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Vojislav Koštunica

The final president of Yugoslavia, since the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in October 2000. The wide coalition which stood behind Koštunica disintegrated within a year and a half, unable to agree whether Milošević should be extradited to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

The looser relationship between Serbia and Montenegro, the two halves of the federation, was finally cemented in February 2003 and made Koštunica's very job obsolete.

October Revolution

Koštunica was born in 1944 in the Šumadija region, and worked as a law professor at Belgrade University until he and a number of colleagues criticised the Yugoslavian constitution of 1974. In 1983 he wrote a book advocating pluralist democracy, and co-founded Serbia's Democratic Party which would later be led by his major rival during his presidency, Zoran Đinđić.

A little-known constitutional lawyer until running against Milošević, Koštunica entered the elections of September 24, 2000 with the advantage that he had hardly taken part in national politics and had never bargained with Milošević, unlike many of the leading lights in the seventeen other parties who came together with Koštunica in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia to take him on.

In what was optimistically described as an October Revolution, Yugoslavians took to the streets of Belgrade when Milošević - or his even harder-line wife Mira Marković - refused to concede defeat to Koštunica.

Police stood by as protesters stormed the Skupština, Serbia's parliament, and miners in the Tamnava coalfield came out in support of Koštunica, prompting comparisons to the Solidarity strikes in the Gdansk shipyards which helped to bring down Polish communism. TV Pink, Mrs Marković's unending diet of turbofolk and nationalist kitsch, and the station owned by the presidential couple's daughter Marija, slunk off the airwaves.

Koštunica was hailed by the international community as a statesman who had brought the elation of 1989 to Yugoslavia, albeit 13 years late. However, what almost became an international incident during his first official visit, to Bosnia, suggested that anyone who set their hopes on Koštunica taking a stand against nationalism as well as Milošević's endemic graft was mistaken.

Before visiting the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, Koštunica had planned to attend the reburial ceremony of the Serbian poet Jovan Dučić, taking place in Trebinje in the Serbian half of the country, a questionable priority which violated diplomatic protocol. Belgrade had aided the Bosnian Serbs during the 1990s wars; the full extent of their co-operation remains a matter for The Hague.

Concerns about his potential foreign policy were not allayed when protestors in Zagreb greeted him at a regional conference by flourishing copies of a photograph from his lawyer days showing him happily posing with Serb paramilitaries.

What Shall We Do With A Drunk Dictator?

Under pressure from Carla del Ponte, the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, and an American threat that aid would be withdrawn, Yugoslavian authorities arrested Milosevic on April 1, 2001 - despite the best efforts of a vodka-fuelled Marija brandishing a pistol from her bra - and presented Koštunica with a political headache.

While Đinđić believed that extraditing Milošević was essential for Yugoslavia to retain her hard-won goodwill with the West, Koštunica was reluctant to give his predecessor's supporters such an instant grievance. Neither was he convinced of the legitimacy of the court, and preferred the alternative of a domestic truth commission.

With $1.25 billion of foreign aid at stake, Đinđić forced the issue on June 28, 2001, overruling the Constitutional Court in his capacity as prime minister of Serbia and allowing Milošević and over a dozen other indictees to be extradited. The 28th, otherwise known as Vidovdan and the Serbian national day, is the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Tito-Stalin split; a good day for Balkan politicians to stay quietly at home.

Koštunica swiftly withdrew his party from the ruling coalition, complaining that Đinđić had carried out a 'limited coup' and had no commitment to Yugoslavia as a federation: Đinđić had indeed been in contact with Milo Đukanović, the separatist prime minister of Montenegro.

The party also attempted to link the shooting on August 3, 2001 of Koštunica's close friend, Momir Gavrilović, a former secret policeman, to the Serbian PM, and the clash grew more intense in the run-up to Serbian presidential elections in late 2002 which would give Koštunica, if he took part, a stronger political role.

That Don't Impress Me Much

No longer particularly attracted by the unassuming Koštunica or the rumoured gangland connections of Đinđić's circle, the Serbian public made their feelings known - or rather, didn't - by staying away from the presidential elections in such numbers that the poll became invalidated. A re-vote took place on December 8, 2002, but once again the turnout was inadequate.

While Koštunica had faced the progressive economist Miroslav Labuš, Đinđić's man, in the abortive first round, the re-run pitted him against two extreme nationalists, whom he at least managed to defeat. One, Vojislav Šešelj, had commanded a paramilitary unit during the 1990s wars, and ran with Milošević's official support. The other, Borislav Pelević, led the Serbian Unity Party, founded by the warlord Arkan.

Until an election could be successfully held, the constitution provided that when the term of the incumbent Milan Milutinović expired, he would be temporarily replaced by the speaker of the Skupština, at present Nataša Mičić - a woman likely to become the first female leader of Serbia.

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