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South Slavic: August 30, 2001

30 August 2001, Volume 3, Number 30


Part I. Part II will appear on 6 September.

Interview with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, by Natasa Odalovic. This was originally broadcast on 17 August.

The Gavrilovic case remains the most interesting public issue in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 August 2001). "In democratic Serbia, there must be neither those above the law nor any 'usual suspects.' Nobody is allowed to monopolize dignity and moral integrity, least of all those who were spared any sort of criticism or persecution by Milosevic's regime."

These are the words of a statement issued after a recent meeting of the government of Serbia. The government demanded an urgent and forthright explanation of every single detail regarding the murder of Momir Gavrilovic, a former employee of the State Security Service (SDB). Right after that meeting, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic talked with RFE/RL about this affair.

RFE/RL: The meeting ended a few hours ago. Was it entirely dedicated to the Gavrilovic affair, and what did you decide to do?

Djindjic: No. That was one of 12 items on the agenda. Most of the time we discussed how to provide essential medicines and how to allocate tenders. We also discussed how to bridge the time until the results of the tenders are made public. We did not discuss the Gavrilovic case a lot.

Yesterday, we had a meeting of the collegium of the government with a lengthy discussion, since one member of the collegium had demanded that the government issue a clear public appeal for the clarification of every single detail regarding the case, as well as that all those involved be held responsible for what they did. If there are indications that the accusations against the government are true, this should be explained and those accused must be held responsible. If it is not true, then those who misinformed the public must be held responsible and face the consequences.

RFE/RL: You were in the U.S. when this affair broke out. Observing how it developed from the U.S. -- all those disputes and so many intemperate and senseless statements coming from all sides -- what did you make of it?

Djindjic: Watching from the outside, it was a very unpleasant thing. I personally experienced embarrassment while persuading the Microsoft people to come to Serbia, telling them that...the process of transition has just started, but nevertheless that Serbia is a stable country, secure for investments. Half an hour later a journalist asked me, "How can you guarantee them security if the government is involved in crimes?" This is when I was told about the case for the first time.

Two days later, during an interview for CNN, I was asked an unpleasant question: "If government circles are charged with corruption, how can you deal with the problem of [ensuring] normal development for your country?" It means that the image of our democratic government has been damaged...since the accusations of corruption, involvement in crime, and serious crimes by those in power [first] appeared from within the ruling coalition.

But there are neither criminal activities nor any sort of evidence of such activities that could give proof to the charges and lead to unpleasant consequences. Nonetheless, the image of the government will soon be seriously damaged if things like that continue.

I am afraid that those involved do not realize what price we are going to pay. They are actually playing with something that is beyond [short-term] political gain or popularity with the domestic or international public. They are gambling with the image and credibility of a government that was expected to prove to be different now that so many other nations have shown themselves to be incapable of democratic development.

RFE/RL: Many think that the credibility of the government has been seriously jeopardized, that the damage has already been done, and that it cannot be fixed. What do you intend to do next? What is going to happen next?

Djindjic: There are two things there. First, there is the [Gavrilovic] case itself, which must be clarified, every single detail of it.

There is another thing -- whether there is any clue or evidence that proves the accusation [of criminal activity in the government]. If there is one, let us shed light on it. Let us take appropriate measures regarding such evidence or proof and let us finally face up to the crime.

If there is no evidence or proof, then one should raise the issue of the responsibility of Mr. Kostunica's people [for making the charges in the first place]. Those who think like an opposition should leave the government and become an opposition. If, for one reason or another, one does not like the government or something about it, a regular, institutional way is there to bring about a vote of confidence in the parliament. If one wins a majority in the parliamentary vote, he should replace the government and appoint a better one.

RFE/RL: Do you now think that it would be more responsible to leave the governing coalition than to stay in?

Djindjic: Well, I certainly think that defending the brotherhood and unity [of the coalition] and silencing the [discussion] would only paper over the real reasons for the difficulties. [Editor's note: 'brotherhood and unity' was an official political slogan during the Tito era. Djindjic is using it ironically to mean sweeping real problems under the rug.]

It would be better to sit down and find out whether there is still [any] mutual trust left among us. Why do problems like this keep cropping up? Do they reflect the existence of a far deeper crisis? If so, the citizens have the right to be informed about it. We should not pretend for the public to be united when that is not the case.

Disintegration of the [Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition] DOS would mean more then just the defeat of a political coalition. It would also mean the defeat of a political option -- the option of reforms leading us [back] to Europe.

I hope that understanding the complexity of the situation and where it might lead will cool off the hot heads and redirect their energies to their real jobs. And our job is to implement reforms and help our country return to Europe, from which we were expelled 12 years ago.

RFE/RL: However, Mr. Djindjic, you must recognize that the survival of DOS, under these circumstances, throws into question both the personal and political integrity of those within the coalition who have been accused without any evidence.

Djindjic: What would happen if the entire affair is not explained? I am certain that most citizens do not even think about it. Regarding the noticeable nervousness of some ministers, it is a natural reaction. They are shocked by the fact that someone is accusing them of involvement in murders, while they have no idea what their accuser is talking about. They never heard of the man who was killed.

They are right to demand that the smallest detail of the case be explained. I therefore still believe that a compromise can be reached within DOS. However, I am not talking about a false compromise, a rotten compromise, I am talking about a compromise based on facts, arguments, sincerity, solidarity, and confidence, which are necessary for the difficult process of reforms to continue.