BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- One is a bearded writer given to comic book-style orations and emotional outbursts. The other is a suave philosopher whose shifting loyalties leave both supporters and opponents wary.
Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic are the mismatched masterminds behind the "Together" coalition of opposition parties pushing against the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. They have been protesting since the government threw out election results that gave many municipal seats to the opposition.
But while Draskovic and Djindjic now preach peace, democracy and free-market economics to the throngs of protesters who show up nightly in a main square, they also share a history of embracing a fiery brand of Serbian nationalism.
Draskovic formed a paramilitary outfit to fight Croats in Croatia in 1991, when that republic first pulled out of the Yugoslav federation. And in September, Djindjic was in Bosnia-Herzegovina rallying support for the political party run by indicted war-crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic.
But for now, Vuk and Zoran, as they are known by the crowds, are the best act in town, overshadowing the leaders of the two other parties that make up the coalition.
"When you give a political speech during a campaign, the aim is to convince people and mobilize them to vote," Djindjic says. "It is like a 100-yard dash. But now, I am trying to convince the people, this is like running a marathon. The aim of my speeches is to convince the people to stand firmly, to last longer."
Because he speaks English, Draskovic and his Serbian Renewal Movement have received the bulk of international TV time. But it's Djindjic and his Democratic Party whom many in Belgrade consider to be more effective political operators.
"Draskovic is charismatic, but there aren't many people behind him," says a Western diplomat stationed in Belgrade.
"Djindjic would fit in with a modern Western European, North American vision of a politician," the diplomat says.
But he adds: "What are his policies? It's hard to say. These people have not been tested on their policies other than they want to get rid of Milosevic."
Both men say they'll take the protesters off the streets if the government recognizes the results of the Nov. 17 local elections that initially gave opposition parties power in most of the major cities. Djindjic appeared to be the newly elected mayor of Belgrade until the results were overturned.
If the government doesn't back down, the men claim, they'll try to drive Milosevic from power, a daunting quest at best, but next to impossible if the coalition leaders fail to receive the support of the major industrial unions.
Draskovic, 50, is a colorful, charismatic character shielded by a bunch of crew-cut toughs at his party headquarters.
A poet, novelist and journalist, Draskovic became an early proponent of the Greater Serbia passion that led to years of fighting. But he eventually turned against the war in former Yugoslavia and was jailed and beaten by local security forces in 1993. He grows infuriated when his past nationalist leanings are questioned.
"I fought for the Dayton peace agreements before Dayton," he says, referring to the U.S.-bro- kered deal that stopped the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Milosevic's special agents in many services produce lies about me all over the world. He knows who was a peacemaker from the beginning."
Draskovic likens the Milosevic regime to a "bunch of Al Capones" and says nationalism must embrace more than old ethnic hatreds.
"If you have young men and women drinking Coca-Cola, it means things American are embraced in China and Moscow," he says. "This is the way of creating greater national identity, of exporting good things, of improving the economy. Someone like Milosevic could create a Serbia to the borders of France, but it will be a gulag."
If Draskovic is the romantic, then Djindjic is the realist, a smooth-talking 44-year-old who favors turtlenecks and leather jackets.
Despite his newfound stardom as a political maverick, he can still walk down the streets of Belgrade virtually unnoticed. And he often appears overwhelmed by the attention of the world's media, as one camera crew after another shuttles through his unkempt downtown offices.
Throughout his career, Djindjic has often shed allies and ideas to suit his political purposes. He makes frequent U-turns over nationalism, claiming he electioneered for Karadzic's party last month so he could oppose a Milosevic-backed slate of candidates.
Four years ago, he refused to align with Draskovic. Now, they're a political tag-team doing battle with Milosevic.
"I say, I am a democrat, I am a European, and I am as well a Serb," he says.
Djindjic says he has consistently opposed Communist rule in the years before the collapse of communism, even as a high school student.
As a college student, he was jailed for several months after leading a student anti-Communist protest group at Belgrade University. Eventually, he completed college in Germany, where he also became something of a campus radical.
"I cannot stand our type of government," he says.
But what style of government does Djindjic want for Serbia? A European-style democracy, he says.
"Something between Greece and Austria," he says. "We don't have any illusions that we would be a developed European country. Now, everything is torn apart."
"We have to reform government, fix public services," he adds, sounding like a mainstream American politician.
And then he says, "For the last 50 years, the government regime here has been a parasite."
Short-term, though, his aim is to keep the protesters in the streets for as long as possible, eroding Milosevic's support internationally, forcing the leader to the bargaining table.
If he has to cozy up to his new ally, Draskovic, for a few more weeks, so be it.
"It's obvious to people, we [he and Draskovic] are not the main heroes here," he says. "People don't come here to listen to our speeches."
Pub Date: 12/10/96