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South Slavic: February 21, 2002

21 February 2002, Volume 4, Number 7

The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 7 March 2002.


Interview with Belgrade journalist Petar Lukovic by Milica Lucic-Cavic and Jugoslav Cosic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: Our guest is Petar Lukovic, a well-known journalist. But, instead of introducing him -- Petar, for whom do you write?

Lukovic: Well, I write all the time. I am a columnist and Belgrade correspondent of "Feral Tribune." I write for the Belgrade edition of "Reporter" and I periodically work for other papers.

RFE/RL: In late January, the [Alija] Delimustafic affair hit Serbian political life like a bombshell (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 January 2002). What do you think of it? To what extent do you find it important for the future of the [governing] DOS [coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia]? Do you think it could lead to new divisions? Or is it just another example of the divisions that have been present since the DOS came to power over one year ago?

Lukovic: Yes, this is just more of the same. It is just another great excuse for us to have fun thinking about who is actually behind some people [in power]. Who are their advisers? Who are the family friends on both sides?

I actually find Delimustafic the least important of all those involved. If it were not Delimustafic, there would be someone else [at the center of a political imbroglio].

This is obviously the very beginning of the electoral campaign, and a serious one. And it is being done the American way, based on the principle of negative campaigning....

We actually don't know the most important things: how Delimustafic came to Serbia in the first place, what he was doing, with whom he associated, what were their ideas.... The only thing we do have is accusations from both sides that the other was in cahoots with an alleged criminal.

RFE/RL: There is a theory that sounds naive to me, namely that those in power are actually cooking these things up in order to make us forget how expensive electricity has become, how hard our lives are...simply to let us have some fun.

Lukovic: I have never liked conspiracy theories.... But there are many real problems in this country.

We often discuss things that will soon be forgotten, since other things will be on the agenda in a month or so. For instance, we have been writing about the relations between Serbia and Montenegro for the last five or six months, and I really doubt there is one single living reader left willing to read about a new meeting of an expert group....

It has became so boring, so senselessly boring. It seems to me that all these issues that we have been discussing all these months...I have simply forgotten what they were all about.

There must be a reason for that, so you must be right. This game...could well be used to distract us from discussing more important things.

RFE/RL: Let us imagine that you are the federal [Yugoslav] president's adviser. What would be your very first advice for him, and what would be your first advice for Mr. [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic?

Lukovic: There are many important issues. However, I have one for both of them. The Council of Europe met [recently] in Salzburg, and our admission was postponed until the end of the year, probably until the end of next year. It means that we and Belarus will remain the only European countries that have not yet become members of the Council of Europe.

Buy a newspaper and you will realize that the news has not been published anywhere, or that it is veiled in the most bizarre way, buried among other reports.... That news was given 1,000 times less significance than "Delija," "Mustafic," and "Delimustafic" together. I was forced to search the Internet in order to find out what this country was criticized for. And we were criticized for not having an information law, for having a problematic law about minorities, for the open spreading of hatred, for the lack of a coherent basis for the legal system, for the situation in the DOS, for the atmosphere in this country, for the trials against journalists, for some violations of basic human rights, for the lack of civilian control over the police and army, for the fact that the same army leadership has remained in power [since the days of Slobodan Milosevic], etc.

RFE/RL: Judging by the amount of time and energy put into it, the number of meetings, and the obsessive media stories, the issue of relations between Montenegro and Serbia has become similar to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, especially when one compares the amount of time spent in discussing it and the results achieved so far. What is your feeling? Does this problem have a solution, or do you see this as another distraction?

Lukovic: Both of those ideas are valid. But the point is that a solution exists. It is absolutely clear, even to those who refuse to admit it, that Montenegro will eventually separate from Serbia of its own free will.... It has become like a marriage where two people keep tormenting each other, and they still live together, although both of them realize that there is something very wrong.

RFE/RL: I have the impression that after a period of tranquility that started on 5 October [2000 and the fall of Milosevic] -- in which there were no important nationalist incidents and no spreading of hatred or words of intolerance -- we are starting up again.

At the same time, nobody here faces up to the things that happened during the last decade in the name of the Serbian people -- I am talking about crimes. Nobody thinks about [Serbia's] responsibility -- except for a minority....

Lukovic: That is the most important issue for me. Our attitude toward the past, toward the things that were done in the name of Serbia, in the name of the Serbian people -- that is the most important issue....

No [economic or political change] -- to say nothing of sideshows like the Delimustafic case -- can help until we get some basics out of the way. War criminals live peacefully in this country, free, if nothing had happened. For many of those wanted in Bosnia, Serbia has become a safe haven. There is much talk about cooperating with The Hague-based tribunal as if that were something new or as if we had a choice, but nothing is done in any event.