In Belgrade, now what?

The world gets to know Yugoslav President-elect Vojislav Kostunica, and ponders Milosevic's fate.

By Anthony York
October 7, 2000 2:55AM (UTC)
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The world watched with amazement this week as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was driven from power after his tumultuous 12-year reign. The question of the hour is "Now what?" The United Nations seems prepared to lift sanctions against Yugoslavia as early as Monday, as president-elect Vojislav Kostunica is poised to take control.

But who is Kostunica? How will he change the course of the country's politics? And what will ultimately become of Milosevic? We asked these questions of Barbara Voytek, executive director of the Center for Slavic and East European Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.


What do you know about Vojislav Kostunica?

Not too much. I think the important thing behind him is that he is well grounded in law. He is a professor of law from a faculty that is extremely well known and is very good. So I think in terms of legal means of accomplishing things, he definitely will uphold the rule of law. So in that respect, he definitely is good for Serbia right now. I think it took a while for the opposition to get their act together, because I think some of the other potential candidates like [Kostunica's campaign manager Zoran] Djindjic or [Vuk] Draskovic were looking for a power base of their own. Not that they would have been the same as Milosevic, but I think that they were probably thinking that they could take this over and maybe function in a similar way. But Kostunica was never looking at that kind of thing, so he probably made certain requirements of the opposition, that if he was going to be their candidate, certain things would have to happen. I think that's one of the reasons that it took a while for him to step forward as the candidate they would all stand behind.

So you buy the "reluctant warrior" bit?


I think it's legitimate. He certainly loves his country. I am amused when I read that he is a nationalist. Well, you know, who isn't? If someone is willing to sell out their country because they're not a nationalist, then we've got a problem. So I don't see a problem with that. I think a patriot, someone who really cares about Serbia and Yugoslavia and Serbia within Yugoslavia is definitely what they need. But I don't think he was looking for the presidency because he felt it was his chance for fame and fortune. I think it took a while to persuade him to be the one. And that's a good thing.

I think he's what they need now. I don't think he wants to become the president forever. I think he wants to make sure that there's some movement toward a government that the Serbs can be proud of again and that the Montenegrans would not want to get rid of because they can also be proud of it. I think he certainly is the right man for the time. I think he's more concerned with the institutional framework of government than his own personal gain. I don't want to turn him into something bigger than life, but given what I do know about him, I think that this probably is the right person for now.

Who will the other players be in this new government?


It's hard to say. I don't believe that Draskovic will necessarily have any power position. But he does have a following, so he won't be just thrown to the side. Djindjic, who people are describing as campaign manager, certainly for a while looked to be the opposition coalition candidate. But he is a bit colored because he left Serbia during the bombing. It's tricky. I think when Djindjic left and Kostunica did not leave, that meant something to people. I think Djindjic, however, will be involved. I would assume there is a pretty good cadre of professors who had been thrown from the university by Milosevic who probably are quite capable, and I would think that Kostunica would look to them for support, but it definitely will be something to watch.

What do you expect to change in terms of the way Yugoslavia is actually run?


Well, I think the most immediate is to have some kind of rapprochement with the international community, with the West. And at least so far, it seems that there is going to be an attempt to do that. Get rid of the sanctions as soon as possible, and talk about rejoining the United Nations, and getting into the OSCE and some of the other international organizations. I think that is certainly a first order of business. I think the thing to watch is the people Kostunica appoints to different kinds of positions. Who is chosen, for example, to deal with those international issues, what kind of cabinet is he going to set up? I think that will be a very important thing to watch because he needs good people.

Secondly in terms of internal procedures, I would assume that he will have to talk to Milo Djukanovic, president of Montenegro, and see if they can't come up with some kind of working relationship. It will be interesting to see how firmly Montenegro will remain on the idea of separating from Yugoslavia, or if they will perhaps determine that it's better to stick with Yugoslavia, for now at least. I think that the reason they really wanted out of Yugoslavia was because of Milosevic.

I think that Kostunica will assure that there is a good legal base to make sure that the groundwork is set for the country to follow a legal procedure so that the constitution is not looked upon as someone's plaything that they can change to suit their own position. I think those are the kinds of things that he will probably focus on. This is what he will try to do, and it is what is required.


What about the expectations placed on Kostunica both by the international community and at home?

Well, I do not think that he'll be able to all of a sudden give all of the Serbs all of their salaries that they have not been paid for I don't know how many years. But I think this is a patient people that understands things will not turn around immediately. I don't think they're looking to him and saying, "Well, you're promising a BMW in every garage" or something like that. They know that things are bad.

It's going to take a bit of good diplomacy to deal with the West and to make sure that the funds and the help that the West is promising is channeled in the right direction, because that probably won't continue very long. We have a reputation for promising things, and then after a few months, all of a sudden, it comes out that the money we promised for aid never materialized. I don't think that anything will develop vis-à-vis Kosovo right away. This will be left quietly so that the new government does not get hit with all those problems. I don't think anyone's expecting that all of a sudden there will be a solution to Kosovo because it's really so complex.


Again, something to watch is that along with the elections for the presidency there were elections for Parliament. And many of the members of Milosevic's party were voted in, so he will have to find a way of dealing with these people. And a lot of those internal mechanisms are going to demand a lot of his attention.

So what about Milosevic's future?

He claims to be the head of the party. But one would hope that the same kinds of defections that happened among the police and to a certain extent within the army would occur within the party. I think that the party will not continue to support Milosevic. The members of that party do not feel any great loyalty to the guy. I think they'll go with whomever will promise them that they're not going to lose their property or be sent to the Hague. There's going to be some shaking up. I don't think that party has the power that it used to have.

Milosevic might be afraid more of his own party than he is the opposition at this point. I think it would be difficult for Milosevic to remain in Serbia the way [indicted war criminal Radovan] Karadic has remained in the Republican Srbska. Serbia is not the same. It's an interesting question. My sense is that there will be some kind of arrangement where he will have to perhaps face some kind of judicial process within Yugoslavia. I think that it would be appropriate. Whether Kostunica can arrange for that or not is really another question. At the same time, his party which supported him, sometimes they can turn out to be your worst enemies in the end. It might be more dangerous for them to have a Milosevic around who is healthy, and if something should happen to him, I wouldn't say it's just the opposition who may want to get rid of him. I think he's got to watch his back, not so much his front.


How do you think Kostunica will deal with Milosevic?

Well, he's already called for restraint from his followers, and I think that gives you a good indication of the man. He does not want to start his presidency with the blood of Milosevic, or anyone really, if it can be avoided. I know he said he would not turn Milosevic over to the tribunal. But I think he would feel it's appropriate to have some kind of judicial process brought against Milosevic. Not so much for international acts, but certainly, he's done enough to his own country that he should be held accountable there.

Would the international community accept a Serbian solution to dealing with Milosevic?

I don't think they would say, "OK, you take care of him" and just forget about the war crimes charges. But at the same time, I don't think they'd keep sanctions going if Milosevic is not turned over. I'd like to think the international community is smart enough to realize that it's better to think constructively and getting a strong, stable country within the Balkans is better than trying to figure out how to get revenge. I think there are a lot of people who would like to see Milosevic tried. A lot of people in Bosnia of sure, not to mention Kosovo, etc. But I think for those people, for the long term, it's more important to have a stable situation, some law, some decency.


I have no love for Milosevic, and I won't cry at his funeral. But at the same time, if I had a choice of seeing him in the tribunal being prosecuted or something that would be more valuable in terms of reconstructing the country, I would go for the latter. And I think that's the way it is going to go within the United Nations.

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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