BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – President Vojislav Kostunica has achieved for Yugoslavia something that seemed impossible before the Sept. 24 general elections — he has rekindled hope for a future without Slobodan Milosevic.
"Serbia hit the road of democracy and where there is democracy there is no place for Slobodan Milosevic," Kostunica said following the elections, which he won by a narrow margin. Milosevic's administration demanded a runoff, but massive protests in Belgrade in the weeks that followed appeared to confirm Kostunica's victory.
On Oct. 5, when a million demonstrators stormed the parliament in Belgrade, Kostunica proclaimed, "What we are doing today is making history. We call on the military and police to do everything to ensure a peaceful transition of power."
During the protests, the former law professor's clear voice ignited many to chant with passion: "Kostunica, save us from this madhouse!"
"May God help us to have enough courage and enough wisdom to win freedom," he replied.
An unlikely presidential candidate in the turbulent Balkans, where charismatic leaders are idolized, the down-to-earth Kostunica's attraction is hard to define. He is low-key and unassuming. His honesty is probably what warmed the hearts of average citizens outraged by endemic corruption and the regime's record of bloodshed and wars.
The no-frills Kostunica, 56, pursued an academic career until he was kicked out of Belgrade Law School in 1974 for his anti-communist stance.
Active in Serbia's fledgling opposition movement in early 1990s, Kostunica founded his own Democratic Party of Serbia in 1992 and has led it since. He lives with wife Zorica, a fellow law school graduate, in a middle-class Belgrade apartment. The couple have two cats and a dog.
Milosoevic, who has served 13 years as Yugoslavia's leader, called general elections this summer. It was then that an alliance of 18 opposition parties — the Democratic Opposition of Serbia — picked Kostunica to run against Milosevic.
His personal and political consistency and his Serb patriotism endear him to the man on the street. During campaigning, Kostunica's entourage zigzagged Yugoslavia's main republic Serbia, trekking more than 3,000 miles and electrifying crowds at every stop.
In a country where NATO bombings last year are still fresh in people's minds, Kostunica has been careful to keep a distance from the West, while cautioning that this nation must "make its peace with Europe and the world."
On Kosovo, he has promised to do his best to stand by the province's Serb minority and work for the return of many of the 200,000 who left out of fear of the Albanian majority.