BELGRADE, Oct 1 (AFP) -
Five years after the euphoric ouster by democratic forces of strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia is still haunted by the legacy of his 10-plus years of autocratic rule.
The expectations of the tens of thousands of Serbian citizens who took to the streets of Belgrade are yet to be fulfilled as the Balkan country struggles to shake off Milosevic's influence in its transition to democracy.
The high spirits of those involved in the popular uprising on October 5, 2000 have been gradually eroded by a lack of political, social and economic progress by Milosevic's successors.
A mood of pessimism and resignation has since pervaded in Serbia, largely due to the failure of the country's new democratic leaders to keep the promises they made five years earlier.
According to local political analyst Ljiljana Smajlovic, a big part of this is because of the "ghost of Milosevic".
"There's been a feeling of deja vu with a lot of (Milosevic's) methods employed" by the three democratic governments since his ouster, including a lack of transparency and an almost willful obscuring of issues, Smajlovic told AFP.
"When you have an adversary and you battle him for too long, you end up resenting him and, in order to beat Milosevic, you have to get good at his game," she said.
"So everyone learned a lot from Milosevic and they employed the same tricks when they came to power.
"(But) the kinds of expectations that October 5th gave rise to are almost doomed to be disappointed because these were incredible expectations and because people had been led to believe that it was all a matter of getting rid of Milosevic," Smajlovic added.
The peaceful revolution was sparked by Milosevic's refusal to concede defeat to Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's current prime minister, in the September 2000 Yugoslav presidential election.
Milosevic's popularity, which had already been falling for years, suffered a final setback over the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that brought an end to the Kosovo war in June 1999.
The former Balkans strongman left the country in 2001 when he was extradited to The Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal, accused of war crimes and genocide for his role in the wars that shattered former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The momentum for change suffered an unexpected blow in March 2003 when reformist Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic was shot dead by a sniper outside a government building in Belgrade.
The country's ambitions of integration with Europe and the NATO military alliance have also been held back by the unresolved future status of Kosovo and Belgrade's failure to secure the handover to The Hague of top suspected war criminals.
The long-awaited talks on Kosovo's status are expected to begin later this year under UN auspices, but the international community has been insisting that Belgrade and Pristina first have dialogue on practical issues.
Belgrade has also come under mounting pressure from the West over the sensitive issue of war crimes, notably over its failure to bring about the arrest and extradition of two top suspects -- former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and his political leader Radovan Karadzic.
The UN war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte visited Belgrade again this week, giving Prime Minister Kostunica a new December deadline for the arrest of Mladic, who she believes is hiding in Serbia.
Local officials have strongly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.
The slow pace of European and NATO integration has not been helped by the cautious approach of Kostunica, the moderate nationalist leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia.
Another issue complicating Serbia's efforts to implement changes has been the push by the leaders of the republic's union partner Montenegro for independence.
Meanwhile, the lack of unity in the pro-democracy camp has led to increasing support for the ultranationlist Serbian Radical Party, which was the most popular single party in the country's last general election in December 2003.
Apart from the issues of Kosovo, fugitive war crimes suspects and the threat of Montenegro's independence, Smajlovic said she believes another key stumbling block for the country is its economy.
"More investment and just the sense that things are going better economically could do wonders about this pessimistic sense of malaise that has gripped the country," the analyst said.
"I think some of the (problems) going on here... are to do with this first 'savage' stage of capitalism. I think some of the problems here have to be attributed to that, not just the ghost of Milosevic."