Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, defied the threat of arrest by flying back to Belgrade on Sunday night. The Yugoslav authorities have warned that he faces criminal charges over his refusal to respond to military call-up. Mr Djindjic spent much of the Kosovo war in the neighbouring Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which is at odds with the Milosevic regime.
Speaking on his first day back in his offices in Belgrade, Mr Djindjic argued that Mr Milosevic's continued hold on power could blight Serbia's future for years. "It costs a lot, for the next generation, as well. If he stays in power for another year, the momentum for international support [for a post-Milosevic Serbia] will be gone. If he goes in 2001, that'll be too late. We'll be in a cul-de-sac. If Western money isn't put into Serbia now, there'll be other crises to think about - and the chance will be gone."
Looking relaxed, Mr Djindjic - a former mayor of Belgrade, who was one of the leaders of huge opposition rallies in the Serb capital in winter 1996 - seemed calm at the threat of arrest. "If Milosevic puts me in jail, it wouldn't be bad for me. It would speed up the situation. My position is already better than his. If he arrests me, he'll make his position worse."
Mr Djindjic predicted a "hot summer", but acknowledged that Serbia may not yet have reached boiling point. "The biggest pressure will only come in a couple of months."
Unusually for a Serb politician, he explicitly condemned Serb violence in Kosovo. "The use of violence against civilians is a crime. It's clear that innocent people were killed. It's no justification that Albanian extremists also killed. They're individuals. On this side, it's the state."
Mr Djindjic says that the media must be given its freedom, to permit "a change in political culture". In an implied sideswipe not just at Mr Milosevic but also at his former ally in the opposition, Vuk Draskovic, he criticised the tendency to flee into heroic Serb mythology. "People took their myths from the Middle Ages. There was a flight into a historic world, where daily morality doesn't count," he said. "There's a psychology of the emergency. `We've been victims for 600 years - and we can do what we want'."
The Democratic Party plans a series of rallies in towns and cities across Serbia in the days to come. The meetings themselves are unlikely to be more than a pinprick in Mr Milosevic's famously tough elephant-hide. But Mr Djindjic hopes that they may at least prove to be the beginning of the end, in permitting the pressure for change to grow. If Mr Milosevic survives the latest catastrophe, Mr Djindjic implied that he himself would throw in the political towel. "If Milosevic stays for more than six months - I don't know how I can stay," he said.Reuse content