1 August 2002, Volume 4, Number 25
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: How do you see the future of Kosovo?
Kostunica: We must continue to try to implement [Security Council] Resolution 1244 for a long time to come. So little has been done in the past three years [since the end of the conflict].
Let me say that one part of the resolution has been undoubtedly implemented -- thanks to the efforts, sacrifice, and even risks taken by the Serbs and [other] non-Albanians of Kosovo, who decided to take part in the general election on 17 November of last year. Thanks to their participation, the institutions of Kosovo and Metohija were created [editor's note: Many Serbs prefer "Metohija," from a Byzantine Greek term for monastic estates, to describe western Kosova and thereby underscore its historic links to Serbia through former land ownership by Serbian Orthodox monasteries there].
This autumn, another election is expected to take place, this time probably with the participation of the Serbs and Serbian parties [editor's note: He is referring to the local elections slated for 26 October]. I say "probably" because one should wait and see how things develop there.
Institutions have been created, both the institutions of Kosovo and some local institutions. They, of course, have a temporary character, the way it was foreseen and set down in the Resolution 1244. [editor's note: He is stating the Serbian position that because the resolution refers to the province as part of Yugoslavia, it will some day return to that status in deed as well as name.]
However, as far as human rights are concerned, things are very bad. The rights of the Serbs and non-Albanians are threatened. It is well-known how, in spite of everything, there is no security there.
For me, the only way out is through cooperation with the representatives of the international community, namely UNMIK. The attitude of our authorities there and our people [toward UNMIK] must be constructive.
One should not seek confrontation but point out how much remains to be done in Kosovo. One must also point out the simple fact that the real situation in regard to human rights in Kosovo has been distorted by the media and the politicians.
One must also warn against seeking to determine the final status of Kosovo before these problems have been solved. If we go on as we have, then instead of the final status of Kosovo, we will have a final solution -- an ethnically pure Kosovo.
RFE/RL: You are going to attend a regional summit in Sarajevo, together with the president of Croatia and the members of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina [editor's note: This summit has since taken place. See "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 July 2002]. Is there a readiness on the part of the political leaders of Bosnia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia to determine responsibility for a decade of nationalism for the sake of the future, and to make a symbolic gesture of offering apologies in order to put things on a new footing? Are you ready to make such a gesture?
Kostunica: I find the meeting in Sarajevo very important and was a supporter of the idea from the very beginning. The idea was to have the representatives of Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina come together in order to discuss questions such as refugees, property issues, and normal cooperation between the three states, with absolute respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is particularly important for Bosnia-Herzegovina and has already been noted in a series of bilateral meetings.
I met several times with Croatian President Mesic.... After our talks we issued declarations about issues affecting minorities -- both the Croatian minority in Yugoslavia as well as the Serbian and Montenegrin minorities in Croatia -- including their rights, property questions, refugee returns, etc.
I had many meetings with the representatives of the government in Sarajevo. There is a body called the Interstate Council for Cooperation Between Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is responsible for cooperation. There were contacts with the members of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, both in Belgrade and Sarajevo. It has all been very positive.
This time the heads of all three states are present. Economic cooperation has already started. As far as Bosnia-Herzegovina is concerned, many people have gone home under increasingly better circumstances, and that is all positive. One should not expect more.
More than that would just be empty phrases. It cannot resolve anything and would just be theatrics. I am talking about a formal apology for crimes committed. All sides committed crimes; it was a difficult war. Responsibility is shared by all sides, and Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia are the three sides.
Let me also mention the fourth side, the international community, which is also responsible. In a way it is even more responsible, since its power was greater than that of any authority in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Zagreb at the time.
We should make cooperation between the three states normal and stable. We should seek to have the frontiers between them open, to promote free trade, and to have all obstacles to the flow of goods and people removed. That will change things, albeit slowly.
Finally, since we are talking about attitudes, some meetings and efforts regarding culture, sport, etc., have a broader influence than some declarations by heads of states....
RFE/RL: Certain circles reproach you for being conservative and a moderate nationalist. How do you regard those statements?
Kostunica: I care a lot about what I am, about my Serbian nationality, but I would never allow it to harm or offend in any possible way any member of some other nation. In a similar fashion, I totally understand and admire such feelings among people belonging to other nations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Finally, I must say that I prefer a community with the diversity that we have to a homogeneous one. I think that what creates problems and inspires critics are people who actually renounce their own national identity -- although this is perfectly acceptable, if somewhat unusual.
I can perfectly understand that some people declare themselves to be Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Hungarians, or Albanians...while some feel themselves to be citizens of the world. I do not understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, since that world or the world community does not exist in a tangible form. However, such a view is absolutely legitimate for me. Everyone is free to determine his own identity.