29 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 40
IS U.S. POLICY TOWARDS FORMER YUGOSLAVIA CHANGING?
Part II. (Part I appeared on 22 November.)
RFE/RL: Mr. Vukadinovic, do you expect the Russian presence in the Balkans to grow now that the antiterrorist alliance has been created between Russia and the U.S.?
Vukadinovic: Yes, this might happen. However, one should be careful about that. Let me repeat that it primarily depends on the duration of the American operation in Central Asia. If America becomes entrenched in a long war, if problems with Pakistan emerge -- which means if another front is created -- then the Russian alliance will be more than needed and Russia will have freedom of action, first of all regarding the Chechen issue.
At the same time, that could bring Russia closer to NATO. In that context, Russia could emerge as an important factor for the Balkan region. That is certainly the case.
However, if the situation in Central Asia is quickly resolved, then Russia will be not needed by the U.S. any more. In that case, Russia will not enjoy freedom of action in Chechnya, nor will its attitude regarding Balkan issues be taken into consideration.
However, it is true that Russia is more than interested in the Balkans. But [recent] U.S. administrations -- Clinton's as well as the present Bush administration -- have been well aware that having Russia more involved in the search for solutions to Balkan problems could threaten American interests. This is why the U.S. will carefully watch what Russia is doing in this region, and make sure it does not become any sort of important protagonist.
RFE/RL: What will future American policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina be like? Are there going to be any changes?
Vukadinovic: I would not expect any dramatic change. I believe there will be more efforts to have Bosnia-Herzegovina united, but not in such a way that the Republika Srpska will be abolished.
I am talking about having some segments of the two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina connected. I believe that the army will be united in order to allow Bosnia-Herzegovina to join Partnership for Peace in a year or year and a half from now. Efforts will be made to have Bosnia-Herzegovina join the group of countries that are usually called members of the New World Order.
However, that will primarily be a task for the Europeans. America will remain a force that will encourage those activities and support efforts for making Bosnia-Herzegovina a real state.
RFE/RL: Do you, Mr. Vekaric, expect a stronger American insistence on the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Vekaric: That is a constant of U.S. policy. I do not expect big changes. I think that the U.S. will keep insisting on [implementing] the Dayton peace accords,* and that the [Bush] administration will have less understanding for those who want to change the agreement [than was the case before 11 September].
RFE/RL: What will be the Bush administration's attitude towards Serbia?
Vekaric: I think that Serbia should express more clearly its attitude about the antiterrorist coalition led by the United States. Reactions [to the terrorist attacks] that were heard in Serbia had overtones that were not well received in the U.S. I am talking about the way some people reacted and how some political personalities spoke, implying that America was responsible for what happened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, 14, and 19 September 2001).
Those facts certainly will not strengthen Serbia's -- or, if you want, Yugoslavia's -- international position. However, recent statements by some politicians here do indicate that there is more and more understanding in Serbia as to how vital the alliance with the U.S. is for Serbia.
Vukadinovic: If internal normalization starts in Serbia and if problems begin to be dealt with seriously, if a dialogue among the political leaders in Serbia results in an agreement about the most important national issues, then America will become Serbia's partner, interested in helping this process of normalization and the integration of Yugoslavia or Serbia into Europe (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 November 2001).
Signals from Washington stress that peace in Kosovo, a dialogue with Montenegro, and giving some autonomy to Vojvodina are necessary. America wants the situation to be calmed, instead of more troubles. A policy in Serbia to that end could count on America's support, including economic benefits, but also an invitation for Serbia to join Partnership for Peace. It could join together with Bosnia-Herzegovina, or maybe even before.
RFE/RL: Judging by the reactions of politicians from the former Yugoslav countries, they are all trying to use the antiterrorist struggle for their own ends. Accusations are coming from Croatia and Serbia that there are bin Laden training camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Macedonian politicians keep talking about the Albanian National Liberation Army's connections with bin Laden's Al-Qaeda. There are warnings from Serbia that the Kosovo Liberation Army was connected with the Taliban. What do you think of all this, Mr. Vukadinovic?
Vukadinovic: Most of the former Yugoslav countries are trying to show they are interested in participating in the antiterrorist coalition. At the same time, they are trying to score a point or two by sending messages: "We are better than the others. They make problems, while we help solve them."
On the other hand, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia certainly offered possibilities for such activities, which makes it easier to [put the blame on them].
Vekaric: People in Serbia are aware of the importance of the coalition. But there is another problem here. There are many different interpretations of "terrorism" in Kosovo. Sometimes there are even efforts to rehabilitate Milosevic's policy in Kosovo, which would mean an excessive use of force.
There is one more interesting thing. The attack against America provoked intellectual confusion among many people -- including some journalists and public figures. I am, of course, talking about those who were systematically indoctrinated for so many years with both anti-American and anti-Islamic views. Those who are extremely anti-American at first regarded bin Laden as a hero, but then they realized that he is a Muslim, so their enthusiasm dwindled.
RFE/RL: But the Americans do not really trust the self-serving accusations coming from our region. The U.S. special envoy for Macedonia, James Pardew, recently reproached Macedonian politicians for trying to take advantage of the American tragedy by comparing the Albanian guerrillas with the terrorists who attacked America (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 19 September 2001).
Vukadinovic: Those who took a clear stand from the beginning and joined the coalition did the right thing. America will certainly appreciate it.
The day after the attack on the World Trade Center, Croatian President Stipe Mesic said: "From now on, no one is and can be neutral. The only thing that follows from what happened yesterday is a choice between us and them."
He even offered a plan for the fight against terrorism. Of course, that will not dramatically change Croatia's relationship with America, but I do not think [his speech] will go unnoticed. It certainly had a good effect.
RFE/RL: There is speculation that the West's long fight against terrorism might lead to the creation of a cordon sanitaire in the Balkans, a sort of a wall that would prevent terrorists from Islamic countries from reaching the West. Mr. Vekaric, is this a serious idea?
Vekaric: According to Western perceptions of the Balkans, it has always been a region that could serve as a barrier toward migrations, which can be a serious problem for [Western and Central] Europe. However, talking about a barrier to stop terrorists' infiltrating into Western countries does not make sense to me....
Vukadinovic: The Balkans, as well as the rest of Southeast Europe, are a major traffic route. Migrants cross it, drugs and weapons are smuggled, as are prostitutes and all sorts of terrorists. It has been this way for 10 years now....
But one could hardly close off this region by building a sort of cordon sanitaire. Instead, the West will seek the cooperation of regional states' intelligence services. This is already being done among the countries in the antiterrorist coalition. Moreover, controls on some borders have been strengthened to stop the flow of some people and goods. This is the only sense in which one can speak of a cordon sanitaire.