NIN: First, something completely personal. The playwright Dusan Kovacevic said (in the program "Impression of the Week" on Studio B) that he has known you for a long time, that he respects you but he also described you with the following words: "Slow, hates to make decisions, always tries to put something off in order t gain time. Confused by this entire situation. He has always been like that." What do you think of his description?
PRESIDENT KOSTUNICA: I have known Dusko Kovacevic for a long time. I have no doubt that he has the best of intentions. There is, however, a problem. The world of politics looks different from the position of a writer, especially a contemporary writer. The writers of yesteryear, for example, prior to the creation of the first Yugoslavia and later, too, had much greater presence in the crux of political events and they themselves were both politically and nationally responsible. Even old Slobodan Jovanovic acted accordingly on the eve of World War II, becoming politically engaged first in the Serbian Cultural Club and later heading the exiled government in London. These people were far more and better able to assess political developments than those who remained on the sidelines of everything.
For years a major part of our intellectual elite has acted as if they were standing on the sidelines and watching the unfolding of a game of chess... Under indisputably difficult conditions for decades politics has been assessed in literary, satirical, comediographic terms. This was important even though it was not, could not be, completely credible politically. But it was also less dangerous...
NIN: You have just appointed Mr. Dragisa Pesic as the new prime minister-designate of the FRY Government. What awaits that government and how long will it remain in office?
KOSTUNICA: That government is faced with a tremendous task - to prepare a platform for the future constitution, to participate in discussions with all political factors both in Montenegro and in Serbia regarding this constitutional platform and, if a political agreement is achieved, to participate in the preparation of the text of the future Yugoslav Constitution. And if everything develops in the most favorable way possible, to finish its term in office the moment the Parliament is dismissed and new elections are called according to the ratified new Constitution. This is truly an enormous task. Therefore, considering those goals, the more temporary it is, the more successful this government will be.
NIN: How did negotiations for the formation of this government unfold? Did you have a harder time with the Montenegrin parties or with DOS (the Democratic Opposition of Serbia)?
KOSTUNICA: There were difficulties on both sides; nevertheless, the negotiations went far more smoothly than one would conclude from everyone's statements in the media. An agreement was achieved relatively quickly.
NIN: But the subject of the negotiations was not only the composition of the government, for we were not only seeking a new prime minister-designate. There was also discussion regarding a new way of work for the government. Now the president of the SNP (Socialist People's Party) and the vice-president of DOS will also have some sort of a right of veto in the government, which is rather unusual for an executive organ.
KOSTUNICA: Three things have changed. The composition of the government has been partially changed; it is now smaller because we are moving in the direction of reducing federal institutions and the federal government so that in the future we will have only a few functions at the federal level which the federal government will conduct in an effective and proactive manner. This government will be dedicated to continuing the reintegration of our country into international financial institutions and the international community. However, its most important task will be to prepare a plan for the reorganization of the joint state.
As well, the manner in which the government will work has been changed. The government will no longer make decision by majority vote on issues that are essential to the interests of the federal units. Therefore, either side can stop, at least for the moment, a decision until a solution is found that will be acceptable to both sides. This is something that will also be a part of the future constitutional program as an expression of the desire for a high degree of equality between both federal units, naturally, along with respect for what is the right of every citizen, every individual in that state. This will guide us in the attempt to arrive at a political agreement among all the political factors, of the majority and minority in Montenegro and all the political forces in Serbia, which could lead us to a new constitution.
All our prior constitutions that have dealt a lethal blow to the former Yugoslavia (including, in my opinion, the Brioni  and Zabljak  constitutions) were prepared as a result of one-sided agreements among just one party or a few parties, not as a result of consensus among the broadest parts of the general and political public. This time things should be done differently.
NIN: What sequence of steps do you see on the road to a new constitution? Will it start with negotiations and move on to a constitution, or will there be a draft constitution and then possibly negotiations regarding the text itself?
KOSTUNICA: To begin with, we must start from a constitutional platform or proposal for the reorganization of the joint state. The basic outline of that document was prepared as early as the beginning of this year. During the last several weeks, it was worked on by a group of politicians and experts from both pro-Yugoslav coalitions, that is, from DOS and the Together for Yugoslavia coalition. When that platform is completed, it needs to be discussed with the ruling coalition in Montenegro, first and foremost, with the DPS (Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists). The talks should also include other political factors in both Montenegro and Serbia, as well as the experts in the field, who were circumvented in the ratification of the Brioni and Zabljak constitutions. Only if an agreement is achieved can work on the drafting of a constitution begin. That is the shortest way. Because our constitution, like all other federal constitutions, must first be ratified by federal parliament and then it is presented to the parliaments of the federal units for their approval, Montenegro will also be asked to vote on the constitution and it will have the opportunity to ratify it or not. When the constitution is ratified, new elections can be scheduled. If an agreement is not reached, many other problems will result. We will find ourselves in an even more difficult position.
NIN: Where in this process do you see a place and a role for a possible referendum? Is it not perhaps more logical to wait for the referendum in Montenegro or a referendum in both federal units and only then make the final decision regarding a joint state?
KOSTUNICA: A decision by all the political forces in Serbia and Montenegro may preclude the need for the holding of a referendum. That is the more rational approach. If a political agreement is accepted, then a referendum may not be necessary. A referendum is necessary primarily from the aspect of the Constitution of Montenegro. But let me remind you that according to the Constitution of Montenegro, too, a referendum represents only a preliminary form of decision. Those who are talking about a referendum at this point in time and deferring it as late as the spring of next year are neglecting the simple fact that in Montenegro, in fact, the conditions for the holding of a referendum are lacking. It is not enough to hold a referendum; when a change in the state status of that federal unit within the federal state is involved, according to the Constitution of Montenegro, it is necessary for the new constitutional amendment to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the Montenegrin Parliament which the so-called "independence-supporters" simply do not have. Without even mentioning the fact that the Parliament would then be dissolved and new elections to ratify a new constitution, again by a two-thirds majority, would be held...
NIN: Nevertheless, it is a fact that the idea of a referendum represents a political reality in Montenegro today.
KOSTUNICA: In the long run, I will also allow the possibility that at a certain point in time not even those who participated in the ratification of the Constitution of that country, the present leadership in Montenegro, will honor it. It is apparent that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic at one time in his public addresses indicated a referendum in the very near future; when things took a different turn at the elections on April 22 and when, contrary to Djukanovic's expectations, Montenegro was divided on independence, he began to put off a decision by referendum.
This delay in any case is not in Serbia's interest. However, our obligation simply is to point out both violations of the federal Constitution and violations of the Constitution of Montenegro; responsibility in both cases will be born by those who at this moment have a majority in the Montenegrin Parliament.
NIN: Some public opinion researchers say that the number of supporters of independence is now decreasing in Montenegro while the number of people supporting the separation of the two federal units is now growing in Serbia. What do you think of the demands of certain political party leaders in DOS that an independence referendum be also held in Serbia?
KOSTUNICA: Of course, the matter can be looked at in this way but I think that it is difficult to justify posing the question of a referendum in Serbia at the same time that the majority in Montenegro is delaying the holding of a referendum. In the long run, the entire time everything revolves around Montenegro's decision. Why would Serbia make a decision if Montenegro can't make a decision? On the other hand, if there is anything Serbia should decide on, then it needs to decide on a new constitution, that is, a Constitution of Serbia. Of course, I understand that things in this respect are being deferred and that they are connected with the resolution of the issue of the Yugoslav constitution but sooner or later Serbia must confront the issue of a new constitution, whether the federal state survives or not.
DOS now has a two-thirds majority in the Serbian Parliament and it can ratify a new constitution. Later on, such favorable conditions probably will not exist. However, what happens the moment Serbia gets a new constitution? New elections are called. And that is apparently a problem for a part of DOS, confronting the public opinion in elections. For me, these petty party calculations are not important in comparison with the attempt to build the state, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, one way or another; or perhaps, if this state does not survive, an independent sovereign Serbia.
One must always begin with the issue that is fundamental to everything, and that is the constitutional issue. The moment a constitution is ratified, elections must also be held in accordance with that new constitution. When some people say that because of the reforms that have hardly begun in Serbia, we should wait for those elections for a few more years, for me this is inexplicable and, at the same time, highly irresponsible. That means that reforms are actually not wanted because it is impossible to carry out other reforms without the fundamental one, the constitutional reform.
NIN: At one time there was a lot of debate within DOS regarding General Nebojsa Pavkovic but nevertheless the view prevailed that this is a matter that should be left up to you because it falls within your jurisdiction. However, isn't it interesting that no one is still raising the issue of the civilian and democratic control over the armed forces, and that the issue which individual politician will control the armed forces remains the essence of the problem?
KOSTUNICA: I think that this country, if it aspires to become democratically organized, needs to think about various aspects of control and various levels of control. Not only with respect to civilian control of the army, but also with respect to parliamentary control of the government. And civilian control of the police force. There are many segments of society in which it is necessary to realize control over empowered authorities. This really does not involve only individual officials but also institutions which, once established, enable this control to be effective, regardless on who is the controller and who is being controlled. It is no secret that there are many elements that need to be harmonized and only a new Yugoslav constitution, if it comes about, would be able to address many of those issues in a proper, valid manner.
NIN: Who controls the work of the military secret services today? What do they do? Who do they answer to regarding their work? Did Yugoslav Army secret services also observe and wiretap citizens and maintain secret files on them? And will the citizens who were the subject of interest by these services have the opportunity to at least look at those papers?
KOSTUNICA: Citizens need to be given the opportunity to look at everything but the interest of security structures in the police, as every layman knows, in the activities of the so-called "internal enemies" was far more wide-spread that the interest of the army. The army was, nevertheless, focused on other tasks of a different nature in the professional sense. It did not get involved in such things. Certainly there were some instances but incomparably fewer than in the police. The army certainly did not concern itself with what individual teachers in rural schools were saying during history and literature classes regarding figures and events from our recent and not so recent past while the police, especially at the local level, was very involved in such matters. And here there really are a lot of similarities with Dusko Kovacevic's play, "The Balkan Spy".
NIN: As reporters say, "sources close to the Serbian MUP" (the ministry of internal affairs, police ministry) have discreetly suggested the possibility to reporters that Yugoslav Army secret services were also apparently involved in the Curuvija case, and that the justified suspicion exists that these services know the whole truth that is still inaccessible to the public; that there is even a possibility that YA secret service agents taped the actual murder of Slavko Curuvija. Was there ever at least an internal investigation regarding the role of YA secret services in political assassinations such as the Curuvija case, the Stambolic case and other similar cases?
KOSTUNICA: What is surprising to me is that someone in the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs is discreetly making statements to reporters that the army may be involved in certain political murders. Why would someone working for the police do this discreetly? His job is to do this publicly, to disclose these things. Therefore, if there are any suspicions in this respect, the public needs to be informed. They should not be whispered in someone's ear but published in the form of a public statement. Then, of course, the entire issue can be approached in all of its complexity, including the accountability of everyone involved, regardless of who they may be: police, army, politicians, reporters. And everyone must be prepared to accept some accountability.
NIN: Were there any investigations?
KOSTUNICA: No, even though the appropriate institutions could make a statement.
NIN: The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), of which you are president, is asking for a reshuffle of the Serbian Government. However, the public has not yet been advised regarding what, precisely, this would involve?
KOSTUNICA: It is no secret that not only the DSS but also other political parties within DOS and the Prime Minister of the Serbian Government (Zoran Djindjic) himself have expressed the need to change the manner in which the government is working and its composition. In the long run, this is completely logical. The moment you have a reshuffle of the federal government, the issue of the recomposition of the state government can be addressed. At this moment, nothing more than that has been planned because, of course, absolute priority is given to the issue of formation of the federal government and its tasks because everything else depends on this. If a new federal constitution is ratified, then we will be faced with the task of drafting a new constitution of Serbia, too, which will be harmonized with the federal constitution. If a new federal constitution is not ratified, however, then we are again faced with the task of drafting a new constitution of Serbia which will then be the constitution of Serbia as an independent sovereign state. These are the main tasks.
The majority of the changes we are planning are connected with institutional changes and the resolution of the constitutional issue, whether Yugoslav or Serbian.
NIN: How do you see the decision of the Government in Serbia and Premier Djindjic to introduce religious instruction into the school program as early as the next school year? Is this perhaps more of a politically motivated marketing ploy with the goal of undermining the primacy of your party and parties like yours which have always supported this, as people who have the best relations with the Church, rather than true concern for the religious education of our youth?
KOSTUNICA: This type of instruction, that is, religious instruction, is something that can be found in a significant part of the democratic world; it can be interpreted as a part of what is normally understood under freedom of religious expression. This is something of which our country was deprived for more than half a century. This is something that needs to be corrected. Of course, it is difficult to remove injustices perpetrated a long time ago. I do not deny the need for religious instruction to be introduced; however, this should be done in a proper manner and at the appropriate time. However, I must also openly say that I do not believe that this should be done immediately at any price, if the necessary preconditions for it do not exist.
I do not believe that this is the most important issue of all. The most important issue is the state issue, the issue of reorganizing the state. Everything else can wait. Of course, I also would not interfere in something which falls under the jurisdiction of the Serbian authorities; however, I think that at this moment there are more important issues and that an issue which has not been resolved for so long perhaps could have waited a while longer. In any case, when it is resolved, it should be resolved in a very careful manner, beginning with the fact that religious instruction in schools needs to incorporated within the context of everything else that is taught in schools. It is no simple task by any means.
NIN: What, in your opinion, might be the next move of the Hague tribunal with respect to our country? When can warrants for the extradition of other indictees be expected and how should we act when they arrive?
KOSTUNICA: With respect to the action of the Serbian Government, I have nothing to change, to add or to subtract from what I have already said nor will I ever be able to withdraw my criticisms. Simply, the Serbian Government acted with disregard for every legal norm. It cited the statute of the Hague tribunal but how then can we explain that before that so much effort was put into finding our own, internal legal basis for the cooperation with the Hague tribunal? How can we explain that DOS ministers in the federal government adopted a decree which the Serbian government, also composed of DOS ministers, was then unprepared to implement? Therefore, from the viewpoint of respect for the law, these things represent nothing less than a catastrophe.
NIN: And tomorrow?
KOSTUNICA: What was done incorrectly must not be repeated. Some sort of basis, a legal basis for cooperation with the Hague tribunal must be sought. We will have a new federal government; we will see how things will unfold in the Yugoslav Parliament with respect to the constitutional platform, perhaps in future elections, but in any case this issue must be resolved in a legally valid manner. On the other hand, there is something that can be done regardless of everything else and what could have been done a long time ago; our country and our judicial institutions can begin to concern themselves with cases of war crimes that were committed and for which our citizens may be held accountable. Therefore, we should simply give primacy to our judicial system with respect to the Hague's judicial system. I have always believed, and this is true of Milosevic's extradition as well, that it would have been far better for our country, in the absence of our indictment, to implement the indictment which the Hague tribunal issued against Milosevic in May 1999. Thus, in the long run, that indictment would have been tested before our courts. In my opinion and in the opinion of many attorneys in this country, that is a very politically motivated and legally baseless indictment; however, it could have served as a starting point. It would have been incomparably better for us to concern ourselves with the accountability of our political leadership instead of allowing someone else to do this, especially in the manner in which this was done in the case of Milosevic's extradition, that is, his kidnapping and transfer to the Hague tribunal.