Vuk Draskovic, the leader of Serbia’s major opposition party, was slightly wounded on June 15 when gunmen opened fire through a window of his holiday home in the Montenegrin coastal town of Budva. After being treated at a nearby hospital, Draskovic immediately accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of masterminding “an assassination attempt.” Two days later, Montenegrin police announced that they had detained the gunmen who had shot Draskovic and “knew who had ordered the shooting.”

So far, so conventional: A ruthless dictator wants to get rid of an opposition politician and orders his thugs to assassinate him. But things are seldom what they seem in the Balkans. In Serbia, for instance, the opposition and the regime have one thing in common: They share an abiding contempt for Draskovic, the perennial leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Publicly, the opposition parties have condemned the shooting, and they are at least pretending to accept his claim that it was the work of Milosevic’s secret police. But off the record, all Belgrade agrees that Draskovic concocted the plot to increase his popularity and diffuse tensions within his party—which, for the first time since its founding a decade ago, no longer uncritically accepts his erratic leadership.

Whenever Draskovic faces pressure, he seeks to resolve it through some dramatic gesture that will enable him to reinvent himself. His neurotic unpredictability—frustrating to his supporters and other opposition activists—has become intolerable since he survived a suspicious car crash in which his wife’s brother and three bodyguards were killed last fall. “His volatility provoked howls of derision earlier this month, when he backtracked on a pledge to mount a united stand with other opposition parties at local and federal elections,” writes journalist Zeljko Cvijanovic. Even some members of his own party suspect that he forged a pact with Milosevic to maintain corrupt SPO municipal authorities in several major Serbian cities; “The SPO leader’s actions have also set him on a collision course with some in his party who believe he is trying to neuter its stand against the regime. They also resent his quarreling with other opposition parties with whom they believe they can co-operate. Other opposition leaders are increasingly reluctant to work with him.”

The doubts about the veracity of Draskovic’s claims were not dispelled by the arrests of the supposed assassins: Rumor has it that some of the suspects were actually members of his party or even personal bodyguards, which may imply complicity rather than lethal intent.

The account given by Draskovic of the event itself is unbelievable. For example, his wounds were superficial, but there was a massive pool of “blood” on the floor. He was —uncharacteristically—alone in the house, although he claims to have received death threats only days earlier. The bullet marks on the wall were far above his head. Balkan-affairs analyst Bob Djurdjevic concludes that there was no motive for the assassination: “Why would Slobodan Milosevic waste a bullet on a politician who has distinguished himself throughout his career by the ability to shoot himself in the foot? . . . Draskovic’s botched ‘assassination’ has so far managed to kill only the target’s own character and credibility.”

Why indeed? Cui bono? With political enemies like Vuk Draskovic, Slobodan Milosevic needs no friends: His status as Serbia’s president-for-life is secure. He has drawn Draskovic and his coterie into the temptation of corruption—they control four of the richest municipal authorities in Serbia. This has made them susceptible to Milosevic’s blackmail. turning them into potential collaborators. “He has been able to use Draskovic as a willing or unwitting tool,” says a prominent Belgrade opposition leader who asked to remain anonymous. “[Draskovic] would rather let Milosevic rule for another ten years than see anyone but himself in his place.”

With each passing day, the scenario played out in Budva looks increasingly suspicious. Political killings in Serbia are one of the few growth industries; they are administered cleanly and efficiently. The list is long and includes a police general, a defense minister, and prominent organized crime figures. Had Milosevic really wanted to kill Draskovic, you would be reading an obituary.