Zoran Djindjic, the kingmaker in the shadows

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The Independent Online

In the corridors of power of the new Serbia, one name is on everybody's lips. While the world watches the new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, in the shadows behind him the kingmaker, Zoran Djindjic, is calling the shots.

In the corridors of power of the new Serbia, one name is on everybody's lips. While the world watches the new Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, in the shadows behind him the kingmaker, Zoran Djindjic, is calling the shots.

He is there at every negotiation to prise power out of the desperate clutches of Slobodan Milosevic's cronies. When they ordered police to seize back control of television and other state institutions on Wednesday, it was Mr Djindjic who threatened to call the people back into the streets.

It was Mr Djindjic who had the generals spitting blood and warning of "negative consequences" when he suggested on Wednesday that the Chief of Staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic, could be persuaded to resign - even as sources close to Mr Kostunica were saying the President didn't want to sack the army chief.

At his party headquarters, Mr Djindjic sweeps through, dressed in an expensive black suit, his greying hair carefully coiffured, a retinue of aides at his heels. Serbian journalists respectfully bow their heads: it is as if he were the new president and they were asking for an audience, not an interview.

It was not ever thus. Where was this political heavyweight when Nato was desperately searching for an opposition leader to challenge Mr Milosevic during last year's air strikes? Holed up in Montenegro in self-imposed exile, which has left a stain on his domestic image.

Another snapshot from Mr Djindjic's past: side by side with Radovan Karadzic in April 1995, when Nato was threatening air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs. Mr Djindjic, ever the opportunist, flew to Pale to give his support to the Bosnian Serb leader. They roasted a whole ox on a spit for him in Pale's main square.

The high point of Mr Djindjic's career came in 1996. The opposition swept local elections and, when Mr Milosevic tried to annul the results, the people took to the streets. Mr Milosevic was forced to back down and Mr Djindjic was installed as Mayor of Belgrade. But even then, he admits, he was holding secret meetings with Mr Milosevic.

BackingVojislav Kostunica for President was Mr Djindjic's master stroke. Mr Kostunica's clean record made him popular with the Serb people in a way Mr Djindjic, with his ignominious days in Montenegro, could never match. It was an alliance that got rid of Mr Milosevic. It also put Mr Djindjic at the centre of power. President Kostunica had better keep a wary eye over his shoulder.

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