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South Slavic: September 6, 2001


6 September 2001, Volume 3, Number 31

AN INTERVIEW WITH SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER DJINDJIC.

Part II. Part I appeared on 30 August.

Interview with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, by Natasa Odalovic. This was originally broadcast on 17 August.

RFE/RL: Talking about sincerity and trust, were you the first to contact Mr. Kostunica or did he contact you first? Did you talk to each other after you returned from the U.S.?

Djindjic: Well, I did not contact him. This is actually my second day in Belgrade. I was told that Mr. Kostunica is on vacation. I expect him to return in a couple of days, and then we should have a meeting....

RFE/RL: The most disturbing thing [among the latest developments in the Momir Gavrilovic murder case] seems to be the police questioning of Veselin Simonovic. The point is that it took place after the interior minister's promise that it would not happen. What do you make of it?

Djindjic: I think that judicial and executive bodies are doing their jobs and that the interior minister should not interfere. I would rather not get involved.

I find it logical for an investigation of a murder -- which is the most serious of crimes -- that all those involved are summoned, whether they know something regarding the case or they know another person who does know something about it.

RFE/RL: Yes, but none of those who know the most about it -- like, for instance, Mr. Kostunica and people from his office -- have been summoned for a police questioning. Instead, the only one summoned is a journalist.

Djindjic: Well, actually, he is not just a journalist. He is also a man who publicly claims he was given information. As far as I know, he is also said to be ready to help during the investigation, if needed.

One should not find this so tragic. What is actually tragic is that a man was murdered. Another tragic thing is that a political case has been made of it. All those involved -- whether professionally as editors of newspapers that published the information, or others who claim to have relevant information -- should contact the investigating officers in order to explain their role in the case.

I do not understand why one should play up the fact that a journalist, and not a postman or a member of somebody's staff, was summoned by the police. If someone knows something about a crime, he should share the information with the investigating team.

RFE/RL: Could this end up as a sort of a Serbian Watergate, and who do you think could be blamed for the affair?

Djindjic: There are two or three elements to this affair. One of them is the murder case, and hopefully it will soon be resolved. That might also explain some other things concerning the involvement of some other people in other murders, which, unfortunately, have taken place in our country, even since the democratic changes.

The second element is the accusation that some government people are involved [in one or more murders].

The third element is something that has just become public about some unauthorized talks concerning recruiting for the State Security Service, about some deals aimed at allowing very important things regarding the stability of the state to be discussed outside of legal institutions.

There is also an attempted creation of a parallel network ... dealing with the most sensitive aspect of state power, state security.... How is it that people from some institutes for social studies -- or whatever they are called -- are recruiting for the State Security Service? How come individuals with no authority whatsoever in an official state body are involved in such a delicate matter as the appointment of the director of the State Security Service, or a deputy...

And, finally, I find it very important that the stigma be removed from the government. It must be made clear, once and for all, whether the government is corrupt and involved in crime or not. Let anyone who knows anything about this share the information. But if no one knows anything [for sure] about it, this campaign should stop.

RFE/RL: Let me just ask you to comment on the latest developments regarding the cigarette smuggling affair [linking you and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to a huge cigarette-smuggling racket (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 15 August 2001)].

Djindjic: Well, there is nothing new about it. The newspaper that wrote about it is technically German [editor's note: he means the "Financial Times Deutschland"] but the author is from Zagreb. The name of the author -- which is somebody from our region -- indicates a clear connection between the German newspaper and the writing of the [Zagreb] weekly "Nacional" [which first broke the controversial story some time ago].

Everything that could possibly compromise Belgrade's present policy was put in that article, with a clear message to European countries: Drop your positive attitude towards Belgrade's reforms....

I find this totally absurd. Let me repeat once again: I have never been offered and I have never been given money from any of the sources or any of the people mentioned in those articles. I have never had any sort of relationship with them. I do not even know most of them -- who claim to have helped the opposition in Belgrade. I never heard of them until that article appeared....

RFE/RL: One affair follows another. Your name is involved in all of them, and since there are so many of them, they are obviously aimed at hindering your efforts in this quite difficult job you are doing. According to one school of thought, these affairs were not all cooked up locally, but some people from abroad are involved, too. Do you share that view?

Djindjic: There certainly are some circles within that illegal business trade [of cigarette smuggling] for whom Serbia was an El Dorado for a long time. They have obviously remained in the region, and the introduction of the rule of law in Serbia does not suit their interests.

The whole affair over the cigarette business and the [alleged] "tobacco mafia" started when the government of Serbia launched the idea of stopping the smuggling of cigarettes by producing our own. This is when the campaign started. It seems to be a very well-financed campaign.

But that is understandable. Many are going to lose their easily made money, since smuggling will no longer be possible in Serbia.

My name is naturally connected with the work of the government of Serbia. This government is a source of change in Serbia. If the government were hamstrung, things would function like they used to. Those interested in keeping the old regime going could then return.

I find it natural that I am a sort of a lightning rod [for our opponents]. I was aware that, by taking this job ... I would be even more exposed to lies and unjustified attacks than under Milosevic's rule, when I was not able to carry out most of my ideas.

The only thing I expect now is the solidarity of those working with me. I hope this era will be remembered as a time of progress in Serbia, not as one of Serbia's regression.

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