223. Restarting U.S. - Yugoslav Relations

By
Vladimir Matic

Three months ago the whole world was relieved when Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's ruler for the past thirteen years, was removed from power. The opposition won the election but it is the people who went to the streets, willing to risk their very lives, who are the real victor and nobody must forget that including the new government. The Serbian population was fed up with failed promises and patriotic slogans and had enough of the isolation and everyday misery which it had to endure for over a decade. Most importantly, they wanted to reclaim their lives and the future of their children.

The Serbian parliamentary election on December 23, 2000 clearly demonstrated the people's support for the new government. The Democratic Coalition of Serbia (DOS) won almost two thirds of the vote and commands a large majority. This majority provides them with the strong foundation needed to proceed with the planned societal reforms and economic restructuring.

Despite this superficial, positive outlook, DOS faces numerous difficulties and dangers in the coming months. To provide an example, the best news in Serbia at the end of the year 2000 was the announcement that electricity will be cut off in the coming year for only six hours daily instead of the now customary nine. This improvement was due to the current increase in rainfall - more water allowed hydroelectric plants to increase production. Meanwhile, there had been numerous protests and demonstrations closing off roads and railways. Yet, only few were blaming the old regime for these hardships.

Regardless of who is to blame, the responsibility of feeding the people and keeping them warm during this winter clearly rests on the shoulders of the new government. The question is how much they can provide and how people will react to continued difficulties. With the economy ruined and reserves totally depleted, the new government depends heavily on the good will of foreign donors and even more so on the understanding and patience of the population. These two very different bases of support for the new government however, are self-contradictory.

For its part, the international community expects an efficient program of transition and economic reconstruction, which includes privatization and of course the "decriminalization" of the entire society. Additionally, the international community demands that war criminals, including Milosevic, be brought to justice. For most countries, this means trials in the Hague.

The public in Serbia also expects transition but, after a decade of isolation and hardship, desires a smooth transformation, one which will swiftly do away with poverty, misery and injustice. The people want and expect a better life, if not right away then very soon. The Serbian people want to see Milosevic's collaborators - especially those who got enormously rich - behind bars, the managers in public and state-owned companies fired, but they are not eager to see those indicted by the Hague Tribunal extradited, neither are they willing to have proceedings in Serbia. Obviously, the perspective of the Serbian public is at variation with that of the international community and, though their expectations are unrealistic, these expectations create the reality for the new government.

President Vojislav Kostunica promised new elections at the latest eighteen months after his inauguration. Nobody wants to see DOS lose these elections to a coalition of socialists and radical nationalists, as occurred in most of the East European countries during the first years of the transition period. Serbia has already lost so much time that it simply cannot afford another setback. This however, is not such an unrealistic scenario as it may seem.

On December 23, 2000, DOS won 64.08 percent of the vote and 176 out of 250 seats in the new parliament. Milosevic's Socialist Party won 13.76 percent; the Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party won 8.59 percent; and the Serbian Unity Party (Arkan) 5.33 percent. Together, these three parties command about 30 percent of the electorate. This presents a clear threat to the process of democratization, especially in light of probable economic difficulties and increased unemployment common during the transition period and the continuing problems with Kosovo and Montenegro.

Kosovo and Montenegro: Muddling Through

It was more or less a general belief that once Milosevic was removed from power and a democratic government installed in Serbia and Yugoslavia, a political settlement to the Balkan crisis would appear on the horizon. The events in the past few months have opened the road for a peaceful solution, yet the resolution of the Kosovo issue does not seem close or even realistic in the near future. Furthermore, preserving the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a union of Serbia and Montenegro still presents a formidable task.

The dramatic developments in Serbia this past October were met in Kosovo with almost complete silence. The overthrow of Milosevic and his regime and the inauguration of the Kostunica government never made the headlines. The new democratic government in Serbia continues to be ignored.

After the local elections in Kosovo in which Ibrahim Rugova and the LDK made a political comeback, winning the support of almost two-thirds of the electorate, Yugoslav President Kostunica called for an opening of a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. So far, there has been no response from the Kosovar Albanians. Analysts contend that Rugova cannot afford to engage in talks with Belgrade without seriously eroding his base of support. Furthermore, Rugova could only negotiate with former KLA leader Hasim Thaqi on board, who would insist on the precondition that the Serbian side accept in advance the de facto independence of Kosovo - something Belgrade cannot do at the moment for the same reasons Rugova cannot negotiate alone. Consequently, despite the change in Belgrade, we are back at square one.

During his visit to the U.S. in early January, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic stated that any further disintegration of Yugoslavia means further instability, which would only prolong the political crisis in the region and postpone economic recovery. He also emphasized the Yugoslav government's official position that the final status of Kosovo cannot be discussed at this time. The situation must first be stabilized, he said. To achieve stabilization, international economic assistance and aid for building democratic institutions is necessary. Also important is the creation of conditions for the safe return of Serbian refugees. Only then can negotiations between Yugoslavia - Serbia and Montenegro - and representatives of the Kosovar Albanian community begin, with the participation of the international community (UN) and neighboring countries such as Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria.

In a previous presentation just before the Yugoslav September elections, I stated that even if the opposition wins and the Milosevic regime gets replaced, the nature of the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro remains to be resolved. The change in government and the democratization process which began in Serbia following the ouster of Milosevic allows the prospect of beginning the negotiation process for a solution to the Yugoslav conflict, but the process itself has not begun in earnest.

Among Montenegro's first reactions to the change in government in Belgrade was to ask the UN not to grant Yugoslavia membership before its relationship with Montenegro is resolved. The offer of Yugoslav President Kostunica to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's coalition to take part in the federal government was declined. When President Kostunica visited Podgorica, he was addressed only as "Mr. Kostunica." In the beginning, Djukanovic's government did not recognize the Yugoslav federation and rejected the idea of negotiating new constitutional arrangements with Serbia. The preparations for Montenegro's referendum on independence were accelerated.

As of late, some developments have occurred indicating a softening of Montenegro's hard-line position. President Djukanovic took part in a session of the Supreme Defense Council in Belgrade and later said that a way may be found for Mr. Kostunica's participation in the negotiations between Serbia and Montenegro. As a result of that session, commanders of the Navy and the Second Army stationed in Montenegro were replaced. Furthermore, the Yugoslav Seventh Battalion of Military Police will be disbanded as requested by the government of Montenegro.

The essence of the differences between Serbia and Montenegro is that DOS favors the continuation of the FRY as a common state while Djukanovic's coalition wants a union of two independent, internationally-recognized states. Both sides resolutely rejected the idea of the General Secretary of the UN - to consider a confederation of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. The Kosovar Albanians also rejected this proposal.

The Montenegrin position contains "full-state capacity and international legal status" as a minimum. Actually, the Montenegrin proposal would require a declaration of its independence followed by the formation of a union with Serbia modeled on the Nordic Alliance of the Scandinavian countries or the union between Russia and Belarus. This arrangement would be based on separate UN membership, but a common foreign policy, defense, and some economic functions. The rights of the citizens of both Montenegro and Serbia would be preserved by a set of guarantees of freedom of movement, employment, residence, and property, rendering the border between the two countries "invisible."

Belgrade has also prepared a platform. It will be endorsed by DOS and signed by President Kostunica and the appointed Prime Minister of Serbia Zoran Djindjic. Like the Montenegrin platform, it contains only a few common functions for the federation: guarantees of human rights and freedoms, foreign policy, defense, and a common market and currency. These functions however, would be embodied in a common state.

Conclusion

Only three months ago, Yugoslavia was totally isolated and under sanctions. The change in its international position has been both remarkable and unbelievably rapid. Most of the sanctions were lifted immediately following Milosevic's ouster from power. Yugoslavia was first admitted to the Stability Pact and then to the United Nations by adoption in the UN General Assembly of a resolution sponsored by all major powers and Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia. Soon after, the Security Council expressed deep concern over the situation in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, asking for Albanian extremist armed groups to be disbanded while welcoming the readiness of the Yugoslav authorities to resolve he crisis by peaceful means. Next, Yugoslavia was admitted to the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, where support was unanimous. In December, it became a member of the International Monetary Fund and was immediately granted, without conditionality, a loan for $151 million for the stabilization of the economy and the "building of governing capacity," meaning the reorganization of the Yugoslav administration and governmental institutions. This economic and reconstruction assistance will enable Yugoslavia's participation in the world economy for the first time in eight years.

Yugoslav President Kostunica and Foreign Minister Svilanovic have so far visited most European capitals. In early January, Svilanovic was in Washington at the invitation of the United States government. He was received cordially by the outgoing administration and encouraged about the future of the U.S.-Yugoslav relations by the new administration. Meetings on the Hill were held in a similar atmosphere. It would be fair to say that since former Yugoslav President Tito's visit to the United States in 1978 to meet with U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the American attitude toward Yugoslavia has never been so supportive. This support however, is not unconditional. It is based on expectations that the new Yugoslav government will build a state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and equal status for minorities, with an independent legal system and the protection of private property. It is also expected that Yugoslavia will establish full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and handle relations with Montenegro and the issue of Kosovo not only with restraint and in such a way as to secure a peaceful solution, but also fully taking into account these nations' specific positions.

Due to the overall difficulty in succeeding in this complex task, many analysts predict an end in the coming months of what many call "the honeymoon." It is true that the initial euphoria will gradually dissipate in the near future to be replaced by normal relations and cooperation based on the interests of both sides, containing both positive and some negative elements. What will provide long-term stability to relations in the future is a vital interest shared by Yugoslavia, Europe and the United States - peace and stability in the Balkans based on the establishment of cooperation between all countries and entities in the region and true democratization of their societies. This is not possible without the increased cooperation of all involved in the area, including the European powers and the United States.

Professor Matic spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on January 11, 2001. The above is a summary of his remarks. Meeting Report #223.

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