25 July 2002, Volume 4, Number 24
KOSTUNICA: APOLOGIES FOR WAR CRIMES ARE EMPTY PHRASES.
This is an exclusive interview with President Vojislav Kostunica of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. RFE/RL's Radovan Bojovic conducted it in Belgrade on 5 July.
RFE/RL: Mr. Kostunica, this is the first time a president of Yugoslavia has agreed to grant an interview to Radio Free Europe. Your predecessors did not want to talk to us. During the electoral campaign [in 2000], you were quite often a guest on our program, but you were never ready for an interview.
Here we are today, in your office in the Federation Palace. What has changed? Is it because of your presidential duties that you had no time for us before?
Vojislav Kostunica: Time and my duties are the main reason, but, of course, public officials should present themselves to the public. I am nonetheless against [giving] too many statements [to the media]. Very often such statements and interviews are far too frequent and are actually aimed at justifying bad moves, ambiguous statements, and other gaffes that come a couple of days later. [editor's note: Kostunica is taking a jab at some of his rivals, such as Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who frequently gives interviews and makes press statements.]
Of course, as far as Radio Free Europe is concerned, I might also say that this is also my "first interview" with some other media in Belgrade. A few days or weeks ago, I had my first interview with the very important Belgrade television broadcaster Studio B. Less than a year ago, I granted my first interview to TV Politika [of the Politika publishing house, with which Kostunica shares similar views -- editor's note]. This is simply the way I feel about publicity and the media.
RFE/RL: Dismissing the chief of the General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, was seen in the West as a step toward establishing civilian control over the army. But at home, you were criticized for the way the sacking was carried out and especially because of his allegations against your staff [members who allegedly tried to forcibly enter the Serbian government's communications offices in 2001] (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and18 July 2002).
Many people see your advisers as the key figures on the political stage. Have you discussed the matter with your advisers, and have they denied General Pavkovic's allegations?
Kostunica: Let me tell you something about the reasons for removing the Yugoslav Army's top officer. Let me remind you of the explanation I gave when General Pavkovic departed.
We had some important organizational changes within the army: First it was rationalization, then a reorganization aimed at making it smaller, cheaper, more mobile, and better-adapted to international standards, as well as to regional norms.
The changes -- in which the former chief of staff participated as well -- would not have been sufficiently serious without certain changes within the staff as well.
I know full well that Pavkovic made his career by his successful resistance to NATO aggression [in 1999 under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic] and other actions against Albanian terrorists in southern Serbia. Moreover, on 5 October , the army and Pavkovic were on the side of democratic forces in the country [against Milosevic], regardless of why they did so. That is the way it was.
Pavkovic participated in, supported, and helped carry out, all these organizational changes. That would be a good way to finish a career, bearing in mind that the soldier had, if I may say so, one foot in Slobodan Milosevic's regime and another in the democratic order that was later established. Continuity was needed at that particular moment, and we obtained it [by keeping him on after 5 October]....
I announced [my intention to make] the change at the top last December, and the time came for it recently. It was discussed [with other top officials] twice. Basically, the talks were consultative since I am the one who makes decisions about generals' careers.
The Supreme Defense Council twice discussed the change at the top of the General Staff. During the first talks on 28 March and 1 April, the attitudes of two other members of the Supreme Defense Council were different [from mine].
The last time we met, the circumstances had changed. This time Serbian President [Milan Milutinovic] abstained from voting, but he was not against [sacking Pavkovic]. [Montenegrin] President [Milo] Djukanovic was not against it.
I received the opinion of those members of the Supreme Defense Council, and neither of them was against the change. It was a question of time. I decided that the decision should be made, and that is how I made it.
RFE/RL: General Pavkovic has accused your staff of many different things. Could those allegations be true, and have you discussed it with your advisers?
Kostunica: General Pavkovic is not the only one who has made allegations about the allegedly shadowy role of my staff and advisers. Those things have been publicly said many times before -- and they were denied. The problem with General Pavkovic is that he made [his charges in] public after leaving office, instead of before....
[Most of the other charges were made by my political rivals in conjunction with the efforts to sack some of my Democratic Party of Serbia's (DSS) deputies in the parliament....]
RFE/RL: The federal parliament is about to create an investigating committee that is supposed to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Pavkovic's allegations. Are you going to appear before the committee? [editor's note: the Serbian parliament formed such a commission on 19 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 July 2002)].
Kostunica: It is known that the DSS deputies wanted an investigating committee to be formed, one that would investigate many things.... [These include the deliberate leaking of secrets and the contents of private conversations, as well as links between government and the world of crime and corruption]. [editor's note: these are again digs at Djindjic.]
RFE/RL: General Pavkovic has mentioned the issue of the personnel appointments that followed his dismissal. He mentioned the name of Mr. [Aco] Tomic, claiming that he does not have the required educational level [to head military intelligence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002)]. Is your staff preparing some changes to deal with such matters?
Kostunica: My staff does not decide about that, nor does the military staff. Those issues must be dealt with in an appropriate way, with full respect for existing rules and regulations. Let me repeat once again that many of the things that came from the mouth of the former chief of the General Staff and became public were not mentioned by Pavkovic while he was in office....
[I inherited many problems from the Milosevic era and cannot solve them all overnight.]
RFE/RL: The writing of the Constitutional Charter [for the new loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro] is supposed to be finished soon. The European Union wants to have these relations defined as soon as possible. Podgorica keeps saying that you seek Serbian hegemony over Montenegro.
Kostunica: That is not a correct explanation. President Milo Djukanovic and most other people -- except for some extremists -- have moderated their views.... Things have totally changed [since the agreement was reached in March], and I find it all very, very positive.... [We still disagree as to whether members of the joint parliament should be elected, as Belgrade and the Montenegrin opposition wants, or appointed, as the Montenegrin leadership wants. But we can work this out.]
RFE/RL: Do you intend to run for president of Serbia? If you do, will you first resign the post of president of Yugoslavia, in conformity with unwritten parliamentary rules?
Kostunica: As far as the upcoming presidential election is concerned, let me first remind you about all the reservations I have about it. Let me also remind you about what I have said several times, namely that the writing of the Constitutional Charter should be speeded up in order to bring the constitutions of Serbia and Montenegro into line with the Constitutional Charter.
After that, Serbia should hold both general and presidential elections according to the provisions of the new constitution. But if we have the presidential election first -- in the autumn, and according to the old Milosevic constitution -- we could have a president...who would be a sort of Milosevic successor. [We would then have to repeat the whole costly process once the charter is ready....] I have warned repeatedly against this wasteful idea and will continue to do so.
As far as my candidacy is concerned, there is nothing standing in its way. Being president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not incompatible with running for president of Serbia.
Good parliamentary rules absolutely do not oblige one to resign from the one position to run for the other. [A French president can seek more than one term, and a U.S. president can run for a second term if he wishes....]