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Balkan Report: October 31, 2000

31 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 81

NOTICE TO READERS: The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 24 November.

Kostunica Accepts Guilt... Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told millions of U.S. television viewers on 24 October that he is ready to accept the guilt for those killed in Yugoslavia's four wars during the 1990s. Kostunica said his predecessor Slobodan Milosevic is among those responsible and should eventually be put on trial.

Kostunica's remarks on a popular U.S. television news program (CBS network's "60 Minutes II") mark a significant change in his public declarations about Serbian culpability in the atrocities of the past decade, as well as in his views on whether Milosevic should be brought to justice: "I am ready to accept the guilt for all those people that have been killed. I'm trying to--taking responsibility for what happened on my part for what Milosevic had done."

No other leading Serbian politician has publicly taken responsibility for any of the mass killings since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

An estimated 200,000 people were killed in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. As many as 10,000 people lost their lives in Kosova last year when Serbian forces expelled nearly one million non-Serbian residents.

When asked whether Serbian forces committed genocide in Kosova, Kostunica responded that both sides incurred casualties. That was a reference to the violence used against Serbian police by the insurgent Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in the years prior to NATO's intervention last spring, as well as to the victims of the 78 days of NATO air strikes: "Those are the crimes and the people that have been killed are victims. I must say also there are a lot of crimes on the other side and that Serbs have been killed."

When asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Milosevic is guilty of crimes against humanity, Kostunica responded that Milosevic is "among those responsible."

During last month's election campaign--and even after his victory--Kostunica often told foreign reporters that Milosevic's fate was not a high-priority issue for him. In this television interview, he again said that he has too many other issues to deal with, too many other priorities that must be dealt with first. Nevertheless, when asked whether he thinks Milosevic will ever stand trial, Kostunica responded: "Somewhere, yes."

In a separate interview with Macedonia's Telma television the next day, Kostunica was more forthcoming about the real reason for not detaining Milosevic at present. In his words: "Any attempt to open the issue about the cooperation with the international war tribunal in The Hague in the case of Milosevic will destabilize the situation in Yugoslavia."

Kostunica faces many obstacles to his goal of bringing Yugoslavia back into the European family of nations. Since being sworn into office on 7 October, he has met the heads of government of the 15 EU member states and the leaders of Montenegro and Bosnia. He then met other Balkan leaders and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke in Skopje last Wednesday [25 October]. The week ended with his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Milosevic remains heavily guarded in one of his suburban Belgrade compounds. Since Kostunica has yet to gain full control over the Interior Ministry, he is hardly in a position to seize Milosevic and put him on trial or extradite him.

The night before his inauguration, Kostunica--in a Serbian television interview--dismissed The Hague tribunal as a "tool of U.S. foreign policy." The comment was as much a reflection of his own firmly held belief as it was an indication of the extent to which even "the best and the brightest" in Belgrade suffered from Milosevic's information vacuum during the past decade.

However, it is virtually inevitable that the new leadership in Belgrade will eventually come to the same conclusion as the leadership in neighboring Croatia did over the past three years--that cooperation and integration with the West are only possible if indicted war criminals are brought to justice.

But Kostunica, who came to power as the first democratically elected Yugoslav leader, can hardly ignore the role of public opinion. In a survey conducted last week, the Belgrade weekly "NIN" found that more than half of the 2,000 people questioned said Milosevic should not stand trial for war crimes anywhere. Some 30 percent say he should face charges in Serbia and only 9 percent favor extraditing him to The Hague tribunal. (Jolyon Naegele)

...Or Did He? After the broadcast had been aired and after the Skopje Balkan summit, Kostunica's office issued a statement on 26 October in which it said that the U.S. CBS television network recently took his remarks on Serbian war crimes "out of context."

His statements to the "60 Minutes II" news program were widely hailed as the first admission by a Serbian leader of guilt for atrocities committed by Serbian forces during the conflicts launched by former President Slobodan Milosevic. The statement from Kostunica's office said that CBS had taped some 100 minutes of an interview with him. Of that, the broadcaster used "only a few minutes...and even that was taken completely out of context." Without elaborating, the statement claimed that the excerpt used by CBS contained "a series of untruths and words which President Kostunica did not use. [In view of the wide publicity the CBS program has received in the media, it] could have inflicted much political damage on the president and the forces leading the democratization in Yugoslavia."

AP reported from Belgrade that unnamed Yugoslav officials refused to elaborate on the statement and that Kostunica's chief of staff "was unavailable" for comment.

CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley, who conducted the interview with the president, told the news agency on 26 October that the broadcast was "absolutely fair." Pelley added that he recognizes that Kostunica "is trying to stabilize a government with enemies conspiring all around him. When he took the courageous steps to be frank in our interview, I think he knew that telling the truth was going to cause trouble for him." Kostunica nonetheless "was very evasive, particularly on the question [of whether he will arrest Milosevic]. We had to go back to him again and again and again to get a straight answer," Pelley noted. (Patrick Moore)

A New 'Diplomatic Triangle.' The following is taken from the Prague daily "Lidove noviny's" interview with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, as quoted by CTK on 25 October. "I came to Belgrade to offer President Vojislav Kostunica the widest possible assistance the Czech Republic can offer, beginning with humanitarian aid and ending with economic cooperation. I based my offer on the supposition that it is only correct to provide such aid as Yugoslavia really needs. We know many examples from history when some country forced help on another which it believed the latter needed, and this is incorrect in friendly relations between two countries....

"The Czech Republic is perceived by Western countries as a country knowing the situation in the Balkans relatively well," Kavan says. "It is also well known that the Czech Republic had had good relations with practically all groups in a not quite united Serbian opposition against former President Slobodan Milosevic....

"Yugoslavia respects the Czech Republic...and Czechs are capable of making use of this. The Czech-Greek initiative on [resolving] the situation in Yugoslavia during last year's NATO military operation in Kosovo has also contributed to [our] gaining such a position.... President Kostunica mentioned this initiative--which is considered a controversial issue in the Czech Republic [editor's note: this is something of an understatement. The same daily rated that initiative as one of the government's worst blunders]--as one of the reasons why the Czech Republic is perceived by Yugoslavia as a friend and an ally....

"Kostunica also mentioned the Czech Republic's future cooperation with Greece. A triangle between Yugoslavia, Greece, and the Czech Republic is Kostunica's term.... Representatives of the Serbian Democratic Opposition are Western-orientated, but they also react sensitively to moods of their voters who did not approve of NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and of the subsequent decision to impose sanctions on it.... This is another example when representatives of the Serbian opposition against Milosevic perceived the Czech position as relatively close [to theirs]. They knew that we behaved as a loyal NATO member and have never hampered NATO's unity, but we have also always sought diplomatic solutions that would take their needs into consideration." (Edited by Patrick Moore)

'Conditional Independence' For Kosova? An independent international body has presented a detailed report on Kosova to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The report is surprising in that it recommends a form of limited independence for the province, a view that has generally been anathema to the international community.

The Independent International Commission on Kosovo says "conditional independence" is the best possible option for Kosova's future. In a report submitted to the UN last week, the commission defined conditional independence as expanding the autonomy promised by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 to make Kosova effectively self-governing outside of the Yugoslav federation, but within an international framework. The commission has 12 members and is led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who is also a former chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal.

The report's conclusion differs from existing UN policy on the province. The commission says that Resolution 1244, passed in June 1999, "is reaching the end of its useful life." The resolution recognized Kosova's status as a province of Serbia under NATO-led occupation and UN administration.

But the report says it is unrealistic to expect Kosova to remain part of Serbia because Kosova's Albanian majority would never accept living under Serbian rule (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July, 15 August, and 5 September 2000).

The report says the international community should take the initial responsibility for guaranteeing security and protecting minority rights. Kosova's international guardians, as well as its majority and minority populations, would also have to agree.

Significantly, the report says "the refusal of the Serbian government to engage in dialogue should not constitute a veto on this process." The report was drawn up before the Yugoslav September elections that led to the downfall of Milosevic.

Kosovar Albanian politicians were quick to welcome the highly unusual report. A top aide to Democratic Party of Kosova leader Hashim Thaci, Bardhyl Mahmuti, says: "We welcome every proposal which leads toward independence. This kind of conditionality was used with former Yugoslav republics," most notably with Macedonia.

Mahmuti also welcomes the commission's call for protecting minorities and for the continued presence of international military and police forces in Kosova.

The founder and president of the Forum of Albanian Intellectuals, Rexhep Qosja, was supportive of the report but a bit more skeptical of the concept of "conditional independence." He said: "We still don't know what conditional independence means. But we sure know what independence means."

The president of the parliamentary party, Bajram Kosumi, says it is still much too early for Kosova and its neighbors, including Serbia, to discuss the issue of Kosova's status. Echoing the commission report, he says that such a discussion should take place after general elections and a further stabilization of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2000).

The president of Kosova's Liberal Center Party, Naim Malloku, agrees. He says the recommendations are encouraging because, in his words, "it is important for Kosovars to know that someone is thinking about improving Kosova's position."

The Independent International Commission was formed last year at the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and was endorsed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In addition to Persson, the commission includes Palestinian politician Hanan Ashwari, Russian Ambassador Oleg Grinevskii, Canadian analyst Michael Ignatieff, French political scientist Jacques Rupnik, and British academic Mary Kaldor, among others. Members were not appointed by any governmental or non-governmental organization. The commission's findings are non-binding.

The report notes the U.S. and Yugoslav governments' refusal to cooperate with the commission. The U.S. State Department made support conditional on the commission's restricting its investigation to human rights abuses perpetrated by Yugoslavia. Belgrade said one or more members had an "anti-Serb" bias.

Apart from conditional independence, the report describes four other possibilities for Kosova's future. But the report suggests all these possibilities are flawed.

It says Kosova could remain an international protectorate. Or, it adds, the "de facto" partition of the province could be formalized by letting Serbia annex the largely Serbian-populated territory north of the Ibar River. Kosova could also attain what the commission called "full independence." Lastly, the province could gain autonomy within a democratic Yugoslavia.

The commission says all of the people of Kosova must be given the chance to determine their political future. It notes that Kosovar officials will inevitably call for a referendum on the province's status. The commission adds that calling for a referendum is legitimate and that the UN administration should permit this "as expeditiously as is prudent."

The commission presumes the result of a referendum would be in favor of some form of independence for the province. But it concludes that "full, unlimited and unconditional independence is impossible" because an independent Kosova would lack a key property of statehood--the means to defend itself against external attack. The report says Kosova remains dependent on the NATO-led KFOR military presence on the ground and on NATO air and sea power.

The commission is due to visit Kosova this week to present its findings. The nearly 300-page report also concludes that last year's NATO intervention in Kosova, "far from opening up a new era of humanitarian intervention," teaches instead "a valuable lesson of skepticism and caution."

In the commission's words, "sometimes--and Kosovo is such an instance--the use of military force may become necessary to defend human rights. But the grounds for its use in international law urgently need clarification and the tactics and rules of engagement for its use need to be improved."

The report says the NATO military intervention was illegal because it did not receive prior approval from the UN Security Council, but argues that it was legitimate and justified because all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 July 2000). It also says "the intervention had the effect of liberating the majority population of Kosovo from a long period of oppression under Serbian rule."

The Goldstone report comes just days after the private, multinational Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended that, over the next year, the international community should encourage Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanians to lay the foundations for "reasonable mutual engagement." The ICG mentioned specifically the avoidance of inflammatory rhetoric and actions by both sides. It also advocated the exploration of confidence-building measures and dialogue that will facilitate more serious diplomatic engagement at the proper time.

The ICG said Kostunica, the Kosovar Albanians, and the international community should focus on good faith implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and avoid efforts to prejudge any potential option for a final political settlement of Kosova's status. Needless to say, this falls far short of the Independent International Commission's findings. (Jolyon Naegele)

Welcoming Former Yugoslavs 'Back To Europe.' Ruediger Rossig wrote in Berlin's "taz" on 13 October that it is good that the EU and others are lifting some sanctions against Belgrade, but that very little of this (except for ending the flight ban) will affect the average person. Perhaps a few thousand jobs will be created, he argues, but this means little in a country with the huge unemployment and widespread poverty that Serbia has.

Rossig suggests that many European countries--including Germany--can really make a difference by allowing all citizens of the former Yugoslavia the same visa-free travel they enjoyed before Milosevic's wars began. This affects citizens of Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosova, Serbia, and Montenegro.

He notes that current visa requirements have proven ineffective in stemming a flood of refugees. Instead, all the restrictions have meant is a barrier for former Gastarbeiter seeking to collect their pensions, for young people wanting to see something of the world, or for many individuals wanting to visit friends and relatives among Germany's huge ex-Yugoslav population.

Rossig is a Balkan specialist who has worked for the UN in Bosnia and among the refugees in Berlin and elsewhere. He knows well of what he speaks. (Patrick Moore)

RFE/RL Tops Serbian Crisis Listener Survey. The InterMedia Survey Institute has just published the results of a survey conducted in face-to-face interviews by the Institute of Social Sciences of Belgrade University of radio listening habits of 1,104 persons. The study showed that RFE/RL was the most listened-to broadcaster since August 1999 and especially during the political crisis in the fall of 2000.

The InterMedia report showed that international radio as a whole played a major role in informing the Serbian population during the recent tense period. During the days between 24 September and 3 October, RFE/RL's listenership rating was 37 percent, or nearly double that of the BBC (19 percent) and more than state-run Radio Belgrade's 31 percent.

On 3 October, which was the day before the mass protests began, RFE/RL led the list of listeners with 25 percent, which was nearly double that of the BBC or Deutsche Welle (13 percent each). Some 20 percent of the population tuned in to VOA that day, roughly the same number as listened to private Radio B2-92.

The majority of RFE/RL's listeners were common people of young or working age, including blue collar workers. Some 18 percent of the listeners had a higher education. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "States are absolutely sovereign, and we have to respect their sovereignty--when the state is respectable, when it is respectful of its minorities. When they are killing their own people, they are not respectable." -- UNMIK chief administrator Bernard Kouchner. Quoted in "The Financial Times" of 17 September.

"Only by setting the same high standards for Serbia that have been set for all other post-communist states in Central and Eastern Europe can we ensure that true democracy will take hold. And only by building genuine democracies on the territory of the former Yugoslavia can we guarantee regional stability and prevent a recurrence of the violent aggression of the past decade." -- Former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, chairman of the International commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia. Quoted in "The Washington Post" of 12 October.

"For me, it's enough that [Milosevic] is finished politically. Why should I care about wars he started or how much he destroyed?" -- 20 year--old Belgrade art student Luka, quoted by AP on 24 October.

"In a few months, this will all change and no one in the West will have patience with Serbs extraordinary touchiness regarding war crimes perpetrated by Yugoslav army, Serbian troops, paramilitaries, or criminal gangs. If we are ever to join Europe's family of nations, we have to abide by international norms. And that leads to The Hague." -- Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic.

"So much was destroyed in the criminal NATO air strikes that any kind of assistance is valuable to us. I don't get tired of repeating that the Yugoslav economy decayed because of erroneous management, then it was carefully isolated and ruined via sanctions, and finally it was finished off by the bombs.... Yugoslavia must restore its economy and be able to rely on its own potential as soon as possible." -- Kostunica to Russia's Interfax news agency, on 25 October.

"In the future, the Balkans will appear in a different light: full of diversity, but without confrontation and insecurity." -- Kostunica at the Balkan summit in Skopje. Quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent on 25 October.

"It's time that we start working for the welfare of our region, to work together as good neighbors, instead of waiting for others to do it for us." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Quoted by dpa on 24 October on the eve of the Balkan summit.