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Yugoslavia: New Government Tasked With Holding Federation Together

Yugoslavia's newly appointed prime minister, Dragisa Pesic, says his government will work to preserve and strengthen the federation by redefining the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines the government's program and some of the challenges ahead.

Prague, 26 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- One of the key priorities of Yugoslavia's new government is sustaining and fortifying the federation by redefining ties between its two component republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

But relations between Podgorica and the new Yugoslavian prime minister, Dragisa Pesic, are off to a shaky start. Pesic, like his predecessor Zoran Zizic, is a member of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party. The party favors the continued membership of Montenegro within a federal Yugoslavia.

That puts Pesic at odds with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and his pro-independence "Victory for Montenegro" coalition. Djukanovic and his allies want to hold a referendum on Montenegro's independence from Yugoslavia.

Reaction from Podgorica to Pesic's appointment has been quick and critical.

Miodrag Vukovic, a senior official in Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, said Pesic's selection demonstrates that the Yugoslav federation is no longer a reality.

Prominent Montenegrin economist Nebojsa Medojevic said Yugoslav officials have chosen a man who will hold the prime minister's seat until "Yugoslavia is dead for good."

Such criticism from Podgorica is not surprising. Pesic's party had been allied with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic until last autumn, when Milosevic lost an election and was ousted from power.

But the opposition to Milosevic in Montenegro did not anticipate his ouster. Instead, it boycotted Yugoslavia's parliamentary elections last year in protest of Milosevic's rule.

That means the only Montenegrins now in the Yugoslav parliament are either Milosevic allies or those, like Pesic, who switched sides and joined Belgrade's democratic reformers after the fall of Milosevic.

A power-balancing clause in the Yugoslav Constitution requires the federal prime minister to be a Montenegrin if the Yugoslav president is a Serb. Thus, Serbian reformers like Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica are obliged to back a former Milosevic ally as the Yugoslav prime minister or face the prospect of early elections.

Zoran Sami, a deputy in the Yugoslav parliament from Kostunica's Democratic Party of Socialists, defended Pesic's appointment. Sami said the most important aspect of the new government is its unity on the issue of keeping together what remains of federal Yugoslavia.

"This is a government -- and I didn't notice anybody else mentioning this -- which has an essential quality [that was missing in] the previous government. This is a government which brings together all democratic forces of the common state of Serbia and Montenegro that are in favor of continuing a federal Yugoslavia."

Keeping Yugoslavia together is not the only serious challenge facing Pesic. The new prime minister says his main foreign policy goal will be to further reintegrate Yugoslavia into the international community after a decade of isolation under Milosevic. Pesic says he has made Yugoslavia's entry into the European Union his long-term aim.

Pesic promised to respect the Dayton peace accords that brought an end to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. He also said his government would work for the consistent implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which led to the creation of the UN administration in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

"The federal government will make every effort to implement the Dayton peace accords, which has the key importance of strengthening the stability and security in the region. Special care will be given to the consistent implementation of UN Resolution 1244, which guarantees the sovereignty and integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Pesic also said legal cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague would be established. But analysts in Belgrade are balancing that statement against the remarks of Socialist People's Party leader Predrag Bulatovic, who says the party still opposes the extradition of Yugoslav citizens.

Zizic, the previous federal prime minister who also is a member of Pesic's party, resigned in protest over the Serbian government's transfer of Milosevic to the UN tribunal last month. The tribunal has also indicted several former Milosevic allies.

Zoran Arandjelovic, a federal Yugoslav parliament deputy from Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, also criticized Pesic's government program.

"I must say with regret that none of the government's goals is defined clearly in the government program, except by some foggy statements in the prime minister's speech." Other deputies from Milosevic's party allege that the new government includes four ministers from Zizic's previous cabinet who played a role in the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague.