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Courageous reformer Djindjic knew risks

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

Djindjic addresses an opposition rally in Belgrade in October 1999.
Djindjic addresses an opposition rally in Belgrade in October 1999.

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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and newsmakers around the world. In this report, Christiane Amanpour draws on a decade of reporting on the conflict in the Balkans.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic knew the risks involved in his mission to bring Serbia out of years of darkness under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Djindjic had been for several years the emblem of Serbian democracy -- he was the one who managed to get up and running an opposition that had been in disarray for years under Milosevic.

When Milosevic called those early elections back in 2000 and gambled that he would win again, Djindjic saw this was now the opposition's chance and he gathered together a group of reformers. People power backed Djindjic and the reformers essentially tossed Milosevic out of office.

Djindjic then led the movement into doing everything that had to be done by Serbia then -- many uncomfortable things -- to qualify for Western aid to reintegrate Serbia which had been under so many years of isolation during U.N. sanctions in the war period.

He really led the way forward to the new Serbia of today, not just in the anti-corruption drive that he was very serious about but also in getting those indicted by the International Criminal tribunal to The Hague and chief among those was Milosevic.

It was really Djindjic alone who went against the political tide in Serbia and issued a decree allowing Milosevic's arrest and his extradition to The Hague. He was at the forefront; he took a very courageous decision in an uncertain climate.

He was very practical. He always said, "I'm not selling Serbia out, I'm not selling Serbia short -- these are the things we must do in order to emerge from these years of darkness."

He was also very cognizant of his own vulnerability. I interviewed him several times and many times he talked about the threats to his own life particularly in the Kosovo wars years where if you remember he did leave Serbia and went to Montenegro because there were threats on his life.

Djindjic was of a new generation of politicians in key ministries who have really done so much to bring Serbia out of the cold.

He himself acknowledged a layer of corruption, which he was trying to bust, and certainly speculation about his death will fall on that area.

It will also fall on the nationalists who are supporters still of Milosevic and other high-profile Serbian politicians who have handed themselves over to the tribunal.

It was very hard for Djindjic. He was very unpopular in many circles because of the tough decisions he took and the strength with which he tried to push through all sorts of new legislation.

Certainly where there was progress Djindjic was at the center of it -- often at great political and personal risk.

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