Slobodan Milosevic had to feel the political ground shifting last week as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Belgrade to call for his resignation. His policies have hastened the disintegration of former Yugoslavia and caused untold suffering.
But can the opposition muster the unified action needed to bring him down? He still controls the main instruments of power - the Army and the police - and the state-run television broadcasts.
The Serb people are still stunned at what has happened to them, and not just during the war over Kosovo. The economy is in ruin. State pensions are not being paid. Clearly conditions are ripe for change. But will that change involve a renunciation of the ultranationalism that brought Serbia to the present sad juncture?
Milosevic himself could force an answer to that question. He may be about to play another card from the nationalist hand by launching yet another war, this one to keep Montenegro, Serbia's sole remaining partner in the Yugoslav federation, from breaking away. He may calculate this would further splinter the opposition and rally public support back to him.
To be a credible force for change, the opposition should be rejecting this move before it happens and calling for a negotiated settlement with Montenegro. It should also condemn the killing carried out by Serb police and soldiers in Kosovo. So far among opposition elements, only the Serbian Orthodox Church has taken that crucial step.
Serbia's greatest hope is that most of its people have seen through a bogus, brutal nationalism and want genuine reform. Such reform must involve a clean break with the actions that have caused the country's present leaders to be indicted as international war criminals. The goal is not a "greater Serbia," but a Serbia that's fit to claim its rightful place in the community of nations.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society