Democratic Party Leader Zoran Djindjic

A telegenic philosopher who once aspired for the presidency is emerging as the main power behind the pro-democracy movement that unseated Yugoslavia's longtime authoritarian ruler, Slobodan Milosevic.

Zoran Djindjic, 47, leads the Democratic Party, the largest member of the 18-party umbrella organization known as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia that swept Milosevic's left-wing coalition in general elections on Sept. 24.

Djindjic is emerging as a key figure in backroom wheeling and dealing as the new president, Vojislav Kostunica, tries to put together a new government and rid the country's political establishment of the last remnants of the Milosevic regime.

In fact, Milosevic had expected Djindjic to be the opposition's candidate in the presidential ballot and for months vilified him as an American stooge. The propaganda barrage struck an emotional cord with many Serbs, who feel a deep mistrust toward the United States after last year's NATO bombing campaign.

Opposition opinion surveys confirmed that the urbane Djindjic would lose — especially among rural and small town voters. The opposition then agreed on Kostunica, a dour law professor with solid credentials as a Serb patriot.

Djindjic managed Kostunica's campaign. Now, working in the background in the aftermath of the election victory and the massive public upheaval that followed Milosevic's attempts to rig the vote, Djindjic has quickly moved to patch up relations with the West, and particularly the United States, which led last year's NATO attack.

Although Djindjic appears content for now to play a subordinate role in the new government, he has taken the lead in negotiations to restructure the Yugoslav federation by turning it into a loose union between Serbia and Montenegro.

He also is negotiating a handover of power with one of Milosevic's remaining loyalists in the political establishment, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic.

Djindjic has flatly refused to consider the possibility of running for president of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

"I have no ambitions to be president of Serbia," he said. "My priority is the formation of a government that will lead the country out of the present crisis."

Djindjic was born into the family of a Yugoslav army officer in the town of Bosanski Samac, near Bosnia's border with Serbia. He was raised and educated in Belgrade, where he now lives with his wife, Ruzica, a lawyer and their two children.

In the early 1970s, he enrolled in the School of Philosophy at Belgrade University, a hotbed of liberal opposition to the government of Yugoslavia's longtime Communist dictator, Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

When Tito moved to purge the faculty, Djindjic — fresh out of college as the school's youngest-ever graduate — was hounded by the secret police and was unable to find employment anywhere in the country.

"Even my attempts to find work as a storekeeper were unsuccessful," he said.

In 1977, he left to study for a doctorate in philosophy in Constance, Germany. He returned to the Yugoslav capital 12 years later just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, working toward dismantling communism in his own country. He quickly joined the founders of the Democratic Party.

He won a seat in the Serbian parliament in the country's first multiparty elections in 1990, and his political star has risen steadily. He has emerged from the shadow of his party colleagues, most of them his professors at Belgrade University, to become the party's head and main strategist.

Under the banner of his centrist party, he managed to bring Serbia's once fractious opposition into a coalition that won local elections in 1996.

Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, led a three-month public protest that finally forced Milosevic to accept the election results.

Djindjic became Belgrade's first noncommunist mayor in more than four decades. But he was quickly unseated when Draskovic defected and formed an unofficial coalition with Milosevic's Socialists.

Despite the setback, Djindjic has worked tirelessly to forge a new umbrella grouping. When DOS was formed in January, the Democratic Party became its backbone and main organizing force.