interview by Batic BACEVIC
VOJISLAV KOSTUNICA: When I mentioned cantonization, I had in mind one of possible ways to achieve direly needed autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. The basic idea is to go gradually. I am convinced that peace and stability in Serbia-Montenegro literally requires high degree of autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo. That autonomy should be territorial, personal and cultural and should encompass Serbs in those parts of Kosovo where they are concentrated and in majority, but also the Serb community as a whole, given, of course the need for preservation of their identity, national and cultural. All of this applies to other non-Albanians in Kosovo. The second step, and this is extremely important, is to achieve a territorial basis for the autonomy. If that component is missing, everything else is bound to fail. Then, of course, the third step would be to define what that territorial component of the autonomy should be. I've mentioned several terms, decentralization, cantons, entities, deliberately not focusing on only one of them, because I am aware that each one of them may be detested by some circles. Even if I had chosen the least controversial of these terms, decentralization, that would have been rejected by those circles that claim that nothing needs to be changed in Kosovo and that ethnic cleansing of Serbs and non-Albanians is a natural and desirable process.
I also mentioned cantonization because in 1998 the then opposition parties in Serbia, reacting to American plans for Kosovo and Metohija, presented by ambassador Christopher Hill, proposed cantonization of Kosovo. I think that that idea should be brought back, in some form. Naturally, not in the form it had at the time, because the situation in Kosovo has changed a lot since then.
NIN: Will the government offer a concrete proposal for the solution of the Kosovo problem?
A group of experts has started working on a plan for decentralization, autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. If the government adopts that plan, actually a political solution, it will be forwarded to the parliament of Serbia.
Is it possible to predict what will be the ultimate impact of that initiative? Let me remind you of the most recent interview with Morton Abramowitz [published in Podgorica weekly Monitor], who until recently was totally convinced that Kosovo would soon be independent, while today he also mentions the possibility that Kosovo will be divided.
As far as we are concerned, decentralization or cantonization should not lead towards a division of Kosovo. That proposal simply attempts to demonstrate that more or less civilized life is possible in a part of Europe, the Balkans and south-eastern Europe, which needs to be integrated in Europe. That is the basic idea. It goes against the views of Abramowitz and others, who, depending on whether it suits their goals or not, either insist that borders must not be changed, or question their validity. In some cases, they insist that borders are untouchable and must not be changed at any cost, while in other cases they without hesitation draw new borders. Naturally, I am convinced that everything must be done to make sure that the problem of protection of human rights of Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo be resolved within the framework of the current commonwealth of Serbia-Montenegro. There is no need to discuss or try to predict consequences of a change in borders in the Balkans, now that the situation has to a certain extent stabilized after the wars in the 90s.
How will you secure a two-thirds majority in favor of a new draft constitution, given that many experts are convinced that that will not be possible?
I am convinced that we shall secure such a majority. Above all because this government does not view the constitution as something that is of importance to one political party only, the current authorities, but as a key issue and wants to do everything in its power to achieve as wide a consensus as possible regarding the new constitution.
What would the new constitution say about Kosovo? Is that something that can be resolved at all? For example, it is a key problem. And there is no foreseeable solution at this time?
It is undeniable that UN Security Council resolution 1244 confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of FR Yugoslavia, currently Serbia-Montenegro, with Kosovo as its integral part, with international presence in Kosovo. The constitution of Serbia simply needs to stress that, in this form or another.
That is the easiest solution?
That is the only possible solution at this point. The issue of decentralization or autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo will be resolved in cooperation with international factors. Let me mention another possibility that hasn't been mentioned so far. That is the change of borders of certain municipalities in Kosovo, allowing the Serbs to live in larger and more compact units. The Democratic Party of Serbia unsuccessfully proposed that in 1998, given our assessment that that was a way to reduce tension and improve security in Kosovo and Metohija. Today, I think that both improved security and reduction in tensions are direly needed, so I don't see anything controversial in that proposal.
You do not fear strong reactions from abroad?
I know that such proposals will prompt strong reactions of those who believe that it is easier and smarter to change international than municipal borders. They at the time without hesitation supported changes of the borders of a sovereign country that had existed for almost eighty years - of Yugoslavia - and now fiercely oppose modification of borders of some municipalities in Kosovo. That must be done. Besides, it has already been done in some cases since the arrival of KFOR and UNMiK in Kosovo [a new Albanian majority municipality, Malishevo, was formed by UNMiK, by dividing the municipality of Suva Reka].
Parallels between Kosovo and Bosnia, that is Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia, prompt fears abroad that that will lead to instability in the Balkans and that Serbs have territorial claims against Bosnia.
The proposals for Kosovo have nothing to do with Bosnia-Hercegovina, and I do not see how anything proposed for Kosovo could be interpreted as a threat to Bosnia-Hercegovina and its territorial integrity. On the other hand, if you have ethnically motivated violence, terrorism and pogroms and persecution in Kosovo, which indicate that Albanians and Serbs cannot live in a multiethnic paradise, but may live next to each others, then everything that has been achieved in Bosnia-Hercegovina is a positive example, if you ask me. The entities in Bosnia have led to peace, refugees are returning to their pre-war homes in unprecedented numbers. Why not try to emulate successful solutions?
There has been a lot of talk about a change in the policy of the international community regarding the Kosovo issue. Also, there is a danger that such reactions create expectations that the situation in Kosovo will dramatically change. Do you believe that the international community will stick to its new views or will it slowly return to its old views?
The international community has reacted to the crimes of March 17. Its reaction is partly authentic and partly forced and it will change some things in the picture about the events in the region and responsibility and apportioning of the guilt. But, we should not expect much from a change in global attitudes towards Kosovo. For example, Kosovo demands, as far as selection of special representatives of the UN secretary general is concerned, people who are truly qualified and also on the other hand are ready to accept the challenge of the mandate they are entrusted with. Instead, as a rule people appointed to lead UNMiK in Kosovo either did not know anything about the region, or came with preformed prejudices, they avoided any risks, withdrew in front of threats, and on the whole lacked elementary courage, as far as Kosovo and Metohija is concerned. On top of all of that, to make everything worse, they failed to solve problems in Kosovo, but definitively managed to resolve their personal problems. Each one of them resolved a problem in his career, or some personal problem.
Is the government considering at this time a possibility of organizing lobbying activities in the US or Europe, or is that only empty talk that resurfaces with every new crisis?
I expect changes. I dare not, after everything, and all the lost opportunities as far as Kosovo is concerned, say anything more that that. Of course, our country is impoverished, people are not prepared to pay expensive PR agencies and lobbyists, but I think that something must be done.
What do you think when someone mentions March 31? It seems the government is not doing much...
I think that the list of demands for March 31 cannot be disturbed by anything, even the events of March 17. Perhaps a little, but not much. Those demands follow bureaucratic inertia. For example, for years there were demands that we resolve some issues that had been resolved a long time ago, as for example the Dayton agreement, including the cessation of all aid that assisted survival of separate institutions of the Republic of Srpska.
But, what can be done in connection with the cooperation with the Hague tribunal?
The government is aware of its international obligations, but the fulfillment of these international obligations depends on several things, including the stability of political institutions, which should be desirable, not only from the government's point of view, but also from the American point of view, as far as stability in the region is concerned. Progress has been made in cooperation with the Hague, as far as communication, conversations, etc. is concerned. Some war crimes trials have started here as well. All of that must be taken into account, as well as, naturally, the fact that this government has been in office for less than one month. The key problem raised by international, especially American collocutors, is the arrest of Ratko Mladic, and this government can only repeat the answer of the previous government. We have no information indicating that Mladic is currently in Serbia.
Is the government united regarding that? Recent statements by Labus, Ilic, or Draskovic seem to indicate more desire to cooperate with the Hague than is evident from your statements?
I disagree. I believe that these statements do not differ in emphasis. In the end, everything boils down to where Mladic is.
Therefore, you expect that the government will get some space for maneuver, because you've been in power for only a short while?
It makes sense to me that something that hasn't been done in the last three years cannot be finished in less than a month, which is how long this government has been in power. Basically, everything has to do with one person. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the significance of March 17 and the assessment that could be heard abroad and from the US administration, that the government of Serbia has demonstrated the ability to govern in a very complex situation that could have seriously endangered not only stability but also the fragile peace in the region.
They will not give money, but will support the government?
We shall see. There is probably a possibility that the certification be postponed since the government has been in power for less than a month and in a mean time March 17 took place.
You've mentioned crisis management. Why was the Serbian police unable to protect mosques, although it must have been clear that it was likely they would be attacked?
All of us would have felt different, it would have been much better if one mosque was not destroyed and the other one damaged. It is difficult to assign responsibility at this point, as we haven't had sufficient time for the necessary changes in the police, so that the new leadership could fully control the situation. Police chiefs in Belgrade and Nis were fired because of inadequate reactions of the police in those cities. What happened with the Bajrakli mosque and the mosque in Nis is very worrisome and disturbing on the one hand, while on the other hand it was highly politically damaging.
That should not have been a terribly complex police operation. There was only one object in Belgrade that needed protection?
That's true, but this was still an unprecedented attack. Nothing similar happened during all these wars, clashes. Earlier we had hooligan attacks after certain soccer games, which were directed against certain embassies, so we focused on them. We were to a certain extent surprised by March 17, as, besides, was the rest of the world, and didn't have full control of all services. Also, let us not forget that a more robust police action could have led to loss of life.
Will the government be reconstructed soon, as everyone seems to expect?
We should give a chance to the parties currently running the government to take the most important steps to set up and consolidate institutions and get them to work. The parties that run the government had done something very important even before the government took office - they got the institutions running. Therefore, we have a parliament that is not disputed or boycotted by anyone. We have set up all the parliamentary bodies, all committees, and they are working normally; for the first time representatives of the opposition have been elected as presidents of various committees. We have already forgotten what the previous parliament looked like, when no one knew who the representatives in the parliament were, and vote rigging took place. We had a parliament of the commonwealth of Serbia-Montenegro, which was sleeping in deep slumber, but it is now working again. We shall have presidential elections, and this time they will not fail. All in all, this country is slowly gaining the appearance of a state with the rule of law, with all institutions, with distribution of power.
Why are you more concerned about discontinuity with the previous government than with the situation from before October 5? Is this government a reform government?
Almost every government in the world today portrays itself as a reform government. The previous government claimed that it had found a shortcut for the introduction of reforms, that laws and procedure were irrelevant. I understand that attitude, because a lot of time had been lost in the previous period and we had to make up for lost time. Although there were other motives for their legal willfulness. Whatever the case, that approach ultimately failed, because there can be no true democracy without respect for civic rights and respect for the law, and the rule of law.
You've been accused of vengefulness. Why did you insist on dismissal of Kori Udovicki [former National bank governor], despite her readiness to resign?
She could have tendered her resignation, but not with me, for sure. Reading opinions of some of our legal experts, as well as analysis of a distinguished Spanish lawyer, who says that the election of the governor of the National Bank of Serbia was legally valid, I could not but recall the opinion of the man who laid the foundation for healthy legal standards in Serbia. I am talking about Slobodan Jovanovic. In his Constitutional Law textbook from 1924 he defined quorum as something necessary for the functioning of a parliament. He says that, if there is no quorum, then it's as if the parliament did not meet. In that case, you simply have a group of people who sit in a building, but that group is not a valid parliament. That had to be corrected. That could have been done earlier or later with this or that sort of consultation or agreement, but everything is less important in comparison with the fact that the un-parliament elected the governor of the National Bank of Serbia.
Why so much delay regarding the changes in the Council of Ministers?
The Parliament of Serbia-Montenegro will meet late this week. By then, we will have conducted widest possible consultations in connection with candidates for ministers. I believe that it makes sense to attempt to reach the widest possible consensus in Serbia regarding the new ministers in the Serbia-Montenegro government, naturally in consultation with political parties from Montenegro. Such a chance was missed in 2003. The DOS was selfishly, as was its practice, only concerned with securing a simple majority. That turned out to be a mistake. It made sense to include all parties that advocated or participated in the creation of the commonwealth and signing of the Belgrade agreement in that majority. Of course, I am referring to the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) [Kostunica's party].
Instead, the DOS insisted on its majority, but that majority included people who actually opposed the commonwealth and that thin majority immediately became a minority, and the Parliament was blocked. We shall try to avoid similar mistakes.
Does that mean that Boris Tadic will retain his post of the Defense Minister?
That means that there will be changes in the Council of Ministers with the goal of securing as wide support as possible for its functioning. The actual shape of the council will become obvious soon.
The international community has expressed strong interest in retaining Mr Tadic as the Minister of Defense?
I'd rather not discuss their motivation for this interest, but yes, you're right, you've got good sources.
Yes, I was aware of his legal career, both as a judge and a lawyer. I attended the infamous trial of the six, as in the eighties I was one of the signatories of various petitions and participated in activities in defense of endangered rights. Finally, I was a member of the well known Council For Defense of Freedom Of Though And Expression, and participated in protection of sentenced and prosecuted persons with all sorts of ideological, political, ethnic and religious backgrounds. As far as I am concerned, Zoran Stojkovic has an excellent reputation among his colleagues, both as a judge and an attorney, he knows the judiciary extremely well and is prepared to give it back its independence and destroy corruption. Besides, unlike many others, he resigned and became a lawyer as soon as Milosevic came to power.
That is undeniable. However, his role in a political trial is problematic?
He followed the law that was valid at the time. That law was repressive. He tried to deal with a repressive law and opted for a very lenient interpretation, for which he was recognized by legal circles both in the country and abroad. Now, we need to ask ourselves whether the judge who had to apply such law is more guilty than those who at the time wrote and enacted such laws? We all know who were the high-ranking officials in the Communist party at the time. Most of them have proclaimed themselves for democrats in the meantime. No one is talking about their responsibility, although they are behind all these political trials. They prepared the ground for those trials. If there is to be lustration, it should primarily focus on officials of the Communist party. If we were to sift through the biography of many a distinguished democrat of today, we'd find people who burned books and were zealous party commissars. Do you know how many political prisoners there were in the early seventies, including the time when the leadership that is today described as liberal was in power? What about crimes committed after WWII? What about various cruel "pranks" of the then Communist youths, who are today impeccable democrats?
However, I will not name names. We have so many decisive years, so many divisions and showdowns in the past century. It's time to put an end to our political divisions and deadly political wars. There's too few of us left, and too much work to be done, too many challenges to be faced, and too much uncertainty in front of us.
I'd say that at least 80 percent of these talks took place only in the media. Very little real discussion has taken place so far. Until now, we have only indirectly addressed this issue. We shall deal with it once presidential elections are called.
The previous government was criticized for calling the presidential elections, but then essentially ignoring them. Will the ruling coalition or the DSS have its candidate for the president of Serbia?
This ruling coalition differs from the previous one. The coalition, and the DSS within the coalition, definitively has an obligation to deal with the choice of its candidate for the president.