Just two weeks after taking office, Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, visited Montenegro over the weekend in a bid to reach agreement on a new Yugoslav government. Kostunica also traveled to Bosnia where he announced the imminent establishment of diplomatic relations between Sarajevo and Belgrade -- pending the formation of the new Yugoslav government. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.
Prague, 24 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Vojislav Kostunica, hailed by the West as the savior of democracy in Serbia, wants to preserve the common state of Serbia and Montenegro, though he concedes the name Yugoslavia may have to be sacrificed.
But certain problems need to be resolved first. The Yugoslav federal constitution requires the federal prime minister to be a Montenegrin in the event that the president is a Serb. But the Montenegrin government, led by President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, boycotted last month's federal presidential and parliamentary elections.
They claimed that they were unlawful because the constitutional changes that enabled the elections to be held and diminished Montenegro's role in the federal parliament were enacted without the participation of Montenegro. For this reason, the Djukanovic government does not consider Kostunica to be the legitimate president of Yugoslavia. Djukanovic and his party also object to serving together with pro-Milosevic politicians.
Montenegro's main opposition party, the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party, won the parliamentary elections in Montenegro and has agreed to participate in forming a coalition government. Their nominee, Zoran Zizic, is slated to become federal prime minister.
Kostunica agrees to Zizic's appointment and says that he is making every effort to ensure that the federal government will be composed of experts with as wide a representation of parties as possible. Nonetheless, the government's core structure will be comprised of two parties, his Democratic Opposition of Serbia and Zizic's party. Kostunica believes that the cabinet will be approved by the Yugoslav parliament by the beginning of next week at the latest.
Noting the absence of the Montenegrin ruling parties in the government, Kostunica stated said that "at the moment we are forging a government out of the parties that took part in the federal elections." But he added that both DOS and Zizic's party would welcome Montenegro's ruling parties into the federal government. Last week, Zizic said that the reason his party had to be represented in the new government was to ensure that Slobodan Milosevic would not be extradited to the UN tribunal at The Hague, where the former president is indicted for war crimes.
Before visiting Montenegro on Sunday (Oct.22), Kostunica traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the first visit by a Yugoslav leader since Milosevic came in 1993 in an unsuccessful effort to mediate an end to the fighting.
Kostunica went to Trebinje in the southernmost corner of the Bosnian-Serb entity to attend the reburial of a Serbian poet and Yugoslav diplomat, Jovan Ducic, who died in exile in the United States in 1943. Kostunica had decided to participate long before he was even nominated to run for president. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry initially expressed outrage at Kostunica's participation. But its anger dissipated once the international community intervened.
An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Trebinje that the participants greeted Kostunica with "stormy applause," although he did not address the gathering. The entire Bosnian Serb leadership was present as were the leaders of Bosnia's religious communities and Liljana Karadzic, the wife of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadazic, whom The Hague tribunal has also indicted for war crimes.
The head of the United Nations mission in Bosnia, former U.S. general Jacques Klein, escorted Kostunica from Trebinje to Sarajevo in a UN helicopter for hastily arranged talks with the Bosnian leadership at Sarajevo airport. Kostunica told reporters afterwards that Yugoslavia's recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina is "the issue of the day."
"Our meeting today represents a very serious normalization of diplomatic relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I can announce that very soon -- I'm convinced it will be realized at the moment when the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forms its new, democratic, federal government."
Kostunica also called for full compliance with the nearly five-year-old Dayton peace accords, including their references to the existence of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska.
The current president of the Bosnian presidency, Zivko Radisic, a Serb, also expressed support for the renewal of diplomatic relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo, while respecting the continued existence of the Bosnian Serb and Muslim/Croat entities.
"This was an opportunity and we are expressing our readiness and willingness to establish and build up relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [while] respecting the existing territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country and state." The speaker of the Bosnian parliament, Halid Genjac, a Muslim, said he expects both sides to agree on specific steps to improve relations.
After meeting Kostunica at the airport, Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, a Croat, said: "We support Yugoslavia in its effort to reach an association agreement with the European Union, but on condition that Yugoslavia undergoes the same procedure for acceptance into European integration as all other countries."
UN mission chief Jacques Klein called the meeting "historic."
"We all know that we cannot change the past, but if we work together we can build a better future."
As Klein put it, "today is the beginning of the future."