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Yugoslavia: Former Minister Blames Serbia's Lack Of Democracy For Kosovo Crisis

By Annie Hillar

Washington, 16 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A former Yugoslav prime minister says the fundamental problem that greatly complicates international efforts to resolve the Kosovo crisis is a lack of democracy in Serbia.

Former Prime Minister Milan Panic made the comment in Washington Thursday during a briefing sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace -- a non-profit organization that promotes the peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

Panic is currently the chief executive officer of ICN Pharmaceuticals, a health care company based in the United States and Moscow. He is also a member of the Alliance for Change, a coalition of Serbian political parties and citizens' groups opposed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Panic said this week's agreement brokered by U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke with Milosevic to end the violence in Kosovo is "a cease-fire" at best. He said there can be no peace in the Balkans without democracy in Serbia, and there can be no democracy in Serbia as long as Milosevic remains in power.

To achieve democracy in Serbia, Panic said it is essential that the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO support the Alliance for Change's call for early elections throughout Yugoslavia.

He says: "Without true democracy and free and fair elections, Serbia will remain economically and politically unstable. Until the Serbian nation is permitted to govern itself in a truly democratic manner, the future of the Dayton accords and the Kosovo agreement will remain dangerously perilous."

Panic said the international community should also speak out against the recent shutdown of three independent newspapers and two independent radio stations by Belgrade in a news media crackdown, because "democracy cannot develop and flourish in the absence of independent media." The government has banned radio stations from carrying BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts as well.

Another speaker at the briefing, Serb Bishop Artimije Radosavljevic, also said the first step toward democracy in Serbia was to free the media. He said the independent media outlets were closed down because they dared to differ from Milosevic's point of view.

But the bishop also criticized the international community's efforts to solve the conflict in Kosovo. He said democracy can't be achieved in any part of the world through sanctions or by threats of air strikes.

He said the crisis in the region is a humanitarian one, and threats from NATO only worsen the situation of people forced to flee their homes during the conflict. Use of force by the international community, he said, does not give those people bread, clothing or their homes back.

Instead, the bishop called for free and democratic elections in not only Kosovo but for all of Serbia, because "without the democratization of Serbia, Yugoslavia and the whole region, there is no solution for Kosovo." He said elections should be held so that all of the people have the opportunity to solve the problems in Yugoslavia.

The Bishop said, "One man cannot solve the destiny of the whole people and the state."