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Belgrade's Hot Nightlife

The angry shouts of the young demonstrators eventually sputtered into quiet disgust and grumbling when Prime Minister Kostunica declared a national day of mourning. For 24 hours, Belgrade shut down, and the following day, the streets felt somewhat renewed, and the lounges and clubs revived. Techno music—the centrifugal force that binds the youth culture—had returned to the streets. It pumped from storefronts and cafés and from passing taxis. Belgrade's contemporary bohemians gathered in the bars along the 19th-century cobblestoned pedestrian walkway of Skadarlija. The politicos, the oligarchs, the cultural elites, and sports celebrities were back to dining at the five-star Madera and Kalemegdan Terrace. The leather-jacketed thugs and the women attracted to such gorillas had returned to the splavs along the bank of the Sava outside the Hotel Yugoslavia in New Belgrade. The trendsetters and fashionistas filled Old Belgrade's high-concept lounges and clubs, including Underground and Opium Den. Belgrade's complexion may have been paler than usual, but it was on its way back.

By the time I was ready to depart the following week, Kosovo, although certainly not shrugged off, was no longer a feverish topic of conversation. The media and the café chatter segued into the fifth anniversary of the NATO bombing and memorial ceremonies held for those killed. Struck by the coincidence of the events in Kosovo and the commemoration of the anniversary, I mentioned it to a friend, who said this was normal. Springtime, he told me, is traditionally wartime in the Balkans. Next time, he said, plan to visit in the summer. It is a world of seasonal reversals.

And sure enough, when summer arrived—although I wasn't there to witness it—the reversal came. In a heated and closely contested race, Boris Tadic, a pro-Western democratic reformer, was elected president, beating the Radical Party candidate, Tomislav Nikolic . The new president has yet to make good on his promise to turn over Bosnian Serb war criminals to the Hague. But he has his eye set on joining the EU and delivering Serbia back to the international community.

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