serbia and who believed in that future as their future," says Mr. Begovic. "So I think the political strength of pro-reform forces these days is much bigger than it could look like from abroad."

Among the half million mourners in Belgrade for Mr. Djindjic's funeral was Erhad Busek, the Austrian official who heads the European Union sponsored Stability Pact that promotes reform in the Balkans. He says continued progress in Serbia is critical to the entire Balkans. "If we remember the time from Slobodan Milosevic excluded Yugoslavia from everything [connected to the European Union], I think we didn't get the right signals in the region. Now with these changes in Serbia and Montenegro [over the past two years] we've moved quite a ways forward," he says. "Therefore I think it's not only for technical geographic or economic reasons, I think it is also political reasons that make Serbia something like the core state in southeastern Europe."

Mr. Busek, who coordinates aid projects, says the current upgrading of international highways passing through Serbia will benefit the entire Balkan region.

Mr. Begovic, now a researcher at a Belgrade economic institute, says in the days since the assassination the Serbian public has turned vocal in demanding action against the criminal gangs allegedly linked to Mr. Djindjic's murder. "I think what we have experienced since the assassination of Mr. Djindjic is something similar to the complete change of framework which happened in the United States after September 11 [2001], a change of framework and a change of resources that are quite different than before the assassination," he says. "We can see now a determination of the government to fight organized crime."

Mr. Busek says organized crime is a regional problem that must be addressed in all Balkan countries.