Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 0131
July 31, 2001

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

MARINA OTTAWAY: Very basic grassroots problems need to be worked through in order for conciliation really to take place.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, rebuilding Serbia.

IVAN VEJVODA: We are, in fact, taking the place where we should have been back in ‘89, 1990.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. After a decade of war and political repression under Slobodan Milosovec, Serbia and the former Yugoslavia face a long rebuilding process.

MCHUGH: Reviving the region’s decimated economy is key to the reconstruction. And although newly pledged Western aid is providing a glimmer of hope to Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, many say the money is only a fraction of what’s really needed. Marina Ottaway is a Senior Associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ivan Vejvoda is Director of Fund for Open Society Yugoslavia. I recently spoke with both during a brief stop in Belgrade. Vejvoda says understanding the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s complex and often tumultuous government structure is critical when it comes to assessing the region’s economic needs.

Ivan Vejvoda: Formally, and recognized by the United Nations, it is the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, constituted by two republics, two entities, or states as you would say in the US. One is Serbia, the other is Montenegro. And there is a great difference in size and in population between the two. Serbia is somewhere around 10 million and Montenegro is 650,000 population. Montenegro has a coast on the Adriatic. Serbia itself is constituted of three parts basically. There are two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo, under the Constitution. But as we all know now, Kosovo, as one of the autonomous provinces, is an international protectorate under the United Nations under Resolution 1244 of the Security Council. And basically Kosovo is now under jurisdiction of the international community, even though formally under this resolution it is part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but not part of Serbia.

MCHUGH: Boy, that’s a big long explanation. Marina, considering all of what was just said, how would you describe the current economic and political situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia?

Marina Ottaway: Well, the current economic situation is very, very difficult, that the country has come out of three major problems. First it was the transition from Communism, which was not really accomplished successfully. Then you had the period of war economy. And then there was, on top of these two problems, you had the establishment of a very corrupt economy under Milosovic, where whatever privatization took place, took place in the hands of, in the hands of essentially cronies of the president. So that there were people who became very rich during the war period, but in a very corrupt fashion. And so you have these three layers of problems now that need to be sorted out by the present government. And, of course, that’s not an easy proposition.

MCHUGH: Ivan Vejvoda, would you agree?

Vejvoda: Yes, absolutely. I would like to stress what Marina just said about the criminalization of both the state and the economy. And in fact one of the main tasks at hand of the reformist government is a struggle against corruption throughout. Whether it’s public administration, whether it’s the state-run enterprises that will be privatized in the near future, whether it’s the everyday life of values of citizens. Simply the message from the top has changed now. And to reintegrate the world economy or become part of the globalized economy, many of these things simply have to be straightened out. And thus the task is enormous.

MCHUGH: It is an enormous task. And Yugoslavia in the West, Serbia in particular, has a really bad image problem at this point. How do Serbs feel about the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia?

Vejvoda: Well, they feel ambivalent I would say. The paramount thing in the lives of people is to move on. To better their sort in this world. And thus I would say that the other problems that are, of course, on the agenda, especially at the international level, like the status of Kosovo or whether the Federal Republic will remain together; i.e., Serbia and Montenegro, what are their future relations, I would say in the everyday lives of citizens is not, is of secondary importance, if one can put it that way. Although they realize that of course this impinges on their daily lives.

I think one thing is very important to stress. And that is that we are really in the very first steps of the transition. The key change was, of course, in September and October, but real power was taken over from the Milosovic regime when the Serbian government came into place and that was the end of February. Thus we are really here at the end of the fourth month and one looks at that track record I think that it is fair to say that very much has been done. Just to name two or three things-all the heads of the secret service are in prison, Milosovic himself is in prison. There have been a number of legislative moves, laws that have been enacted. Of course, because the government has inherited such a devastated country, devastated institutions, it’s very hard to see the initial results in the street, on the faces of people. And the government knows that it has to carry out with a very heavy hand so as to by the end of the year maybe, see the first palpable results at the level of the ordinary citizen.

MCHUGH: Marina Ottaway?

OTTAWAY: Yes. I’d like to go back to your question. Because in a sense, on one level, yes it is true that Serbia has a bad image in the West. But Serbia also has a good image in the West. Because you have the Serbia of Milosovic, but then there is the Serbia of, of the students and the outpouring, the group that overthrew the Milosovic government. And on that basis, on the basis of this second image, Serbia is receiving, at this point, a lot of international assistance and a lot of international cooperation. I mean, it is seen as a state with which the West can cooperate at this point.

Vejvoda: Marina is absolutely right. I think that the image of Serbia in particular in Europe, of course, which is our nearer abroad, our nearest surrounding, has definitely changed. Especially in the beginning with the very fast pace of the opening up of the country. Everybody realized that in particular the new leadership, the new administration, that overcoming isolation is the first task. And that was handled, I would say, very well in a meeting of minds between the international actors and the actors here. Reintegration of membership into the UN, into the World Bank, the IMF, all those institutions, which this country will depend on in the coming years for its economic and social reconstruction.

MCHUGH: Would Serbia then consider itself a part of Europe?

Vejvoda: Absolutely. Absolutely. Not only for the mere physical geographic fact, but for all the past history. I mean, if we take a longer look at this century, Serbia was more times on the right side of history than this episode of ten years, which in our individual lives is very long, but historically it’s a very short period. And now with, with the change, with the overthrow of the Milosovic regime through a peaceful, democratic electoral way, we are, in fact, taking the place where we should have been back in ‘89, 1990.

OTTAWAY: I just wanted to address the issue of being part of Europe. Because one of the problems that you find in all the countries of the Balkans-I have seen the same problem in Croatia, for example-yes, people do consider themselves part of Europe. But then they discover that becoming part of Europe in the economic sense and in the political sense, it’s a very long process. And essentially what you find originally is that there is an illusion on the part of many people that remove the Tjurchman(??), remove the Milosovic, remove the bad guys if you want to be simplistic, then the country will be part of Europe. And what they are facing instead is a very long process and very slow process of integration. Which is a bureaucratic process. It means, for example, membership in the European Union. It’s not just a question of mental attitude, it’s a question of making the legislation compatible with European legislation and so on. So it’s a very long, very bureaucratic and difficult process.

VEJVODA: If I can add a footnote to what Marina has just said, I think that, in fact, one of the reasons for this self-inflicted catastrophe of the former Yugoslavia was, in fact, the rejection of joining the Europe of rules and procedures and rule of law by the then Communists, elites of the country. They simply, somewhere in the back of their minds, knew that the passageway from communism to democracy, to speak briefly, required a rationalization and thus a loss of privilege. They wanted to cling on to many of their privileges, their power, and went into a power game to sustain it. Of course, this was devastating in every sense of the word for us citizens, for them politically. We are now, as I said, at that point where we should have been. Being part of Europe means accepting what Europe is about and that is the rule of law, human rights, legislation, an open society dedicated to fostering democracy.

MCHUGH: How would you describe the feeling of Yugoslavians and their views about their relations with their immediate neighbors?

VEJVODA: Well, one can deduce it from what we have been saying on, on this more general level. There is a sense and a growing awareness both on the part of the new political and economic elites that there is no future in Europe without completely normalized relations with one’s neighborhood. And, in fact, one of the striking things after the changes in September and October was that many of the economic ties or initial contacts between businessmen from Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia and Serbia, were immediately reenacted. There was a delegation at the end of October of 400 Croatian businessmen who came to Belgrade. There are already some of the corporations that existed back in the ‘80s, that have been revived. So that’s one level, the relations within former Yugoslavia. But then one should add to that that relations with countries like Romania, or Bulgaria, or Albania are being reenacted much more quickly, in fact, than we would have expected. Because people know that only if we in the region, as a region, as the Balkans or Southeastern Europe, show that we are able to live normally with each other, Europe will be opening it’s doors more quickly to us.

MCHUGH: Marina Ottaway?

OTTAWAY: This is true. At the same time I think it’s also important to remember that the reconciliation is not always easy. That you may totally agree with the idea that the reconciliation is imperative, that that’s the, you know, that’s the way of the future, that’s the way into Europe and so on. At the same time, very much in people’s daily life there are conflicts between different population groups, there are conflicts concerning refugees coming back to certain areas. You have a problem created here by the presence of the Serbs from Kosovo that have left the country and cannot go back, and so on. So that there are, unfortunately, despite I think what it is a generalized understanding of the fact that this reconciliation take place, very basic grassroots problems need to be worked through in order for reconciliation really to take place.

VEJVODA: I agree with what Marina says. There are short-term issues and then the longer-term issues of reconciliation. I suppose we will be proceeding a bit like the beginnings of the European Community. We will start with coal and steel, as they did. Today probably with opening up transportation routes, re-engaging the rail connections, joint electricity schemes. And then these small business ventures like this bus that will be built together between Croats, Bosniacs, and Serbs. So I think the easier tasks or rather the easier ways of communication will open up more quickly. But we will have this long road of coming to terms. First, all of us individually with what our role was with respect to each other. And then I would say coming together on a higher level of reconciliation. But that takes time, we know. What is important is to create the preconditions for a disintensifying of those things that led us into conflict.

MCHUGH: What role should the United States play in all of this?

OTTAWAY: Well, I think the United States should try and handle it’s impatience a little better. Because I think one of the problems is there is a tendency to think in shorter time intervals. We know that an American administration is only in, is only in office for four years, eight years if everything goes well. But so there is a tendency to set very short-term goals. And unfortunately a lot of these issues that the country needs to work through are not going to be solved in the short term. I mean, I think none of the problems that we have been discussing-either the economic problems, the political problems, the problems of reconciliation and so on, it’s going to be settled in the next few years. And I think it’s very important that outside agents, of which the United States is one, do not try to impose a pace to reform that corresponds to their political calendar rather than to what are the needs of the country.

VEJVODA: I fully agree with, with the analysis of Marina. I think there’s simply a difference in rhythms of life and of political and economic life. But we are in this region of, especially, is the former Yugoslavia, we are all traumatized at some level by, by the conflict, by the catastrophe, by the social and economic devastation. And simply I guess there’s a psychological rhythm to societies overcoming their past. And it’s the task of leadership and statesmen to move the pace faster. We must remember that politics is still very much top down in these societies, however vibrant our civil societies may have become over these past years. So the role of international agents, of the United States in particular, is, I think, probably to balance out the need to move and make and help these societies become as democratic and as market-oriented as quickly as possible, and then the reality on the ground of having to pick up the pieces of what, in this country, Milosovic’s regime and his acolytes have managed to destroy. And I think that the new administration here is fully aware of what has to be done. But it has to carry society along with itself. And as Marina rightly pointed out, if the pace is too fast we might lose part of society and there could be a backlash, which in the end is self-undermining, to the goal that we all want to achieve-namely an open and democratic society.

MCHUGH: There are many in the West, though, who feel that they will not see any stability or peace in this region for decades if not longer. Are you more optimistic than that?

VEJVODA: I definitely am, I think, strangely enough, that with the changes in Croatia, with the developments in Bosnia, however wary we might be about the slow pace of them, with the change in Serbia the fact that we have democratic regimes-with all their weaknesses-I think is the coming of stability in the region. And now we must focus really on the south, on the issue of Kosovo, of Macedonia. But I don’t think unless there is something of a major catastrophe down there, that we can be destabilized to that measure that we reengage in a new cycle. There is a wariness with violence, with war. And the electoral results that we have, I think, testify to that fact. And as a consequence of that even though nationalism is still present in various forms, I would say that largely the balloon of nationalism has been deflated.

MCHUGH: Marina Ottaway?

OTTAWAY: I think it’s important not to confuse stability and the absence of problems. Because it’s going to be a long time before all the outstanding issues among the countries of the Balkans are going to be settled. I mean, it took, how long did it take Europe to sort out it’s problems after World War II? And I think it’s not really serious in the long run that there are issues that will take, you know, decades probably to be settled completely. What is really crucial is that the violence stops. That there are no more outbreaks that will cause governments to abandon the reform agenda and the economic and go back to nationalism, to fighting, and so on. So that I do not worry, for example, the fact that, you know, I don’t know how long it will take Serbia and Croatia to sort out the problems that developed during the war, of destruction and responsibility and probably some payment of reparation and so on. I think that the two countries can live with that and make progress nevertheless. The important problem is that we don’t have more explosions of violence in Kosovo. That we do not have any explosion of violence in Macedonia that undermines peace in the entire region, and so on. Those are the real issues of stability right now.

MCHUGH: Did you have anything else that you wanted to add?

VEJVODA: I would say that there is a feeling, if one can generalize at all on these complex issues, that people here sense that we have come out of a very, very terrible period where evil was done both to the society and to others in our neighborhood. And that the risky business of overthrowing a semi- or authoritarian semi-dictatorship, has been done. It was more dangerous. But now the tasks are much more difficult. This is the much hardier work of trying to build institutions, of trying to do the capillary work of changing the values that have been overturned over these ten years. And there is a sense that violence cannot help us in this and that ten years have been enough of proof that violence doesn’t pay off, however crazy the minds that led us to it thought that something could be solved. So I think people are aware and even though they are wary and they know that there will be a price, and peace always after conflict has high price, it is nonetheless the better road to travel, however much longer it might take.

MCHUGH: Ivan Vejvoda is Director of Fund for Open Society Yugoslavia and Marina Ottaway is a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

PORTER: Yugoslavia’s foreign policy initiatives, next on Common Ground.

PREDAG SIMIC: One can be a nationalist, wishing the best for his own people, but not at the expense of the others.

PORTER: As Yugoslavia continues to focus on domestic growth and stability after a decade of war and political repression, the country is also forging ahead with plans to strengthen ties with its neighbors and allies as well as former enemies.

MCHUGH: Predag Simic is President Kostunica’s foreign policy advisor. He says Serbia and Yugoslavia’s foreign policy priorities are driven by the changing political landscape in the Balkan region.

PREDAG SIMIC: Actually, after 10 years of international relations in Yugoslavia it’s got to rebuild it’s international position. And to rebuild, reconstruct its relations with all of its partners. Which means first of all permanent members of Security Council of United Nations, and major international organizations like EU, NATO, and OSE and others. As well as relations with our neighbors. Beside our new neighbors, which means the former Yugoslav republics that meanwhile got independent. We have a number of neighbors that they were the members of the Warsaw Pact and now they are entirely different countries. The biggest change is illustrated by the case of Hungary, that left to enter two years ago into NATO and is in the first group of countries to enter EU. Which means that for us our frontier with Hungary might soon become a frontier with the European Union and already it is a frontier with NATO, which tremendously changes the entire international framework of this country.

MCHUGH: Serbia’s military campaigns against Bosnia, Croatia, and most recently, Kosovo, were the main components of Slobodan Milosovic’s foreign policy goals for much of the 1990s. The multiple wars not only destroyed the region’s infrastructure and economy; they also severed crucial political ties and highlighted ethnic and cultural differences. Now that Milosovic is no longer in power and facing trial for alleged war crimes, President Kostunica is quickly trying to heal old wounds. During a recent Balkans summit in Italy, Kostunica and his Croatian counterpart pledged in a written statement to expand cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, a move almost unthinkable just a few years ago. Predag Simic says cooperating with a former adversary will reap plenty of rewards.

SIMIC: We lived for 70 years in the same state. Which means that all different structure exists that enable very close economic relationship. Besides, we speak almost the same language-actually this is the same language with two dialects. And that’s, opens up tremendous purposes for communication. But meanwhile we had a war. We have the heritage of this war to deal with. And the attempt by the statement signed in Italy between President Mesic and President Kostunica was to reopen all these links that could be mutually favorable and try to develop a framework to the extent when any problems might be addressed in the proper way.

MCHUGH: How long do you think it will take to normalize those relations?

SIMIC: Well, I hope not so long. But still we do have serious obstacles, because after bloody conflict and after a role of extreme nationalism in both countries, we have to reconstruct. And I think that some of the experience of, for example, France, Germany, UK, from the late 1940s, following the World War II, might be very applicable also to this arena, how to build a post-conflict situation and how to rebuild relations between two countries.

MCHUGH: Many in the West view President Kostunica as a fairly strong Serbian nationalist. Perhaps not to the same degree as Slobodan Milosovic, but a nationalist nonetheless. I asked Predag Simic if the perception was a fair assessment.

SIMIC: Depending on how you describe the nationalism. Because in Anglo-Saxon vocabulary nationalism should not necessarily be something negative. One can be a nationalist, wishing the best for his own people, but not at the expense of the others. So at this moment I think that the very best Serbian interests, Yugoslavian interests, Montenegrin interests, is to normalize relations in the neighborhood, to provide safety conditions in the neighborhood. And then to get as soon as possible into the EU.

MCHUGH: What would you say is the biggest and most immediate foreign policy concern of the new administration?

SIMIC: Well, how to get back Yugoslavia into the international community as a respected member. Which means a country that’s, would not be any more under sanctions and that would have a voice to express its interests and its views and to contribute to the solution of the problems. We are now surrounded by many trouble spots that cannot be managed without our participation and our participation would be possible only if we present a new and creative peaceful approach.

MCHUGH: What role should the United States play in the rebuilding of this region?

SIMIC: We should not forget that former Yugoslavia was championed by Woodrow Wilson. And so throughout these years the United States was always important actor in this, in this area. And after these ten years, where we lost this continuity of relations, now we are back. And I hope that the new administration would know how to deal in the much longer perspective in this situation. Not be driven by day-by-day politics as was often the case with the previous administration, at least in our perception.

MCHUGH: Just days before my conversation with Predag Simic, Yugoslavia’s cabinet voted to extradite former President Slobodan Milosovic to The Hague. The move was highly controversial and the domestic political fallout remains uncertain. Although nearly everyone walking the streets of Belgrade agrees justice must be served, the country remains divided on how best to handle Milosovic. Even President Kostunica has distanced himself from the controversial cabinet vote in the weeks following the Milosovic’s extradition. Predag Simic argues that while the UN may be better prepared to handle Milosovic, the international community’s demand for justice may actually weaken Yugoslavia’s already fragile stability.

SIMIC: My choice would be trial in this country. Because we have to face what has happened. Otherwise I think that this politically biased approach might leave roots for the next conflict. Might be in the next five years or in the next 50 years, but nevertheless it really is now shouldering a heavy burden of responsibility, how to end up the most complex post-Cold War European conflict in Europe.

MCHUGH: Where exactly would you like Yugoslavia to be in the world and in the region in the next 10 years.

SIMIC: In the European Union. In European Union because we need stability. We need to undergo very painful, socially painful process of transition. Which means that for the next few years our unemployment rate will sharply increase. Perhaps only in four or five years we would have again positive growth rates. Perhaps only in ten years we would reach prewar levels of production. We need this country to focus on reconstruction of its economy. It’s going to be dramatic because without former Yugoslavia we have to dramatically reconstruct our [selves], which means that we have to position our self according to new realities here now, living in after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Yugoslavia, former Yugoslavia, and the collapse of so-called “Versailles Order” in Southeastern Europe.

MCHUGH: Predag Simic is the foreign policy advisor to Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica. I spoke with him in Belgrade.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security