Career hazards: lawyer Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco

On the street, everybody stares at Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco. Elsewhere, she would be just another career woman, with her matching faux-Burberry handbag and neckerchief. Not in Belgrade. Here some of the passers-by stare at the lawyer with pure hatred.

This is the only part of the city where she dares stroll outside. She has been publicly vilified as "old and ugly" and "a whore" because the organisation she founded in November 1997, Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (Yucom), challenges the prevailing nationalism in post-conflict Serbia. She has spent recent weeks in a Belgrade courtroom being sued by one of Milosevic's former ministers, who once wrote of her: "What a vampire! I don't have time to deal with louses and an old woman who lost her period when Tito died."

Aleksandar Tijanic (60) is a misogynist whose career as a journalist is distinguished by his sycophancy to Slobodan Milosevic's formidable wife, Mira. After the people's revolution, Tijanic became the media adviser to Vojislav Kostunica, ousted as Serbia's prime minister in last May's election. Tijanic became director general of the state-run RTS (Radio Television of Serbia), being re-appointed to the job by the new government. He is suing Yucom and Kovacevic-Vuco personally for €100,000 in defamation damages for a book it published about him.

The Case of Civil Servant Aleksandar Tijanic consists of direct quotations from his writings and utterances. Of one Belgrade journalist, he wrote: "If this short-legged woman could write as well as she f**ks , she would be the Serbian Hannah Arendt (the German Jewish political theorist)". He denounced another for her "fat ankles and fingers the diameter of salami" and describes a third woman as "a half-literate journalist with extended buttocks as if they were eatable". In 2004, he warned Kovacevic-Vuco that she could not call him "an asshole and get away with it. Let me use an old proverb from Vranje: Isn't she to be f**ked?"

In the libel trial, he has argued that she is motivated by revenge, claiming they were once lovers and he spurned her. Is it true? No, she says. He offered her a lift back to Belgrade from a meeting one night and insisted she come to dinner. She left the restaurant early. End of story. A fellow lawyer who has been observing the trial says that throughout Tijanic's accusations, the presiding woman judge has kept her head down, permitting the flow of pernicious allegations. If Tijanic wins the €100,000, which could destroy her organisation, Kovacevic-Vuco vows she will not pay it. She will go to jail. She is not a woman of idle words. She has called powerful rulers Nazis to their faces. Nine criminal charges and civil law suits have been brought against her by former officials of the Milosevic regime and by journalists who were close to the dictator and to his democratic successor, Kostunica.

Nor is Tijanic to be dismissed lightly. He was once sentenced to 15 days in jail for a physical assault committed in a Belgrade courtroom, a sentence he did not serve. Yet, Kovacevic-Vuco is the one who must curb her movements in a city where everyone recognises her.

The morning after our meeting, we spot Tijanic at an outdoor cafe in a street where only a tiny minority of Serbians can afford the Gucci and Prada dresses displayed in shop windows. His square, grey head is thrown back with laughter. He doesn't give a damn who sees him.