Belgrade Stunned by Killing

Two bullets have plunged a city, and a nation, into shock and mourning.

Belgrade Stunned by Killing

Two bullets have plunged a city, and a nation, into shock and mourning.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Belgrade has been in shock since Wednesday afternoon, when two sniper’s bullets felled prime minister Zoran Djindjic in the centre of the capital.

The day had started off normal enough. There were the usual traffic jams and fog of car fumes. The only thing out of the ordinary was the large number of people in the streets, coaxed out of their offices and the cafes by the first spring temperatures. The capital has been experiencing something of a thaw.

But the chill returned at 12.45pm, as two shots echoed through the courtyard of the Serbian government building, turning the early spring atmosphere into an dark cloud of shock and mourning.

The public learnt about the attack only a few minutes after it happened. At around 1pm, Belgrade’s electronic media announced that the prime minister had been shot at by snipers from the roof of a nearby building as he was getting out of his official car, parked in the courtyard of the government offices.

Police carrying submachine guns immediately sealed off the area and all access roads. Several hundred passers-by and dozens of reporters soon formed a crowd in front of the building trying to get some more information on the attack.

At the same time, police throughout the city, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying machine guns, stopped and searched cars and asked passengers to show identification.

The news that the prime minister was a victim of a sniper attack began spreading. All radio and television stations interrupted their regular broadcasts with the shocking reports that Djindjic had been shot and that doctors at the Belgrade Emergency Centre were fighting for his life.

In a hurry to share this information and console each other, people started making mobile calls en masse to their friends and relatives, causing the phone networks to fail under the pressure.

Death and despair was etched on the faces of Belgraders and radio and television news presenters, trying hard to update their audience on the latest developments. The atmosphere churned up Belgraders’ memories of Milosevic era crises, such as the appearance of tanks on the streets in March 1991 and the NATO airstrikes eight years later.

“This is horrible,” distraught student, Milenko Krajcar, told IWPR. “If they can kill the prime minister in cold blood just like that in the middle of the day in the city centre, how should we, the ordinary citizens, feel? This is a big tragedy for the people and for the state.”

“They killed the smartest one we had,” a pensioner told us, and started to cry.

A businessman, Viktor, said though he disagreed with Djindjic’s politics, the premier’s assassination had shocked and horrified him. “I still find it hard to accept the fact that they killed him and that the man is simply gone,” he said.

Many of those interviewed felt the assassination was the work of the mafia and expressed incomprehension at the state’s failure to get to grips with the gangsters.

Dusk came and the growing darkness reinforced the gloom surrounding the tragic event. The first signs of spring enjoyed earlier in the day were, by nightfall, a long-distant memory - the city looked deserted.

Throughout the capital, the only visible signs of life were beefed-up police patrols roaming the streets and the stepped-up security details around government buildings.

There were only two places where people could be seen in large numbers - the inner-city headquarters of Djindjic’s Democratic Party in Krunska Street and at the site of the killing, where people came to pay silent tribute to the murdered prime minister, lighting candles and leaving flowers.

When Belgraders awoke the following morning, any hope that it had all been a terrible nightmare soon evaporated. Djindjic’s face stared out from the front pages of every newspaper, as the Serbian media reflected the population’s shock and distress.

The headline on the front page of Glas Javnosti seemed to sum up the mood. “What else awaits us?” it asked.

Politika and Danas both expressed concern for the future of Serbia in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, while all papers commented on the implications of Djindjic’s death.

Exspres went one step further and named those suspected of involvement in the murder. “The Zemun clan murdered Djindjic!” read the bold headline, speculating on whether the battle between the authorities and the mafia will lead to further bloodshed before order is restored.

Daniel Sunter is IWPR's coordinating editor in Belgrade.

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