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South Slavic: May 2, 2002

2 May 2002, Volume 4, Number 14


A recent program of RFE/RL Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Milan Paunovic, professor of international public law at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, and Enver Hasani, professor of international law and international relations at the Faculty of Law in Prishtina.

RFE/RL: Mr. Paunovic, is the creation of the new state -- whose name will be Serbia and Montenegro -- going to affect the status of Kosovo, one way or another?

Paunovic: First, I do not think that this will be the creation of a new state, but rather the reorganization of an existing one. In that context, it seems to me that the status of Kosovo and Metohija -- defined by the [UN] Security Council's resolution 1244 -- will not be changed at all. This was emphasized in the agreement in principle on restructuring relations between Serbia and Montenegro.

Hasani: Quite the contrary. I think that the [latest] document has substantially changed the status of Kosovo. The agreement between Serbia and Montenegro represents a very important step, maybe the most important so far, aimed at closing off all the possible ways that could lead to an independent and sovereign Kosovo. I think that in the next couple of months the consequences will become clear.

Paunovic: I really do not understand what makes Mr. Hasani think so, if he has read the agreement... If Montenegro secedes, Serbia will be recognized within its present boundaries... The status of Kosovo does not change whether the commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro survives or Montenegro secedes.

Kosovo was not a topic of the agreement at all. The EU, which insisted on the agreement, sought to strengthen the integration process within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and, at least for the time being, to preserve the status quo in territorial terms. This is in order to prevent further disintegration and the creation of new independent states, which would certainly upset [the balance of international] relations in the Balkans.

Hasani: I still claim that the agreement has substantially changed the status of Kosovo and that it was specifically aimed at eliminating possibilities for Kosovo's independence.

Paunovic: What makes you think so, Mr. Hasani?

Hasani: You know that for almost a century, from the Balkan wars [of 1912-1913] until the fall of Yugoslavia [in 1991], Serbia had no internationally recognized sovereignty over Kosovo. For the first time now, under the auspices of the European Union, Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo has been recognized, regardless of whether Serbia and Montenegro remain united.

The European Union did the exactly same thing that was done in Alma Ata in 1991, when an agreement between former Soviet republics recognized the Russian Federation's [claim to legal] continuity in regard to the Soviet Union.

Paunovic: After the Congress of Berlin [in 1878], Serbia became a subject of international law. Serbia ceased to exist after 1918, when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was created and had sovereignty over Kosovo.

In 1945, Serbia became a federal entity within the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, with all that means in terms of international law. After all, the [international] Badinter commission's report [at the time of the collapse of former Yugoslavia] says that Serbia should remain within its [legal] boundaries. There are no doubts about that.

Hasani: The Badinter commission's report is not the issue. However, you know that according to the commission's recommendation, a special body was created for Kosovo within the two [international] conferences on Yugoslavia. The issue was also a matter of dispute in Rambouillet [at the start of 1999].

According to resolution 1244, the issue of the status of Kosovo should be resolved within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and not in Serbia. What you are claiming now is what Milosevic's lawyers claimed for 10 years.

Paunovic: Believe me, I was not one of Milosevic's lawyers.

Hasani: I did not say you were. All I am saying is that the continuity thesis you are defending is something Milosevic's lawyers used to defend as well.

Paunovic: For me, continuity is a political issue. The agreement on redefining relations between Serbia and Montenegro is a political one. This is the present state of things.

If one day the Security Council modifies resolution 1244 -- and you know that a consensus of all five [permanent] members of the Security Council is required to modify a resolution -- then the situation will be different. Until then, the status of Kosovo is settled.

Hasani: It is not settled because of resolution 1244 but because of the agreement on redefining relations between Serbia and Montenegro. This is what has drastically changed the status of Kosovo, since resolution 1244 was about Yugoslavia, not Serbia.

RFE/RL: Mr. Hasani, in what sense has the status of Kosovo been drastically changed?

Hasani: Without this agreement and in the event of Montenegro's secession, a road towards a definitive solution of Kosovo's status -- which means independence -- would have been open. [Resolution 1244 does not treat Kosovo as part of Serbia.]

But the new agreement has changed that. If Montenegro succeeds, all the rights and obligations stipulated in resolution 1244 will pass to Serbia.

The position of Kosovo was different before the agreement... The status of the region was supposed to be resolved in the future. That is not the case now.

RFE/RL: Mr. Hasani, you think that one of the reasons that the European Union has been insisting on preserving the union of Serbia and Montenegro is to prevent Kosovo's independence. If Montenegro had proclaimed independence, Kosovo's independence would have been hard to prevent.

Hasani: That is right.

Paunovic: I agree with you. That was the European Union's intention.

Hasani: Kosovars cannot believe that the very same international community that helped their fight for their liberation from Serbia is now demanding that Kosovo be returned to Serbia, to which it never legally belonged.

This agreement will only make the entire problem more complicated and finding a solution for the political status of Kosovo more difficult. The people of Kosovo do not differentiate between Milosevic and Serbia, as the international community does...

Paunovic: I am for the processes of integration, not for disintegration and the creation of new states. This is why I support the European Union's and Javier Solana's efforts aimed at preserving the integrity of Yugoslavia.

Hasani: You are actually championing a greater Serbia.

Paunovic: I am not talking from the standpoint of greater Serbia. I am talking about the welfare of Europe, and hence our own welfare.

Hasani: Kosovo and its people cannot possibly be against the welfare of Europe. They have proved that through their peaceful behavior over the past 10 years, when no one else in the region did likewise.

Your point of departure is Serbian national interests, since the region south of the River Drina is the only place where the project of Greater Serbia might succeed to a certain degree, although not in the long run.