DRAGISA PESIKA'S eyes sparkled with joy as he joined the sea of protesters in hailing the man who would be king.
"He is the only person who can change things," Mr. Pesika says of Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, the heir to the long-vacant throne of Serbia.
Two days after returning to his homeland, Mr. Karadjordjevic basked in a jubilant reception from Pesika and some 60,000 other demonstrators who regard him as the best alternative to the republic's communist president, Slobodan Milosevic.
More in the manner of a stumping politician or victorious prize fighter than a monarch, the pudgy faced, London-born businessman threw kisses and raised his fists above his head, while the crowd chanted: "Long live the king!"
"I am with you," he declared in opening the protest that began Sunday and continued yesterday as part of the growing opposition to Mr. Milosevic's autocratic regime. "Serbia has had enough death. We know what we must do, but let's do it in a wise way."
Serbs are increasingly aware of the disaster Milosevic has brought on Serbia with his support for Serbian revolts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the resulting economic tumult deepened by United Nations sanctions that have left the republic internationally isolated.
The worsening turmoil has fueled remembrances of better times and revived the deep nostalgia many Serbs feel for the monarch which ended when Karadjordjevic's father, King Peter II, fled to Britain before the Nazi German invasion of former Yugoslavia in 1941.
Born at the wartime headquarters of the Yugoslav government in exile, the crown prince set foot in Serbia for the first time last October when the communist regime allowed him to return for a mass on the anniversary of his father's death.
The crown prince has exuberantly embraced the calls for his return, casting himself as the rallying point for an opposition movement divided by personal feuds and political philosophies but united in the goal of ending Milosevic's five years in power.
"My job is not to provoke. My job is to unite," he told journalists on his arrival at the Serbian-Romanian border on Saturday.
Karadjordjevic appears determined to persevere, declaring he will remain in Serbia to work with all comers to establish a parliamentary monarchy, with himself as its first king. He has formed a "Crown Council," which includes members of the wealthy elite, including some who live abroad, and received the blessings of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has broken with the regime.
He is also confident of putting an end to the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, certain that his prestige at home and abroad will convince the Serbian minorities to abandon Milosevic and embrace him as the champion of their political grievances.
"The crown prince believes that the only way to achieve justice for the Serbs outside of Serbia is to create a change in Belgrade," said Srdjan Trifkovic, one of his close aides and spokesman. Justice for Serbs
He echoed Karadjordjevic's feelings that it was wrong for the international community to recognize the independence of the two former Yugoslav republics and ignore the demands by their minority Serbs for border changes that would have allowed them to remain united with Serbia.
"The crown prince insists that the continuation of the present boundaries is an inherently unstable solution which carries the seeds of future instability," Mr. Trifkovic says.
That may be so. But Karadjordjevic has yet to propose a realistic alternative that would overcome the ethnic hatreds revived by the conflicts and be acceptable to Croatian and Bosnian leaders intent on preserving their newly won independence.
That and other major hurdles have convinced many observers that while Karadjordjevic has ignited a wave of support, he may be extremely naive in his optimism that he can bring change quickly if at all.
Serbia remains locked in the legacy of World War II divisions between royalists and republicans, and many well-educated Serbs hunger for a modern, Western-style democracy.
A dispute over Karadjordjevic's role in the anti-Milosevic campaign has been raging between the main opposition coalition the pro-monarchy Democratic Movement of Serbia, and other opposition groups.
Karadjordjevic also faces a concerted campaign by the Milosevic regime to discredit him in its bedrock base among Serbia's rural majority.
The state controlled media is portraying him as a pawn of unnamed foreign powers and hammering at the fact that he grew up speaking English and French and was forced to take lessons in Serbo-Croatian, his command of which remains poor.
At the same time, the regime has been promoting his uncle, Prince Tomislav, in an apparent bid to revive the historic family rivalries that have haunted the Karadjordjevic dynasty since its foundation in 1808. Prince Tomislav has been allowed to live in Serbia since last fall. Future of monarchy
"Serbs are confused about the monarchy," said a Western diplomat. "They want an answer as to where Alexander fits in."
He and other analysts said it is still too early to say whether Karadjordjevic will gain sufficient support to become a real threat to Milosevic. But they agreed that the longer Serbia remains awash in chaos, the stronger his appeal as a source of stability will grow.
Pesika said he had no doubt Karadjordjevic would prevail. Clutching a dog-eared portrait of Karajordjevic's father he declared: "The Serbian people will give the prince the benefit of the doubt."