In the wake of constitutional changes aimed at perpetuating the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian opposition activists met in Bratislava with representatives of the international community. In his second report on the discussions, NCA correspondent Jolyon Naegele looks at the challenges that loom in the coming months.
Bratislava, 12 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- An air of cautious optimism pervaded the two days of discussions in Bratislava over the weekend between Serbian opposition activists and representatives of the international community.
Several participants expressed the belief that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may have made a fatal mistake in pushing through constitutional changes in a bid to ensure his hold on power for another eight years.
The executive director of George Soros's Open Society Fund in Belgrade, Ivan Vejvoda, says Serbia is at present "in a typical end-of-regime situation." "Of course such a situation breeds many hopes for the future, but as we also know from political history, it is a very dangerous situation, because it could lead us down a very dramatic and violent path," he says.
Vejvoda, citing the views of famous Central and East European dissidents in the 1970s and 80s -- including Andrei Sakharov, Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel, and Gyoergy Konrad -- said that when change comes, it has to be nonviolent. Otherwise, as Vejvoda put it: "All of the revolutions and stormings of the Bastilles and Winter Palaces send us back into the past and not into the future."
Vejvoda called on Serbian civil society to prepare now for a future after Milosevic. "This is basically preparing the return of our country to normalcy, to the family of nations of Europe and the world, to the reintegration in all the multilateral organizations. Isolation and absence of communication with the world, as you well know, breed contempt, breed misunderstanding, and breed intolerance," he said.
Vejvoda welcomed the Balkan Stability Pact and the international community's apparent attempt to speak with one voice, calling it a welcome change from the disharmony of past years.
A recurrent theme during the Bratislava conference was the need to lift international sanctions against Serbia.
OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis acknowledged that the international community is seeking ways to better target sanctions, which he said often hit ordinary citizens rather than the regime.
Kubis said the OSCE very much wants to see Yugoslavia return to the ranks of OSCE members. But he noted that a precondition for Belgrade to reclaim its seat is democratic changes in Yugoslavia.
Russia's ambassador to Slovakia, Aleksandr Aksenonek, addressing the Bratislava meeting, criticized the use of sanctions against Serbia as counterproductive. He also criticized the international community for discussing the Balkan peace process without Yugoslavia's participation.
The Russian diplomat denounced the international war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia as "obviously politicized" and accused it of having defined in advance the main guilty parties of the Yugoslav tragedy. Turning to the domestic scene in Yugoslavia, Aksenonek avoided the sensitive issue of Montenegro and said the Belgrade regime and the Serbian opposition should resolve their differences, in his words, "through political dialogue."
U.S. diplomat Nicholas Hill ruled out including the Belgrade regime in negotiations and reiterated that the U.S. is "not negotiating with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to find him an exit strategy" -- as some media have reported.
"The notion that we should engage Milosevic in a discussion of Balkan stability in Bosnia or wherever is something that -- Washington has come around to this view -- is not worth it. In many respects, it is quite clear that Milosevic is a source of instability in the Balkans and not a pillar of stability in the Balkans," Hill said.
Due to the current break in diplomatic relations between Washington and Belgrade, Hill is based in Budapest, where he serves as the U.S. Embassy's first secretary for Serbian affairs.
Miroljub Labus, the head of G-17+, a nongovernmental Serbian opposition organization, told the gathering that specific projects to assist the Serbian people are the best way of overcoming Serbs' mistrust of the international community. One of these projects, for example, was the "energy for democracy" project last winter, in which the international community supplied heating oil to the opposition-controlled cities of Nis and Pirot in southern Serbia.
But Labus noted the international community is also mistrustful of the Serbian civil sector. It still prefers EU-originated projects over those devised by Serbian opposition groups.