What has happened in those one hundred days? Some will say that little has been done; others will say that more than even the greatest optimists dreamed possible has been accomplished. In an attempt to help readers form their own opinions about the changes that have taken place, NIN approached President Kostunica with the request that he himself give an assessment of what has occurred.
NIN: So how did things go in the first one hundred days? What was toughest for you, what was most rewarding?
KOSTUNICA: These one hundred days have been condensed, completely full, almost without a moment to catch one's breath. Of course, in these one hundred days many things have changed both in foreign affairs and internally, in people's lives and their consciousness. This is encouraging. But many unexpected problems appeared, too. It seemed that these one hundred days should have resulted primarily in progress toward a solution of the federal status of FR Yugoslavia. However, the problem of federal status has been raised in a manner that had not been expected.
NIN: Even though your motives for accepting a meeting with Slobodan Milosevic have already been shared with the public, what the two of you talked about still remains unknown. Did he ask you not to extradite him to The Hague?
KOSTUNICA: It is difficult for me to give a precise answer to such a question. Of course, I could not have talked about anything other than what I have been saying in the past several months or even years. Therefore, nothing has changed. The topics mentioned in public speculation were either not discussed at all or were not among the most important topics. The press contributed to this to some extent by occasionally twisting the contents of certain conversations I have held in the last few days - not with Slobodan Milosevic, actually, but with American Senator Joseph Biden. It turned out that I had inquired with Biden in what manner Hague justice might be implemented in Belgrade. That is simply not true. There was no mention of it whatsoever.
NIN: But this wasn't made up by reporters. It's what Biden himself said in Sarajevo.
KOSTUNICA: Yes. But it simply is not true. I am digressing and bringing up the conversation with Biden in an attempt to explain how things can be incorrectly interpreted and how one inaccuracy can then lead to another. In the conversation with the American senator there was no mention made whatsoever of The Hague. We talked about the need to improve U.S.-Yugoslav relations and open a new page in those relations. The conversation itself was encouraging.
NIN: But what about Milosevic? Did you discuss The Hague with him?
KOSTUNICA: It was not dominant. It had more to do with certain questions of status. Former state officials in all countries enjoy certain rights after their term in office expires. In Milosevic's case those rights are based on a law which was adopted in 1999 by the Serbian Parliament and I, as the federal president, have almost nothing to do with its implementation. The discussion itself did not lead to anything new except for providing a bit of excitement for our public, due to the fact that the president of FR Yugoslavia met with the president of the largest opposition party. These kind of meetings should become routine. I cannot influence elections in other political parties. My opinion of the Socialists' choice is another matter entirely but it is their right to elect the president they want. My duties are outlined in the Constitution and in the oath that I took on October 7 - to uphold the Constitution of my country, not some other written or unwritten rules, especially those originating from other countries. The president of the FR of Yugoslavia is not obliged - to comment on one statement by the spokesperson of the Hague Tribunal - to implement the daily orders of the Hague Tribunal's spokesperson.
NIN: Where does your predecessor Milosevic now live? Who is protecting him? There are claims that he is still living in a residence owned by the federation and that he is protected by people who are on the federal payroll...
KOSTUNICA: I am from Dorcol, not Dedinje and Dedinje for me represents a complete unknown. Do not forget that there is a division of authority within the federation and that certain institutions deal with these questions. The only thing I know is that Milosevic lives in a residential building in Uzicka Street. Protection of residential buildings falls under the jurisdiction of special forces units and protection of individuals falls under the jurisdiction of a special state security agency.
NIN: What are the prospects of your platform for talks with Montenegro? The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) presidency made some changes to your initial proposal. What were they?
KOSTUNICA: There were no significant changes. The only change was the addition of one more competency of the federal state that must remain under its jurisdiction, the control of borders and questions of national security; this was not explicitly mentioned in my initial proposal for the restructuring of FRY. Everything else remained as it was proposed. But this, too, is now open for debate within DOS and with various political forces in Montenegro. This proposal reflects the platform of everyone who at this moment believes that FR Yugoslavia should be restructured and not dismantled.
NIN: What is the guiding principle of your proposal?
KOSTUNICA: The framework was sought between the Constitution of 1992 and the platform of the Montenegrin government from 1999. I mention this because I myself was one of the harshest critics of the so-called Zabljak Constitution as a constitution which contains too many confederal elements.
With regard to the collective rights of states or peoples, they cannot be instated retroactively. Therefore, we have taken a big step here, a compromise. I especially want to emphasize that the platform of 1999 was taken into account because during talks between DOS and Montenegrin officials in Sv. Stefan in the summer of 1999 it was concluded that the platform of the Montenegrin government at that time could represent one of the documents in the debate.
Now it turns out that the Montenegrin regime has renounced its own platform. Therefore, there is talk of the need for Serbia and Montenegro to become two independent states because it is claimed that they are already that at this point and that only a blind man cannot see this. This turnaround, this exclusiveness, will create problems in our talks. But in the very beginning I would like to point out the high degree of willingness, openness and tolerance on our side.
NIN: Is the list of participants still being contested or have talks already begun regarding the essence of the two proposals?
KOSTUNICA: Things are clear in this regard. We believe that, starting from the fact that FR Yugoslavia exists, representatives of republic and federal governments, first and foremost, their most representative institutions, the parliaments, should participate. If you take this into consideration, then you have included in the debate representatives of all the political trends and opinions. Then you can be sure that you will not make the same mistake as the one that was unquestionably made in 1992 when the Constitution was agreed upon by only two political parties. Constitutions cannot be ratified by a simple majority unless you want them to be changed every time the government changes; they require both a qualified majority and broader support in order to endure.
NIN: How long will you remain in your present office? According to Djukanovic's version, a possible alliance of two states would not have a president; according to your proposal, the federal president would be elected by the parliament.
KOSTUNICA: We have, as you may have observed rejected Milosevic's solution that the FRY president be chosen through direct elections. This solution was dictated by Milosevic's most personal, most base interests to remain in power by any means. In a state structured like our own, it does not make sense to elect the FRY president through direct elections. The president should be elected by the parliament with the stipulation that the office should be alternately held by representatives of Serbia and Montenegro.
We will, of course, make an effort to see that changes are made in this respect as well, that the equality of both federal units is respected, with observance of the constitutional order of Yugoslavia and the constitutional orders of Serbia and Montenegro. It is up to the other side to act in the same fashion or to eventually trample the Yugoslav or the Montenegrin constitution. But then, of course, that side will bear the responsibility and the burden of proof why this was done in this manner. This is not a threat because there will be no threats or violence. On the contrary, if this is the road embarked upon, it is the other side which will be committing violence, a sort of legal violence, committed by violation of and transgression against the law.
NIN: If Montenegro leaves FRY, would you accept nomination as president of Serbia in the next elections?
KOSTUNICA: I am not even thinking about that. Today I have a great obligation, which I accepted in the elections on September 24, to use all democratic and legal means to defend the unity of Serbia and Montenegro. The failure of this attempt, this mission, for me would represent a great problem for further participation in public life. I accepted that obligation. I am aware that it was a forced obligation as was, in the final analysis, my candidacy. I did not intend to be nominated; I did not offer my candidacy; I did not recommend myself; and I made the decision with great difficulty. One of the reasons for my hesitation was connected to these complex relations between Serbia and Montenegro. From the moment I joined that battle, I have resolved to stay with it to the end. I am still an optimist that the majority of citizens in Montenegro and Serbia will favor a joint state. But if that is not how it turns out, I will respect their will; and then I will make the decision on what I will be doing next.
NIN: Will you personally and other DOS officials go to Montenegro and actively participate in pre-election campaigns?
KOSTUNICA: The elections have not yet been called. We will wait; we will see how these talks with Djukanovic will go. In recent months, after the changes in Serbia, DOS has truly made great efforts to do nothing to jeopardize the sensitive issue of Serbian-Montenegrin relations. We are starting from the fact that in Montenegro there is a very strong support for independence, which I understand. Then, there are problems, starting with the fact that Montenegro is the smaller federal unit, that Montenegrins are scattered and that one can say that there are more of them in Serbia than in Montenegro. On the other hand, I must point out the existence, as far as I am concerned, inexplicably militant, small but militant, anti-Serb and anti-Serbian option in Montenegro that reminds me of some of the most extreme anti-Serb varieties of extreme Croatian nationalism. To me this is inexplicable. If all this is kept in mind, then truly the policy of the DOS and my personal policy was to do nothing to give justification to those who may be afraid of some sort of renewed, resurrected, Greater Serbian hegemonism.
NIN: The world welcomed warmly your election as FRY president. After one hundred days, is the honeymoon over?
KOSTUNICA: A honeymoon lasts for a month or so. I do not think that there is anything personal involved in this. The world, its most powerful part, did not know how to approach the Serb people, the citizens of Yugoslavia; despite all attempts, all experiments, all the force which it applied, it failed to bring about political changes in Yugoslavia. This part of the world and its policies contributed significantly to preserve an authoritative regime here. The people of Serbia and the democratic political forces in Serbia actually had to fight against both Milosevic's authoritarian regime and against this part of the world. And they won against both and that is what attracted the attention of the whole world. The fact that they won.
At a given moment, naturally, as a result of some of my merits and personal characteristics, I became the embodiment of those wishes and the means for that battle and change in Serbia. After September 24 and October 5, the world, too, came to understand that the battle with Slobodan Milosevic was won - thank God - by the people of Serbia, not by the sanctions of the international community, the NATO bombs and pressure, on the one hand, and support for Milosevic, on the other. That is how that ended.
Yugoslavia is very different without the sanctions and the people who live here, by the grace of God, are in a place which is geostrategically very significant; that is both our blessing and our curse. Without a stable Yugoslavia, there really cannot be stability in the Balkans.
The new governments in Serbia and Yugoslavia have demonstrated as much during recent months. Wherever things were most sensitive, wherever we were faced with the greatest challenges, we everything in our power to discourage the spread of violence. Let us take the south of Serbia as an example. Despite all provocations, all attempts to play out a new Racak, this did not happen. It has been proven that there has been no violence in areas where we were able to control things, while violence continues to occur in Kosovo, which is under the control and responsibility of the international community. Despite the presence of 50,000 KFOR troops, murders, pressure, incidents are continuing there.
NIN: There have been some doubts in the public regarding the diplomatic meetings of Foreign Affairs Minister Goran Svilanovic with foreign partners. Premier Zizic on one occasion expressed disagreement with Svilanovic's views. Are the actions of the Foreign Affairs Minister coordinated with you as the head of state or is Svilanovic doing something on his own?
KOSTUNICA: There is a great deal of coordination in relations between the members of the federal government and the president of the republic. Of course, there can never be as much as there should be because we are actually in the middle of the process of creating a functioning government. That is a fact. In the first one hundred days we managed with a great deal of effort to constitute the federal parliament and government after a delay and despite the great vacuum which existed between the former and present government. Because in this country a kind of quiet democratic revolution happened. We could not devote those one hundred days exclusively to active performance. Some of the misunderstandings and lack of coordination between individual elements of the government, the government and its ministers, can be explained by this.
NIN: Do you intend to meet with Ms. Carla del Ponte when she visits Belgrade?
KOSTUNICA: I have expressed my views on the Hague tribunal; they are well-known. A conversation of this nature is not something that stems from the authority at my disposal. Nevertheless, I am not excluding the possibility of talks, if for no other reason than to initiate some questions such as abandonment of an investigation of NATO's crimes or depleted uranium, or sealed indictments. The only thing that is certain is that no one should expect a change in my position with respect to the tribunal.
Under different circumstances, the Hague tribunal might be the most important issue for this country; however, in a situation where we ran in the elections and, to the shock of the entire world, won them on September 24 only to discover that the government of one of our federal units is disputing the existence of the state in which we live, that is a great problem for us. Now, of course, we also have other more pressing tasks, such as the social problems with which we are living but other problems, too, are emerging even within DOS itself such as the problem of Vojvodina and its state or quasi-state status. For someone whose greatest obligation is to take care of the territorial integrity and unity of the federal state, and that is what my function entails, these problems are more important than any others.
NIN: After October 5 you opposed proposals for quick personnel changes in the leadership of the Yugoslav Army and the state security service in Serbia. Do you think that those decisions were right?
KOSTUNICA: For me there was one thing that was essential: at the decisive moment in which the state found itself, the question was whether to preserve something which was a pillar of stability in that state or to simply knock over those pillars and then face the great challenges which we would have faced without them. I was of the opinion that some things needed to be preserved, that we could not start rearranging the police force when we have no one to control the police force - because that control should be exerted by the parliament. It would have been dangerous for us to replace one kind of promotion of party politics in the police force with another and to demonstrate that we are no different than the previous regime. Until the new parliament and the new government of Serbia were constituted, it was also necessary to make no changes in the state police. One very important example has shown to what extent this proved to be the right decision. That example is the events in the south of Serbia. Had we initiated personnel changes in the police through rivalry or bickering, which might have been similar to what we are now seeing with the ministry of health, had we chosen to concern ourselves with who should fall where within the leadership of the Yugoslav Army, then we would have had a completely gutted and demoralized army and police that would not have been able to handle the very sensitive challenge in the south of Serbia. Because we wanted to show force, not use it, in this case. Only agencies and institutions with confidence were capable of doing this.
After October 5, a new precedent was created. For me the only important thing is how capable individuals are. Before, of course, they had all had to adjust more or less to different rules of the game and the ruling caste. That has changed now. Never again will a political party determine, will it be allowed to determine, how personnel in the police and army will be organized and deployed.
Of course, those who transgressed against the law will be prosecuted. That is obvious.
NIN: The secret service in Serbia previously informed the Yugoslav president regarding everything, including what it managed to learn by wiretapping a large number of citizens. Are they informing you now?
KOSTUNICA: As far as the Yugoslav Army and the police are concerned, in the past months they have informed me in relation with state security. The security of the state, that is, not the security of the regime. This included information regarding the activities of various foreign agencies, on the situation in the south of Serbia, on various plans how to open the Kosovo problem, work on the independence of Kosovo. This is what the appropriate agencies in the Yugoslav Army and police should concern themselves with. What they concerned themselves with before is something that they will not concern themselves with in the future, especially after their activities are regulated by appropriate laws and when these organizations and a certain number of individuals in them are replaced.
NIN: Will DOS survive in the form in which it exists today?
KOSTUNICA: When the survival of the state is in question, how significant is the survival of DOS? This is another reason why I cannot express the same level of enthusiasm for the work of the Hague Tribunal as that demonstrated by the Tribunal itself, as well as some countries and public figures in our own country. Why do I keep revisiting this question? I think about the future of DOS in much the same manner as I think about the Hague tribunal: at this moment I am interested in the survival of the state, not in the survival of DOS.
NIN: Isn't this a sort of obsession with the state?
KOSTUNICA: Yes, but not just any state - a democratically organized state. In this situation, hopefully, it is an understandable obsession. Despite all of the cheering going on for open borders and the integration of the world, as far as I can see the rest of the world is still living in states. It is not living in non-states. During recent years we have been living in something like a non-state. I would like to see us making transition from a non-state to a normal state such as those states which are inhabited by the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Russians and others; and then we can start thinking about those other issues as well. That is why I am not very concerned about the survival of DOS. But since I have already made the connection between this issue and the problem of the survival of the state, I am not excluding the possibility that a difference will emerge in DOS on that very subject. Allow me to give an example: you may have observed very easily that our views on the future of Serbia and Montenegro are quite similar. Zoran Djindjic and I have talked about it and except for some details we share the same position. The majority of parties in DOS also share that same position. That position is that the state exists and that the best solution is to restructure it as a single state and not as two states. I do not see any great advantage to be derived from reuniting two independent states and Zoran Djindjic agrees. You know, if that happens, if that is the will of the majority in Montenegro, even though it is not constitutional, then perhaps it would be more useful for Montenegro to unite with someone else and not with Serbia.
So in that respect there really is a high degree of consensus within DOS. But it is not absolute. And that is why we already have the first cracks in DOS. Because certain parties from Vojvodina believe that the platform proposed by the Montenegrin Government is something that is essentially acceptable. It is difficult to explain how you can be a member of a coalition and not support its platform but the platform of some other party group, a platform which is essentially different from what we are claiming, and what the entire world can see, and that is that this state exists, at least for the moment.
NIN: In other words, the problem of Vojvodina is also being raised?
KOSTUNICA: The problem is that it is being raised now in a manner that assumes some sort of quasi-statehood for Vojvodina along with a story about some sort of special relations which are nowhere regulated between Vojvodina and Croatia because formerly they lived in a common state. I think that this question also is one that needs to be addressed by DOS. After that DOS cannot look the same as it looks today.
I would also like to reiterate the significance of communications with representatives of ethnic communities from Vojvodina, that is, with the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians. Mr. Joszef Kasa sent an invitation for talks. I was happy to accept his invitation because only a few years ago I also spoke with representatives of the Vojvodina Hungarians while serving in another position. Therefore, we have a different approach here. Solutions are not being prejudged, the willingness for talks is expressed. Whereas from certain Vojvodina parties in DOS some issues are being prejudged in an unusual manner and on the same wavelength as by the government of Montenegro. We will have to devote attention to that issue as well...
Generally speaking, the question of special status for Vojvodina should have been raised before the September elections so that this question could be resolved at that time. However, they took the same course of action as Djukanovic; Djukanovic was not talking about two chairs and two states before September 24, just as the League of Social Democrats did not talk about a special status for Vojvodina and some kind of special relations before September 24 but after December 23. And that is a big difference.