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Experts See Signs New Serbia Leadership to Continue Reforms - 2003-04-03

Balkan experts speaking at a forum on Serbia's future say they see hopeful signs that the leadership in Belgrade will continue reforms begun by Prime Miniser Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated last month. Author and journalist Misha Glenny, a respected authority on the Balkans, says Serbia's future will also depend on its relations with its neighbors, particularly the states that made up the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Glenny says, throughout the Balkans, the biggest problem is the high level of unemployment. But he sees the first hopeful signs of regional cooperation. For example, near where the borders of Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo come together, efforts are under way to restore cross-border business links.

Mr. Glenny sees the possibility of reconciliation between Serbia and Croatia, bitter rivals since the wars of independence that tore Yugoslavia apart. He says, at Mr. Djindjic's funeral in Belgrade, capital of both Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan made a highly significant gesture in laying a wreath before the coffin.

"For every Serb watching that, this was a moment of deep significance," he said. "Racan's behavior, in this matter, was exceptionally dignified, and the statements that came out of Croatia, their whole response to the death, I think, shows that all have moved on in a certain way. Croatia and Serbia see each other on one level as equal partners to be respected. And that is a mighty development."

Mr. Glenny is encouraged by the breadth of the Serbian government's campaign against official corruption in the aftermath of Mr. Djindjic's assassination. That effort has already produced significant results, including the discovery of the body of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, a former ally-turned-foe of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague for war crimes. Mr. Stambolic was assassinated in 2000.

Mr. Glenny says the discovery of Mr. Stambolic's body reveals a lot about the Milosevic regime and people close to him, including his wife, Mirjana Markovic, who is wanted for questioning in connection with Mr. Stambolic's murder, and the former head of the secret police, Rade Markovic.

"With the discovery of Ivan Stambolic's body, a whole series of myths are uncovered at the same time," he said. "One of them is that these people, in particular Rade Markovic and Mira Markovic are not able to sustain any kind of credibility. And that the real truth is known about what a murderous, brutal regime of Serbs Milosevic's actually was."

Other speakers at the forum were also optimistic that the Djindjic assassination has created a new opportunity for restoring the reform momentum in Serbia.