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Belgrade Back in Business

Serbian capital returns to normal following end of state of emergency.
By Marko Romcevic

For six weeks, armed police stood at bridges and junctions. Businesses were raided. The media operated under a virtual blackout. And the cafes and clubs were almost empty.


But with the recent lifting of the state of emergency imposed following the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, life here is slowly getting back to normal.


Acting president Natasa Micic declared the crisis over on April 22 after 42 days of raids and thousands of arrests, which culminated in the detention of leading mafia figures implicated in the March 12 murder.


"People were noticeably tense under the state of emergency," saleswomen Katarina told IWPR, "especially when they saw policemen with rifles at almost every corner in the city centre."


The capital's citizens supported the police actions, with many applauding the authorities' determination to crack down on organised crime, which had long been plaguing the country.


Nikola, an economics student, told IWPR that while he was "pleasantly surprised" by what the authorities had achieved in the emergency period, he was not sorry to see the end of the restrictions which had prevented the media from reporting details of the investigation into Djindjic's death.


"I was really fed up with the monotonous government statements quoted by all newspapers and television stations. All the news sounded the same, and you couldn't hear anything else," he said.


"For three whole days, all they broadcast was footage of the demolition of a shopping centre [allegedly owned by the Zemun organised crime clan] as if they were showing a man walking on the Moon."


During the mafia crackdown, luxury cars - symbols of the mafia - were seldom seen on the streets, and gangsters were conspicuously absent from high-class clubs and expensive restaurants.


Maja, another student, now feels as though the crisis never happened. "It's been almost two weeks, and it seems to me that everything is back to normal. Clubs are packed just like they used to be, and well-known DJs are visiting Belgrade. Everything is the same as it was before - at least for ordinary people," she said.


As nightclubs and restaurants fill up once more, there's little sign of the public caution evident following Djindjic's murder. "[Customers] make as much noise and mess as they used to. I thought that people would get a bit more serious, but it seems that I was wrong," said one waiter.


Nikola spoke for many students when he told IWPR that he believes the assassination was a wake up call for people, saying they will have to ensure that their politicians steer the country in the right direction.


"If each and every one of us doesn't improve a bit after all this, we will have achieved nothing. What lies ahead is a serious job and I hope that everyone will make maximum effort to fix this country."


Marko Romcevic is a student of journalism at the University of Belgrade.


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