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Dusan Velickovic

The Godfather is in The Hague, his jail is small and his activities are very limited, but nevertheless the job has been done: Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is dead. Zoran, my friend, one of the most brilliant men I have ever known, a symbol of new, democratic Serbia, was shot by two sniper bullets in front of his office in the centre of Belgrade on Wednesday, March 12.

A month or so ago, I met Zoran in his office. We talked about his political and intellectual biography I intended to write together with my college Olja Nusic. We also talked about Italian association "Globus et Locus", the president of which -- Piero Bassetti -- wanted to get in touch with him. It was my first meeting with him since he had become prime minister, and I said: "Well, your office isn't much, but you have a beautiful view." Really, it was a ground-floor office with a huge window overlooking a public park. "Very convenient for anyone wanting to kill me, don't you think?" he replied. Now, if you go to Zoran's office and look through that window you can see the roof of the building from which the deadly bullets were fired.

Irony, cynicism and witty repartee: that was his usual style. That was how we became friends in the first place. It was in early Seventies when we both were students of philosophy at Belgrade University. Back then we were both so-called critical Marxists, passionate opponents to the official, dogmatic ideology. We were both selected by a professor of ethics to take part in a specially organized class. It was conceived as a simulation of one of those Moscow trials -- an important and brave event in a country where free discussion of Stalinist terror was not tolerated. Zoran was supposed to defend the "accused" and I had to play the role of prosecutor. He was the good guy and I was the bad guy. He was so good, and so serious in his role that he started to attack me as if I really was a representative of a totalitarian regime. Soon we became best friends.

He was younger than me, but I always consulted him because I felt he was more experienced than me. On one occasion in the late Seventives, I was summoned to the Secret Police headquarters for a so-called "informative conversation" - a euphemism for a possible arrest. Later on that same day I called my friend who calmed me down, using the tone of a man who had been summoned several times before.

Then he told me about one of his experiences with the Secret Police. Several years before, he had taken part in the founding of an alternative organization of students in Ljubljana, Slovenia. They printed leaflets -- a kind of proclamation of their intent - and he took some to Belgrade where he distributed them amongst his colleagues. The police regarded this action as an attempt to establish a political party, which was, at the time, a mortal sin.

That same night, plain-clothes agents came to his apartment. His mother, a strict, authoritarian woman, opened the door. The agents told her that they had a warrant to search the place. She looked at them and said: "Ok, but you'll have to take off your shoes first. I cleaned the apartment yesterday and I will not tolerate anyone barging in with dirty shoes." The puzzled agents left their shoes in the anteroom and their search fell through. They did not find the leaflets. "See what my mother's like?" he said, "Now you know why I already wanted to leave home when I was still at elementary school."

I wrote about this in my book on the days of bombardment and martial law in Belgrade, Amor Mundi. Actually, Zoran is one of the main heroes of that book where I usually refer to him as "a friend". In those days he was branded a traitor by the Milosevic regime and his life was in danger. Now, my friend is dead.

Who killed my friend? Ask Milosevic, the killers are his men.

And what will happen in Serbia now? I have always believed that Serbia is a country of great opportunities which, unfortunately, never happen. I do hope I am not right.

All pictures from BBC News


Dusan Velickovic was born in Yugoslavia in 1947. Between 1993 and 1997 he edited leading Serbian weekly NIN. In 1998, he launched Biblioteka Alexandria, the first important literary journal in Serbia and the publishing house Alexandria Press. He has written numerous reviews, essays and short stories. His latest book is Amor Mundi, a collection of short stories about life in Serbia during the NATO air raids of 1999. One of Dusan Velickovic's short stories has been published in 3AM Magazine.

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