BELGRADE -- On the heels of her election as Serbia's parliament speaker, Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic is shedding light on the Socialist Party's decision to join the pro-EU government coalition headed by President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party.
Djukic-Dejanovic, a longtime member of the Socialist Party with close ties to its founder, the late Slobodan Milosevic, says the past "should be left to historians to deal with" and that The Hague is a reality Serbia has to accept.
She spoke with Ljudmila Cvetkovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.
RFE/RL: How it is to be back in power after eight years in opposition?
Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic: After a long time in power, we spent eight years in opposition. Both experiences provided us with a valuable sense of responsibility and gave us the opportunity to evolve as a political party.
RFE/RL: Once the government was in place, attention shifted to the political agreement signed between the Socialist Party and Boris Tadic's Democrats that included a controversial statement about "overcoming the past" and focusing on the future. Is it possible to overcome the past without coming to terms with it?
Djukic-Dejanovic: We live in a time that can truly be considered historic. The most important global political players in 1996 saw Slobodan Milosevic as the key to stability in the Balkans, while only a few years later he came to be seen as the cause of the greatest evil. That is why I think that the past should be left to historians to deal with, and I support the agreement between the Socialists and the Democratic Party as a model of reconciliation so that we can function in the present and in the future.
Because of the controversies, dilemmas, because of different positions taken up in the past, we often jeopardize the present and get tangled up with issues which should be decided by science, historical science. The model of reconciliation between our two parties should open the door of reconciliation in Serbia and in the wider region.
'Each Crime Has To Be Punished'
RFE/RL: If the past is not being dealt with, why was the agreement needed?
Djukic-Dejanovic: Both parties have a very clear position when it comes to crimes committed in the past. Each crime has to be punished, each person who committed a crime has to be named, and it has to be done by the appropriate legal institutions -- and history has to provide us with answers. Nobody is supporting impunity, nobody is asking for the political justification of crimes, but they have to be investigated by the proper institutions, with due respect for international and national law. That should be our way of facing the past. Divisions arising from the past that keep the wounds of the past open have become a burden, and people are sick of that.
RFE/RL: Marking the anniversary of Srebrenica on July 11, President Tadic said that the victims of Srebrenica are a reminder that all suspected war criminals should end up in The Hague. Is this view shared by the Socialist Party?
Djukic-Dejanovic: International law must be respected, and Serbian law must be respected. We have a law on The Hague tribunal, and it does not matter who was against it and who opposed that law when it was introduced. Not only do we have to respect the law, but we have to encourage law enforcement even when we disagree with some provisions of that law. Whoever committed a crime has to be sentenced.
RFE/RL: Is this not a change in the policy of the Socialist Party?
Djukic-Dejanovic: The Hague is part of the reality we have to deal with and we have obligations as a state, and it is hard to imagine a politician who would deny that. As long as The Hague tribunal exists as an institution we have to respond as a state and we have to make it clear that when justice is not equally extended to all, this antagonizes public opinion and should antagonize politicians as well.
We cannot say that it is right, for example, that [Serbian nationalist leader] Vojislav Seselj -- who is a political opponent of the Socialist Party, by the way -- has to wait five years to get his trial. We also cannot approve of the release of [Bosnian Muslim wartime commander] Naser Oric and [former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Ramush] Haradinaj -- and we have to react as a state.
We, as the Socialist Party, insisted in the past that very often The Hague tribunal was a political court designed to sentence Serbs above all. But The Hague tribunal is a reality that Serbia, as a state, has to accept.
'Mladic Is Not In Serbia'
RFE/RL: Does this mean that the leader of your party, Ivica Dacic, who is now interior minister, will not have a problem extraditing the most-wanted war criminal, Ratko Mladic?
Djukic-Dejanovic: I believe that it is clear to everyone that Ratko Mladic is not in Serbia, as he would have been extradited long ago. I am sure that the minister of the interior will perform his duties according to the law.
RFE/RL: Are you are suggesting that if Ratko Mladic were in Serbia he would be detained and extradited to The Hague?
Djukic-Dejanovic: I am sure that Mladic is not in Serbia. He would have been extradited a long time ago were he in Serbia.
RFE/RL: How do you explain the fact that among the priorities of this government, cooperation with The Hague tribunal is not mentioned as a specific task? It is referred to only as a provisional obligation concerning respect for international law. Even the former government, headed by Vojislav Kostunica, listed cooperation with The Hague as a priority.
Djukic-Dejanovic: When the priorities of this government were defined, the partners in this coalition were focused on issues that will bring a better life to citizens of Serbia. Some issues that are painful, yet always important for us, are not priorities. You must agree that economic development and a higher living standard are priorities. Government as the executive political body is obliged to create priorities, having in mind the needs of the majority of people: education; unemployment; pensions; EU integration, as Serbia belongs to Europe; fighting crime. Those are priorities.
RFE/RL: It is precisely because of European integration that cooperation with The Hague should be a priority, as it is a requirement for the further progress of Serbia's EU integration. How can it not be a priority for the Serbian government?
Djukic-Dejanovic: I believe that even the strictest critics of Serbian policy have assessed that Serbia did its best in cooperating with The Hague tribunal. Putting The Hague first may be an expression of a need to ask ourselves how many wounds are left for us to heal and how much we are wounded by some injustices having to do with The Hague tribunal, but even the kids know that The Hague cannot be avoided.
'A Party Must Have Its Own Life'
RFE/RL: The decision of the Socialist Party to form a government with the Democrats was welcomed in Brussels and Washington. The talk of the town was that the Socialist Party might join the Socialist International. But the German Social Democratic Party and some other regional parties sent a clear message that Serbian Socialists have to make up their mind about war crimes and the role of the party founder, Slobodan Milosevic, before joining.
Djukic-Dejanovic: On several occasions we made it clear that war crimes have to be punished and that each crime has to be personalized. The congress of the Socialist Party of Serbia defined the role of Milosevic and concluded that the orientation of our party must be social democracy. Regardless of the expectations of others, our party must follow modern political ideas, for the sake of our nation and for its own sake. A party must have its own life, no matter who established it or in which circumstances it was established.
RFE/RL: Slobodan Milosevic was the leader of your party and the leader of Serbia in the early 1990s. He was indicted by The Hague tribunal. Why do you think that the Socialist Party is not obliged to evaluate his role?
Djukic-Dejanovic: It was said in 1996 that Milosevic was important for stability and peace in the Balkans. That assessment was made by people who supported his indictment for war crimes only a few years later. The praise for Milosevic and the accusation for war crimes came from the same sources, so you cannot expect his own party to judge him in an objective manner. It is too early to judge him, and it wouldn't do any good to Serbia and its current political scene.
Serbia is divided. Half of the people would describe the first democratic prime minister, [the late Zoran] Djindjic, with very offensive language, and you still have some people who praise Milosevic. The electorate is divided on these issues and we as politicians have to be wary of that, accepting that all these assessments are ultimately subjective. When the politicians who are deciding strategies for the Balkans and Europe express such diametrically opposed opinions on Milosevic in such a short time frame, how can we as a Socialist Party provide answers? However, we did it during our last congress. Milosevic is a founder of our party and we respect him as the founder, but as a party we have to have a modern approach to politics and we have to be in accord with the reality we live in.
RFE/RL: One of the first documents to be discussed by the new parliament is a declaration on Kosovo. Is a new policy in place or is it just new rhetoric on Kosovo?
Djukic-Dejanovic: We believe that the Kosovo issue and our position on the sovereignty and integrity of Serbia as a country is beyond discussion, and we will continue not only to repeat our statements but to stand for the fulfillment of those principles. But we will not treat Kosovo as an issue that comes ahead of all others, as it will not improve the life of our nations.