- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Weary of Slobodan Milosevic's iron-fisted reign and legacy of Balkan wars, Serbs eagerly embraced Vojislav Kostunica as the man who could topple their autocratic ruler and lead them out of economic hardship.
Mr. Kostunica fulfilled only the first of those desires.
A tumultuous two years later, Mr. Kostunica seeks re-election today by a Serbian electorate disillusioned with the slowness of reforms and the lack of improvement in daily life.
Mr. Kostunica's political career is at stake: His job as federal president could end with constitutional changes intended to transform Yugoslavia into a loose union of its two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.
So Mr. Kostunica, 58, decided to run in Serbia's presidential race, boosted by popularity polls that show him in the lead. He is counting on his calm, common sense demeanor to keep him on top.
His past and his low-key brand of Serbian nationalism may do it.
A law school professor, Mr. Kostunica is a scholar of democracy who translated the Federalist Papers into Serbo-Croatian. For his staunch anti-communism, he was kicked out of his job at Belgrade University in 1974.
Mr. Kostunica found a niche at the Institute of Philosophy, where with time he became merely another academic critic of Mr. Milosevic's. Then he turned to politics and in 1992 founded the Democratic Party of Serbia, which he has led ever since.
In 2000, the party joined an 18-member anti-Milosevic alliance that initiated an election campaign that electrified Serbia and, despite Mr. Milosevic's manipulations, won the election of Sept. 24, 2000.
Mr. Kostunica is married without children and is known as a frugal, retiring man, and this added to his appeal, setting him in sharp contrast to Mr. Milosevic's authoritarian style.
With Mr. Milosevic out of power, Mr. Kostunica settled into the role of Yugoslavia's president and Serbian nationalist who never quite forgave Western leaders for bombing Serbia. He steadfastly refused to extradite Mr. Milosevic to the U.N. war-crimes tribunal on charges of genocide.
That position put him on a head-on collision with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, his chief political rival.
Disregarding Mr. Kostunica's argument that delivering a Yugoslav citizen to The Hague court would be illegal, Mr. Djindjic engineered handing over Mr. Milosevic in June 2001.
That extradition marked a significant change in the once-united pro-democracy movement. Personal rivalries escalated, with Mr. Kostunica's party walking out of both the Serbian parliament and Mr. Djindjic's government.
Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Djindjic are no longer on speaking terms.
In today's elections, Serbia's ruling coalition and Mr. Djindjic are supporting another candidate Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Lafus and promising "sweeping and fast changes."
"Some are in a great hurry," Mr. Kostunica said to a cheering campaign rally last week. "So let them be in a hurry, I say.
"You and I, meanwhile, know the best things come out of patience and hard work."


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