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South Slavic: September 5, 2002

5 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 30


Part II.

An Interview with Zoran Djindjic, prime minister of Serbia, with Branka Mihajlovic in Prague on 4 August 2002.

RFE/RL: The public in Serbia would like to know what would happen if Vojislav Kostunica were elected president of Serbia and you were prime minister, since you have recently said that you do not communicate with Mr. Kostunica.

Zoran Djindjic: In my job I do not have to communicate with the president of Yugoslavia very much. The fact that we communicated before was part of our normal cooperation within the [governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition] DOS....

On the other hand, the events that took place recently [the so-called "Pavkovic affair"] made me doubt the goodwill of many people around Mr. Kostunica. I told Kostunica that as long as the man he appointed to head the military intelligence remains in office, I cannot cooperate with him. His intelligence chief did many things that offended the government of Serbia that I head, but Kostunica refuses to sack him. This is why our relations became so strained.

But I see no obstacles to our cooperating if Kostunica is elected, since that would not necessarily involve cooperation on a daily basis.

The president nonetheless has two or three important duties. One of them is to sign laws and put them into force. [If he does not do so,] the parliament might be forced to vote again, which would lead to more public discussion about the law [in question].

The president can also propose to the government that it dismiss the parliament and call early elections.... The president can also proclaim a state of emergency after giving his reasons, but the decision is not his alone.

I hope we will never face such a situation. Situations that need that sort of cooperation are quite rare. In other circumstances, all we need is a business-like relationship. This is what we have today.

RFE/RL: You have just returned from an interesting meeting of Balkan prime ministers.

Djindjic: We agreed on several things. We agreed to make a study and conclude a report by the end of the year about the compatibility of our legal systems. We want to harmonize the differences to make it easier for people to study, travel, or do business without making major adjustments in dealing with laws, customs, and taxes when going from one country to another.

We are also going to found a political academy or a center for training managers in public services, again with an eye toward compatibility.

We agreed to solve the problem of organized crime, [especially] cigarette and drug smuggling. We intend to make things difficult for smugglers and standardize punishments so that smuggling is no longer a risky business in most places but not in Serbia....

The Bulgarian prime minister will visit Belgrade in September, and the Romanian premier in September or October. By then we hope to make an analysis of our mutual trade to try to understand why our trade with the EU is growing faster than does our bilateral trade with our neighbors. We want to find out why trade that was once dynamic in the 1990s has now fallen off....

RFE/RL: One of your statements has provoked strong reactions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. You said that there are two big Balkan problems: Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. People in Sarajevo interpreted it as though you were questioning the legitimacy of that state.

Djindjic: What I said is that there are two protectorates with foreign troops. I also said that this is the only region with so many foreign troops, which is a real problem.

Perhaps the problem is that I describe reality the way it is. I do not close my eyes to it and claim that everything is just great.

RFE/RL: Do you consider the status of Bosnia-Herzegovina an open issue?

Djindjic: I think that there is a protectorate in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If a foreigner can change the constitution or authorize someone to write a constitution, if he can confirm an elected president or prevent him from taking office, then that is a protectorate. As long as there is a protectorate, there will be open issues.

RFE/RL: I am asking you whether you consider the status of Bosnia-Herzegovina open like that of Kosovo.

Djindjic: I am not sure that the status of Kosovo is open in the same sense as that of Bosnia....

We in Belgrade do not intend to raise the question of the status of either place. But since we live in the region, we do have the right to call attention to problems since something might happen there and make us involved.

I was in London and after talking to [Prime Minister Tony] Blair for half an hour, I told him that I had never raised the issue of British troops in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I asked him whether he was aware that he had troops there. He said yes. I asked him how long they are supposed to stay there, and why not discuss it.

It is as though there is a seriously sick man in a family, and everybody avoids talking about it. Let us talk about it. Do the EU and U.S. plan to keep their troops there for another hundred years? If that is the plan, let us discuss it. It is much better to have a plan than not....

I do not think that state borders should be changed anywhere in the Balkans. I am absolutely against diverting vital energy needed for reforms to such matters. But let us work out a concept, secure international support for it, and close the matter for good. I am the one who wants to solve the problem, not to exacerbate it.

RFE/RL: The border incident between Yugoslavia and Croatia was interpreted by Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan as an attempt to postpone the solution of the problem of Prevlaka (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 August 2002). Racan also said that the border should be guarded by the police, not the army, as it is everywhere else in Europe. It sounds as though relations between Belgrade and Zagreb are under strain.

Djindjic: I consider the incident a harmless misunderstanding. Local Croatian and Serbian mayors went on a picnic in Croatia and wanted to cross the Danube in boats [back to the Serbian side].

RFE/RL: I was talking about how to interpret that harmless incident.

Djindjic: Let us first describe what happened. If someone wants to see it as the beginning of a new crisis, then the point is not what happened, but the interpretation.

I talked to Mr. Racan. We agreed that the incident was really unnecessary and we should be more careful in the future in order to avoid things like that. The [Yugoslav] Army was not informed [in advance] that some people had plans to cross the border.

RFE/RL: So, were you surprised by Mr. Racan's statement after your talks?

Djindjic: Yes and no. I know that if one tried to cross the border towards Hungary without previously informing the Hungarian police, it would lead to big problems. The person would be questioned by the police not only for an hour [as the Serbian guards questioned the Croatian civilians], but much longer, no matter who he was.

Every state has its borders. It is our business who guards our borders, and nobody from abroad has the right to interfere with it. [Of course,] we have to make additional efforts to improve our professional communication. At the same time, nobody should ever try again to cross any state border without previously informing the other side, since this is what might cause an incident.

Prevlaka has nothing to do with it. Prevlaka is not on the Danube but on the sea coast. I do not understand why Racan had to [bring up] the issue.

As far as we in Serbia are concerned, we want to have good relations with all our neighbors.... I am sure the latest incident will soon be forgotten and that we will continue to improve our relations with Croatia.

This includes the problem of the refugees expelled from Croatia and now living in Serbia, together with the problem of their property. This is a far bigger problem than when somebody tries to cross the river in a boat and the current takes him off course and a soldier fires a few shots in the air. That is not good, but when somebody cannot return to his home for 10 years and has no right to his property, that is a much bigger problem.

RFE/RL: Two days ago the Croatian government issued a decree, according to which Serbian refugees' property [used in the meantime by other individuals] will be returned to the owners by the end of the year.

Djindjic: I think that our relationship with Zagreb is getting better. I am sure that a further improvement will be evident in a few months.

We have nearly resolved the problem of visas. We do not need border incidents. They can be avoided by better communication and more professional work by local border staff.

But [an outing of] five local mayors floating in a boat together on the Danube like they would have done in Tito's time is no longer in keeping with reality. They too should think twice about their responsibility in order to prevent incidents in the future.

RFE/RL: Thank you for granting us this interview.

Djindjic: It is always my pleasure.