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Serbia leader on life after Milosevic

Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the man who ordered Slobodan Milosevic’s extradition to The Hague war crimes tribunal, speaks to
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Two months after ordering former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s extradition to The Hague, Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says Belgrade’s problems are not yet over. In an interview with’s Preston Mendenhall, Djindjic describes his plans for Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic, and the future of the nation as a whole.

Mendenhall: An international aid package is on its way to Yugoslavia. What is needed for Serbia’s recovery?

Djindjic: We have two priorities. The first is to be accepted as a member of [international] financial institutions and to resolve our [economic] problems. The second is concrete support for ongoing economic projects. We got $1.5 billion [in international aid] for different projects, and I hope it doesn’t come too late.

We are a country destroyed by war. After 10 or 12 years of isolation, our economy is a disaster. As a reform government, we need support to deal with these problems. It is what we expect from our partners and friends and the U.S. government.

I think it is going well. We are more or less satisfied with support from the democratic world, and I think the democratic world is satisfied with our results in Serbia.

Mendenhall: You were opposed to NATO’s war on Yugoslavia. Now you are courting the Western world and NATO countries for money. What do Serbs think and how do you reconcile your views with theirs?

Djindjic: My position is to do what I think and not to support public opinion, especially after the difficult times of last 10 years. Public opinion was created by (Milosoevic’s) propaganda, and the majority in Serbia don’t understand what is going on in the world.

The majority sees the new world order as a conspiracy against the Serbian people. I don’t see the world in this way. I think we should find our place as nation in this world. And we should cooperate with … with democratic countries. I didn’t support NATO’s intervention in Serbia, but I also didn’t support Milosevic. And I was seen in Serbia as a traitor.

[Serbs] have chosen their way. Our way is as a European and Western democracy. We don’t have an alternative. And we should fulfill certain conditions to be accepted as a partner. The conditions are to accept the rules of this democratic world, to cooperate with international organizations. That means cooperation with The Hague tribunal, fighting against corruption and organized crime in our country, conducting financial discipline and (promoting) free markets and democratic institutions.

That is not just a price we should pay, that is something in our interest. We should not just be part of the democratic world. We should have a democratic world inside Serbia. Our kids shouldn’t be leaving the country to try and find a future in the United States and Canada, but to stay in Serbia. We should have similar conditions as in other countries.

KOSOVO Mendenhall: Did the United States and NATO oversimplify their view of the Albanian situation in Kosovo and Macedonia?

Djindjic: This is a very complex problem. [The United States and NATO] have simplified it in the sense that [they thought that if] a small, oppressed nation had freedom, it would develop democracy and a multi-ethnic society. And now we have the same nation as a factor of instability in Macedonia.

I think Western countries and especially the United States are hostages in Kosovo. They have 50,000 soldiers there. And nobody is ready on the Western side to say extreme Albanians are the problem. Armed Albanians are the problem in Kosovo and Macedonia. We have a dangerous situation in this part of Europe at the moment, and we see the consequences in Macedonia. Albanian politicians have two wings. One is political, one is militant. But the strategy is the same.

Western countries should say very openly that no one [calling for] a change of borders and supporting the use of violence can be accepted as a partner. It would mean [NATO would have to] redesign the political scene in Kosovo, and I don’t see that the forces present in Kosovo are ready to do that at the moment. The costs would be high.

I hope that [Balkan countries] are strong enough as nations [to carry out] these regional [peacekeeping] activities. The international community must not do that job in the future. It’s different from the past. We now have democratic governments in all these countries. And I hope that democratic governments can find a solution.

MILOSEVIC AND WAR CRIMES Mendenhall: Does Milosevic’s extradition to The Hague war crimes tribunal end his influence on Yugoslavia?

Djindjic: He is history. Milosevic is not a problem now in Serbia. I think the problem is the relationship between the Serbian nation and Western democracies after the wars and all these events of the past. The people [no longer] support Milosevic. A minority, less than 20 percent, think that Milosevic doesn’t deserve to be in prison. But some people don’t understand that in order to be an equal and recognized part of the democratic community, we should fulfill the conditions and respect the rules of the democratic community. Sending Milosevic to The Hague is the ticket into the democratic community. And for me, I didn’t doubt (turning Milosevic over) for a second.

I think we should make Serbia free from this terrible past. Milosevic is the past. He is guilty of conducting all of these atrocities during this war — against the Serbs and against other nations — and there is no question that he is guilty. The question is only [in which] prison, Belgrade or The Hague, [Milosevic should be. Keeping Milosevic in Belgrade] would be a high price to pay to be isolated again. I think it would not be smart politics.

Mendenhall: What do Serbs think now that they are learning what happened in the past. Do they feel guilty, embarrassed?

Djindjic: It is not a central issue in Serb public opinion. The majority doesn’t know, doesn’t have enough information and doesn’t have the mental model to interpret [the atrocities committed during Yugoslavia’s wars]. The people do see themselves as victims. And all nations see their members as victims. I do not think that it is the time to deal with the past … . We should work on that but, to be frank, I don’t think that the majority [realize] what has happened and who is responsible. I think the only way is to make the responsibility personal, to see who has done these things. A nation doesn’t [commit crimes.] Just people. And we should work hard to identify who did this, who ordered it, what was the reason and what is the personal responsibility. And that is a normal way to resolve this conflict.

Mendenhall: Where are Ratko Mladic and Radivan Karadzic, who are also wanted by The Hague for war crimes in Bosnia, and what can Serbia do to transfer them to war crimes tribunal?

Djindjic: I do not believe they are in Serbia. The Serbian government has many problems, and we don’t want more problems. Mladic and Karadzic are citizens of the independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I think the institutions of these states should take care of their problems. And it wouldn’t be fair to ask the Serbian government to help solve their problems.

Mendenhall: The president of the Serbian republic, Milan Milutinovic, is himself wanted for war crimes. How does that undermine your work?

Djindjic: It is not a huge problem. He doesn’t have an important function. He does have immunity, and because of that it would be very complicated to replace him. He is not an obstacle to our daily business in the Serbian government. And that is just a fact. We should do what we have to do to be efficient and not to waste the time and energy to confront problems we cannot resolve.

THE FUTURE OF YUGOSLAVIA Mendenhall: Serbia and Montenegro are the only two republics left in Yugoslavia. Is there still a need for Yugoslavia?

Djindjic: I think if … Europe is about integration, there is no reason now to waste the energy to create two states. I think it is better to reform the existing state and to create a union in Balkans, a kind of European Union of Balkan countries. And to create a common strategy to join the European Union, to fight against organized crime, to develop infrastructure and energy and [solve] regional problems. I don’t think that we have enough time and energy to discuss with Montenegro how we should create two separate states, and how we should resolve problems like the army, which is a joint army. I think we should be practical and realize that our capacities are not so big. We don’t have the money, time or energy.

InsertArt(1170865)We should focus on things that are important, and it’s important to join a democratic Europe. That is my position. But if the people in Montenegro don’t think this way, if they want to have an independent state, we will accept their decision. Our suggestion is: let us join Europe [together]. Let us create institutions in harmony with European institutions. We are ready in Serbia to do that. But if it is not possible, we will accept the decision of the majority in Montenegro.

Preston Mendenhall is’s international editor. This interview took place on Aug. 7 in the newsroom in Redmond, Wash.