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Balkan Report: March 14, 2000

14 March 2000, Volume 4, Number 19

Albright Talks To RFE/RL About Democracy And The Balkans. During her recent visit to Prague, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave the following interview to Nenad Pejic, the director of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. "Balkan Report" would like to share this interview in its entirety with our readers.

Pejic: You have just come back from [a major foreign ministers' meeting in] Lisbon, where you [stressed the] necessity for having elections in Kosovo. Do you think that elections alone can solve the problem?

Secretary Albright: I think that what is very important here is to let the people of Kosovo feel that they have a say about their lives. That has been the problem, that [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic did not allow them to have a say in their lives. Local- and municipal-level elections, I think, will give them that sense and will very important in building local institutions. That would be a big step forward. [This was the point of] the discussion we had in Lisbon--when we had the trilateral meeting with the Russians--in which there was agreement that it was important to proceed with the registration for elections. I think it was an important discussion.

Pejic: It has now been a year since NATO [took action]--and Kosovo still remains an area of crisis. Have you had cooperation from both sides as expected, as needed, and what [more] do you need to finish the job?

Albright: Well, first of all it is important that you mention that it has been a year. You know, a lot of things have happened in that year. Some 800,000 refugees were able to return. The [Kosovo Liberation Army] has been disarmed. Institutions have begun to be put into place. Local police training has happened.

A lot of things really have been very important, and I think we all take a great deal of pride in the fact that the international community undertook this process. I think that none of us thought that it was going to be easy and it is not easy, but I think it is something that we have to keep pursuing. I spoke today with [the UN civilian administrator] Bernard Kouchner, who is working very hard, who must have the support of the international community in order to continue his work.

Pejic: He's going to speak to the UN today?

Albright: Yes, he is going to talk to the Security Council informally, and I think that that's very important.

Pejic: But very close to Kosovo, we now have another area of crisis. It is within Serbia. Milosevic sent a couple of hundred of policemen [there], some ethnic Albanians have been expelled, and some ethnic Albanians have begun to make some kind of irregular paramilitary grouping. They have been attacking Serbian police forces. Do you think this could be the next area of crisis?

Albright: Well, I think we are very concerned about it and have really called on both sides to show restraint. When I was in Tirana ten days ago, I talked to some Kosovar leaders.... When I spoke with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Igor] Ivanov just now in Lisbon, we talked about the necessity [to prevent violence and about the need for] the Russians to try to get in touch with the Serbs to [urge them to] show restraint. I think that we want to make sure that there is not any kind of an eruption of greater problems in Presevo Valley, and we think that it is important for there to be great care taken by both parties.

Pejic: Some experts say that actually one of the main goals of ethnic Albanians in the south of Serbia provoke the international community to make additional air strikes.

Albright: Well, they shouldn't miscalculate, because I think that the problem here is that the international community is devoting a great deal of time and energy into helping them, the Kosovars, create a place [in which they can] exercise a high degree of autonomy and self-government. The Kosovars should concentrate on that. That is what the international community's concentrating on....

Pejic: I need to ask you something, Madame Secretary. Can you defeat dictatorship with democracy? Can you defeat violence using democracy as a main approach?

Albright: Well, ultimately you have to remember that most people really want to run their own lives. And what we have seen is that dictatorship may work for a while, but ultimately it is flawed. As you travel around Central and Eastern Europe, a very good [lesson] is that the people ultimately do not put up with it.

I think that what has happened here is that Milosevic wanted to be another Tito. Instead what he is, is another Enver Hoxha, who has basically taken his people, isolated them, and given them a lower standard of living than they ever had. I don't think the Serb people deserve Milosevic. They are good people who want to live a peaceful life and they don't deserve a leader like him.

Pejic: The second area of crisis in Yugoslavia now is Montenegro. How will the United States react if Milosevic decides to attack Montenegro? Some experts say that Milosevic can [move very quickly so] that the West will have no time to react at all.

Albright: Well, let me say that we believe that President Djukanovic is working very hard to [develop] a democratic model, which we would hope would eventually be within a democratic Yugoslavia. He has been working very hard in a very difficult economic situation. We have said many times that the security of the whole region, including Montenegro, is very important to us.

Pejic: [Some observers say that the Montenegrin leadership wants to force a crisis to help them out of their current predicament. As it stands, they cannot leave] Yugoslavia. They cannot secede. They do not get support from the West. They have a divided country. So, they are waiting for Milosevic to act. Do you agree with that?

Albright: No, I don't. I think that what President Djukanovic is trying to do is to carry out this very difficult [project]. He is clearly in a very difficult position, but he is managing it. He does have a great deal of support from people who believe in what he is doing, not only in Montenegro, but also outside.

In discussions that I have with Europeans about the region, we all understand the difficult position that he is in. We consequently try to be as supportive as possible of what he is doing and would like him to continue.

Pejic: You are supposed to meet representatives of the Serbian opposition tomorrow here in Prague. They still cannot reach an agreement about how to proceed with their protests in Belgrade. Can you share with us some of the views you have regarding the opposition?

Albright: We have been telling them that they need to be cooperative and develop more common positions to be able to show the Serb people that they present an alternative choice. It is my understanding that they have been able to come together on [some] kind of a common platform.

I think that it's very important for them to look at lessons from [Central Europe], where dissidents who might have disagreed on some long-term goals or even on some tactics ultimately figured out that it was to their advantage to cooperate and get together to get rid of a dictatorship. That's why we think it is such a good idea for [the Serbian opposition] to have contact with NGOs and other groups. There's always this question about Slav solidarity. There can be a lot of Slav solidarity by learning from some of the Slavs who live here [in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Central Europe].

Pejic: There is a small light in this area called Croatia. You were there twice in the last month in order to support democratic changes, but they need financial support. Are you ready to give them financial support?

Albright: Well, let me say that it is more than a "small light." It is bright. It's strong and it's very exciting. I have been to Croatia twice now in the last month because I wanted to make so clear the support not only of the United States but also of the West [in general] for what they are doing.

And there's also a lesson that six opposition parties were able to get together. They won the parliamentary elections and then they put on really quite a brilliant [presidential] election campaign in terms of its openness and fairness. They put forward [their respective] candidates and were able to really work through two rounds of elections. They have also made a big difference already, I think, in terms of [Croatian policy toward] Bosnia.

What President [Stipe] Mesic and Prime Minister [Ivica] Racan made quite clear was that they want to support the federation [and] the central institutions in Sarajevo, instead of doing what [the late President Franjo] Tudjman did, which was to support separatism by the [Herzegovinian nationalists]. So, that is a big step forward.

Part of what President Mesic said in his inaugural message was that the Serbs should come back [to their former homes in Croatia]. That is a big example of how things ought to be done in this very troubled region.

When I was [in Croatia], I announced that we would be giving additional assistance. We are going to be looking at other ways to help Croatia, and I believe that the Europeans will help also. I think it is a big step forward. Everybody wants to be supportive of democracy and--to answer your original question--democracy ultimately does win out. I am always an optimist, but I always am very realistic about the amount of work that needs to be done. I can see a willingness of the people in this region and in Western Europe to help. We all have to do our share; [this is what we call] burden-sharing.

Pejic: On Wednesday you are traveling to Bosnia. This is my last question. What is purpose of this visit?

Albright: I haven't been there since the Stability Pact meeting last summer. The purpose is to really show support for the central institutions, to press on with their various movements towards democracy, to make sure that the process continues to work. Bosnia has been moving slowly and I want to show again American support for those who want to see a multiethnic Bosnia. That is what I will be doing.

Pejic: Thank you very much.