Prague, 15 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic is calling on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- an indicted war criminal -- to appear in The Hague and try to prove his innocence before the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Djindjic heads Serbia's Democratic Party, the main force in the Alliance for Change, which is organizing anti-government demonstrations across the country. The party is also mounting a petition drive, with more than 150,000 signatures so far, demanding that Milosevic resign.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Djindjic spoke about what he considers to be Milosevic's prospects for the future:
"I am certain that (Milosevic) will resign because he has no other option. For him it would be best if he goes to The Hague voluntarily and tries to explain himself."
Djindjic says that -- because the whole world will be watching -- anything less than a fair trial would be counterproductive. He noted that since the court is subordinate to the United Nations, there is a certain guarantee of the tribunal's impartiality.
He says it is clear what the cure should be for Serbia's ills, but he warns that Yugoslavia's other populist, erstwhile opposition leader Vuk Draskovic -- who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement -- should refrain from striking any deal with Milosevic:
"As long as Milosevic remains in power, reforms are impossible. Draskovic said yesterday it is possible to stop Milosevic and change some of his aides. If Draskovic changes his mind, no one will have anything against his being in the opposition."
Until now, Draskovic has kept his party out of opposition demonstrations and the petition drive. However, Draskovic has announced he will join the protests with a rally on Saturday in the former auto-manufacturing town of Kragujevac, an opposition stronghold.
As Djindjic sees it, Draskovic is unable to decide whether to resign or whether he should try to reform the existing system by helping Milosevic.
The independent, Belgrade-based Beta news agency said today that opposition leaders are discussing what Beta terms a "non-aggression treaty," setting rules of conduct during public appearances and in election campaigns. The agreement makes no attempt to establish closer ties between the opposition parties, but rather it obliges the signatories to maintain the appearance of mutual respect and refrain from public backbiting.
Djindjic says that what is important now is the unity of the Serbian nation for a common goal -- Milosevic's removal from office. Djindjic blames Milosevic and his allies for a litany of problems that have brought Yugoslavia to collapse:
"The government for the last 10 years has failed to take advantage of this country's potential and the opportunities that arose when the communist bloc collapsed. Until then, Yugoslavia had been well ahead of the bloc. Instead of economic development and speedy reforms to bring us into Europe, they set in motion a course of confrontation and clashes. The current politicians are a rigid system sprouting from the old communist system, with negative selection, with people who are not qualified, who are corrupt. Above all, this is a repressive, manipulative bureaucracy. The result is a pathetic sight. Today, it is the most isolated country in Europe, a country with a destroyed economy, a country with conflicts on all sides, a country without any prospects for whatever it has left."
But Djindjic says the way forward is to look back to the period just before Milosevic led the former Yugoslavia down the path of destruction.
"We want to return to the path we were on 10 years ago, proceed with reforms with the goal of eventually joining the European Union, establishing the same conditions as exist in all EU member states. That means the rule of law and all civic, human, and minority rights. That means a good economy. That means cooperating with neighbors and peaceful co-existence in the region."
Although he voices democratic ideals, Djindjic retains more than a tinge of Serbian nationalism, particularly when it comes to Kosovo.
"At present, the most serious thing is the physical security of the Serbs in Kosovo. They are the ones who are most threatened. We demand a special status for the Serbs in Kosovo. A year ago, the international community demanded a special status for Albanians in Serbia. Now, the Serbs in Kosovo are a highly endangered minority and now normal mechanisms are needed for their protection. At the same time, we also demand that Serbia democratize itself, that the Serbian government enjoys the trust of the Albanian population in Kosovo and of the international community. And thirdly, the long-term outlook is the economic development of the region, the development of political relations with the neighboring countries where the borders would be less important."
Djindjic expresses some frustration with Russia's foreign policy toward Belgrade, saying it gives the appearance of supporting Milosevic. He called on the Russian Foreign Ministry to come out clearly and officially in favor of the opposition's renewal of authority in Serbia.
In Djindjic's words, there are no grounds today for the Serbian government to be under the impression that it is being supported by Russia. Similarly, he says Russia should have no fear of having contact with the Serbian opposition.