Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on a visit to Prague on 3 August visited RFE/RL headquarters where he spoke with editors and management about the situation in Serbia and the surrounding region.
Prague, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says Serbia has just two to three years to resolve its most serious issues or face possible disillusionment that he says would result in serious delays in European integration. "[Failure to maintain the current momentum] will create huge problems to motivate our people then because the clear goal and clear consensus which exists among the nation is that we want to be part of Europe," Djindjic said.
Djindjic said he hopes the political leadership in the West understands that, "If we lose the fast track that we're on now through unresolved structural problems, it will create problems for the future."
Djindjic's attempts to reform the economy have been stymied by opposition not only from parties affiliated with the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic but by opposition from Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). The DSS blocked reforms in a failed bid to force early elections and hinder cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal at the Hague.
Djindjic said that since DSS members of parliament had repeatedly boycotted parliamentary sessions, the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) electoral coalition finally had no choice but to expel the DSS from its ranks. He said that if a party is excluded form the coalition, it has to be excluded from parliament, which is why he said DOS deputies recommended on 26 July ousting all 45 DSS deputies.
However, Djindjic said Serbia's problems are not only domestic but also involve Kosovo, the future status of which remains unclear; its fellow Yugoslav republic of Montenegro; and neighbors Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He described all these as "weak states with divided societies and governments lacking legitimacy."
Djindjic is particularly critical of the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo where tens of thousands of NATO-led troops are stationed for what he said could be 100 years. "In the Balkans, there are two protectorates and there are foreign troops there and it's the only region [in Europe] where there are large numbers of foreign troops and that's a real problem," Djindjic said.
Moreover, Djindjic complained about the extensive powers of the international community's high representative in Bosnia, currently Paddy Ashdown, to abrogate laws and replace government ministers. All that, he said, makes Bosnia a protectorate.
However, Serbia's prime minister said that since the citizens of Bosnia and Kosovo are able to elect their authorities and live in conditions of stability. "No one perceives this as an unresolved issue since nothing [serious] is occurring in Bosnia or Kosovo," Djindjic said.
"The issue of status -- in neither case do we want to raise the issue -- neither in the case of Bosnia nor in the case of Kosovo do we have any intention of raising the issue of changing the status. But we as people who live here have the right to pay attention to the problem because we want to be involved in [its resolution]," Djindjic said.
Djindjic asked the international community to let him open direct talks with Albanian leaders in the province. Kosovo is de jure part of Yugoslavia but is under UN administration and NATO-led military occupation. "We should start to talk, [to] define our interests, and [to] set priorities," Djindjic said.
Serbia's prime minister said Kosovo's Albanian leaders should understand that Serbia can serve as a bridge to Europe and to integration with Europe. In contrast, he said what Serbia wants from Kosovo is for it to stop having problems. He said he hopes for greater stability there and the return of what he said are 180,000 displaced persons -- Serbs, Roma, Bosnian Muslims, and Gorans -- from Kosovo who are still in Serbia more than three years after the end of the NATO air strikes.
Djindjic reiterated that returnees need to have guarantees for their human rights, as well as security and access to hospitals and schools.
Without their return and without a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Djindjic said Kosovo is "now a time bomb."
Djindjic said not only Kosovo's Albanian political leaders but the business community, intellectuals, and religious leaders should be involved in finding a solution, adding that he would like to hear what they all have to say. He noted that last year, the UN chief administrator in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, barred him from visiting the province and added that he hopes the current chief administrator, Michael Steiner, will let him do so.
Yet Djindjic did concede that Serbia itself is part of the problem. Djindjic said the prevalence among Serbs of an outmoded 19th-century national identity is a key problem that must be resolved.
He told RFE/RL editors and managers that Serbs are close to finally finding their identity but that many Serbs are still torn between building an open society and adhering to the traditionally closed society that he said is marked by negative attitudes and suspicion.
Djindjic said a resolution is finally possible thanks to the active participation of the international community. "It's about whether we look at the problems with our eyes wide open and resolve them even if they are unpleasant or else run away from them, stick our heads in the sand, and deny they exist," Djindjic said.
"For the first time, we have the active support of Europe," Djindjic said. That support, Djindjic predicted, will contribute to the further stabilization of peace, stability, and economic development in the region.