At one point in his testimony Vladimir Popović[1] asks the question: ‘Why was Zoran Đinđić killed?’ This is a question which, I am afraid, will not be dealt by the courts (though one should not exclude the possibility altogether), but which certainly will be addressed by history. What is most urgently needed, however, is for Serbian society to engage with this question. In my view it is the most important question that remains unanswered since the murder of the prime minister. It should actually be phrased: ‘How was it possible?’ Serbian society will have to look for an answer to it, if it wants such a thing never to be possible again. I do not mean, of course, that Serbia is the only country in which a prime minister has been killed. But it is not easy to find another example of a crime of this nature: i.e. a political killing in which, as is the case with the murder of Zoran Đinđić, all relevant social and state institutions without exception were involved, whether directly or indirectly: the generals, i.e. the Army; the clergy, i.e. the Church; the scholars and poets, i.e. their most important institutions. It is for this reason that Serbian society will have to pose the question of how that was possible – provided, of course, that it wants finally to become normal.

Seeking precedents

The answer, on the other hand, cannot be reached without understanding the historical context. Soon after the premier’s murder, many interpreters focused on the context, concentrating on the more distant past where they looked for examples that could compare with Đinđić’s murder. The most frequently mentioned were Prince Mihajlo Obrenović, King Aleksandar Obrenović, and King Aleksandar Karađorđević. Since this is not the occasion for a historical debate, I would limit myself to saying that the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan Amfilohije Radović grasped the wider context more accurately and precisely than any of these analysts in the speech – which he called a requiem – that he delivered at the funeral of the late premier. In this speech the archbishop linked Zoran Đinđić with the Obrenović dynasty, which especially under King Milan became a symbol of Serbia’s orientation to the West and, in that context, of its modernization. For the Serbian mainstream at that time, personified by the Radical Party, King Milan was what its leader Nikola Pašić wrote about him on one occasion: ‘a traitor… worse than Vuk Branković’. Thus the policy of the Obrenović’s was literally identified with ‘treachery’, which is why all those who supported it were denounced as ‘traitors’, ‘Austrian spies’, or simply ‘Obrenović lackeys’.

For over one hundred years the dominant current within Serbian historiography has upheld this interpretation of the Obrenović’s, which originated in the People’s Radical Party. This is why the murder of the last Obrenović, after which the Radical Party ruled for many years, was for the Serbia of that period – as well as for the subsequent historiography – not only a legitimate but also a heroic act, whose executors were not criminals but supreme patriots: they were not brought before any court, but fêted instead as heroes and saviours of the nation. Metropolitan Radović, who has studied this history thoroughly, sent a message with his speech to those who were able to hear it: ‘This is how those who lead to the West, the globalists and the modernists, end up here in Serbia.’ For Serbia they were and remain traitors, hence represent legitimate targets for killing.

This is the red thread tying the murder of Zoran Đinđić to the history of Serbia; the thread caught by Metropolitan Radović and displayed for the benefit of all publicly and diabolically in the largest Orthodox church. The murder of Premier Đinđić dealt a powerful and perhaps decisive blow to the idea of Serbia in the West. Serbia was then confronted most brutally with that part of itself whose hatred of modernity is so deep and powerful as to render it capable of murder.

The time of accounting

But there is a more recent – and equally significant – historical context than the one that Amfilohije Radović pointed out to us. We must move on a hundred years, to the turn of the 20th into the 21st century. At that moment the idea of a modern Serbia was no longer problematic only – nor even primarily – because of a principled ideological and cultural opposition to the West. A far more prosaic reason for resisting Đinđić’s vision of Serbia emerged, linked to the fact that, after the completion of wars and crimes of the most horrendous nature, the time of accounting had inexorably arrived. Đinđić’s vision of a modern Serbia assumed a Serbian break with the past and confrontation with culpability for that past. The prime minister became the symbol of a policy that sooner or later had to bring to an end the denial of Serbia’s responsibility for the war, and the covering up of crimes; had to lead finally to renunciation of the expansionist project, and concomitantly to posing the question of responsibility for that project. All those who wished to avoid this – whether fearing moral or political or legal responsibility – rightly viewed the late premier as their enemy. Especially the last category, since Premier Đinđić was the only Serbian politician who was truly ready to deliver to The Hague all those indicted for war crimes. This is why they all opted for a policy of ‘legalism’, i.e. a policy of preserving the regime of Slobodan Milošević, rather than for the vision of a modern Serbia.

This was a death sentence for Zoran Đinđić, since this policy could rely and did rely exclusively on the so-called patriotic (i.e. anti-Hague) lobby and organized crime, which – symbiotically connected – not only re-consolidated themselves after 5 October, but were daily gaining in importance. The basic state institutions, first destroyed and then criminalized, were allotted the task of protecting the war-criminal mafia. The state security service, the counter-intelligence service, paramilitary units, and criminal groups, as well as the political structures that rely on these in their effort to preserve the expansionist programme – all were mutually linked, an interwoven unity of evil. Their unrestrained media served up a constant diet of political banditry against which there was no protection. The situation was almost hopeless: cooperation with The Hague under a systematic blockade, lustration rejected, the judicial system corrupt and itself involved with organized crime. Serbia was drowning in crime. Zoran Đinđić and his collaborators fought virtually alone against this. Such then were the results of the ‘legalism’ that was adopted after 5 October, in order to justify the blocking of every reform demanded by the Serbian government. It was clear from the start that this ‘legalism’ was simply an affront to common sense. On 12 March 2003 it was brought home to us that a far-reaching aim of ‘after Milošević, Milošević’ lay at its foundation, so that it led inexorably to crime. That is how the myth of 5 October as the line of divide between the Milošević and post-Milošević eras was destroyed. Zoran Dinđić’s murder was possible not because of the nature of the regime during the Milošević period, but rather because that regime did not really change on 5 October – yet it was necessary to make it appear that it had. Vladimir Popović’s testimony in this regard is of exceptional and lasting value. For those who wish to research Serbia’s most recent history, in which the phenomenon of 5 October represents a crucial issue, Popović has provided an invaluable source.

Translated by Bosnian Institute, 23.02.2009.

Pešč, 23.02.2009.


  1. Speech at the book launch for Svedočenje pred Specijalnim sudom Vladimira Popovića na suđenju za ubistvo Zorana Đinđića[Vladimir Popović’s Testimony before the Special Court at the trial for the murder of Zoran Đinđić’], held in Belgrade’s Media Centre on 24 January 2006. Translated from Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade), nos 91-92, January-February 2006