Wed Oct 5, 2005 7:57 PM BST
By Ellie Tzortzi
BELGRADE (Reuters) - On the anniversary of the street revolution that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, Serbs are reflecting with little fanfare and much soul-searching on five years of lost opportunities and promises of progress still unfulfilled.
There was no flag-waving for the day in October 2000 when thousands stormed parliament after a wave of strikes, forcing the autocratic Milosevic to concede his election defeat at the hands of Vojislav Kostunica.
The country still faces anguish over the possible loss of Montenegro and Kosovo, its treatment of war crimes fugitives, the slow pace of accession to the European Union, and economic prospects that are uncertain at best.
October 5 was "the year zero," said Vladeta Jankovic, an aide to Kostunica who is now prime minister. "Five years on we are still far from the smooth waters we promised the people then."
The talk then was of revolution, liberation and a new dawn for a nation that had been isolated for a decade as villain of the bloody wars that marked the breakup of Yugoslavia.
"Milosevic was afraid of us. We were afraid of the army and the police," said Serb President Boris Tadic, then an opposition backbencher. "The police were afraid of the army, the army was afraid of the police. With fear everywhere, and at the same time courage everywhere, October 5th came about."
Five years on, Serbia faces divorce from Montenegro, if its old ally votes for independence next spring. It may also lose its cherished Kosovo, if the province also becomes independent in 2006.
Their potential loss increases the sense of disappointment.
"We could have done more," said top-selling daily Blic.
Serbia returned slowly to the international fold after Milosevic was ousted. Accepted back into the United Nations and international financial bodies, the country this week won European Union approval to start the long EU membership process.
Serbs believe that had it not been for Milosevic, extreme nationalism and wars, their country could have been an EU member state far sooner than former Soviet satellites now in the Union.
But they also know the "revolution" was far from complete.
Those opposed to it are held responsible for assassinating Serbia's first post-communist prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, in March 2003, plunging the nation into crisis and stalling reform.
Milosevic's "network of crime" was not dismantled, says Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, himself target of an assassination bid. He says Milosevic cronies still wield power.
Former Djindjic deputy Cedomir Jovanovic says Serbs were ready for sweeping change in 2000 but politicians faltered.
"With each anniversary, we are really getting away from what was the quality of that day," Jovanovic said.
The current government is a fragile coalition of moderate nationalists, royalists and pro-Western technocrats which relies on Milosevic's weakened Socialists for support in parliament.
The ultranationalist Radicals are now Serbia's strongest party. They oppose cooperating with The Hague and seek to block International Monetary Fund reforms.
The economy suffers from the uncertainty. Growth rates are strong, but the taint of graft, murky privatisations, watered down reform and red tape has kept major foreign investors away.
Serbia still does not easily face up to its aggressor role in the wars of the 1990s. After defying The Hague for years, it has buckled to Western pressure over the past 12 months, organising the voluntary surrenders of over a dozen fugitives.
But Belgrade still must meet the demand by Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte for the arrest of top suspect Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide in Bosnia.
When Kostunica said recently that "each day without progress in cooperation with the Tribunal is a day wasted", ex-foreign minister Goran Svilanovic asked why it had taken the prime minister so long to face that reality.
(additional reporting by Beti Bilandzic, Gordana Filipovic and Monika Lajhner)