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April 27, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 488
On the Occasion of an Award

Steady President

by Roksanda Nincic

“If we want Serbia to get back to the rule of law and to consolidate fragile democracy, it will be easier with Mr. Kostunica and his Administration than without him.”  This sentence, written by Alex Bohraine, Co-President of the South African Committee for Truth and Peace, several days ago in the New York Times is probably the best reflection of the Western attitude toward the Yugoslav President.  Regardless of how much they like him or dislike him, key Western political factors are ready to cooperate with him constructively.  It is possible, although not certain, that after the release of the official results in the Montenegrin parliamentary elections, that Podgorica will also demonstrate a willingness for constructive cooperation.

Even though the popularity of Vojislav Kostunica, as well as of the new government as a whole is dropping, the FRY President is still one politician with the highest rating in Serbia.  According to the latest research by the Strategic Marketing Agency, Kostunica would win in an election for the president of Serbia if he were to decide to run.  This is a fact that is recognized even more, perhaps in the West than it is recognized here.

STATESMAN OF THE YEAR:  By awarding Kostunica its traditional annual award of “Statesman of the Year”, the American non-government organization East-West Institute gave the Yugoslav more credit than most of his coalitional partners are willing to do: “This year we are recognizing President Kostunica who drove out of power one the last dictators in Europe in a fair and honest elections.  He is also being recognized for his efforts in transforming a country ravaged by war and economically impoverished into a budding democracy, as well as for striving to make it a part of the European Union,” the East-West Institute informed the public.

Otherwise, this award is issued every eighth of May in New York at an official dinner that is attended by 700 guests, including leaders of financial and investment institutions and government officials of US and European governments.  It is still not known whether Mr. Kostunica will attend this dinner in order to accept this award, by a positive decision with regard to this could also mean an official visit to Washington, that is to say a meeting with American President Bush.

AMERICAN SUPPORT:  This award is given to those who “achieved significant progress in bringing their countries closer to political stability and economic prosperity,” and was awarded to Edward Shevernadze, Vaclav Havel and the former American President George Bush Senior.  The East-West Institute itself, founded some 20 years ago with its seat in New York, is most often recognized as the counterbalance to the International Crisis Group, also an American non-government organization which had great influence during the Clinton Administration in formulating American hawkish policy toward Serbia.

Except for the East-West Institute, the very influential sector of American non-government organizations is far less disposed toward Kostunica than Washington itself.  However, the International Crisis Group, as well as several other non-government organizations with similar orientations – for instance Human Rights Watch or the American Peace Institute – no longer represent a support to the new American Administration which is more isolationist in its approach.

Last week the American Government also pleasantly surprised Vojislav Kostunica.  President George Bush Junior sent congratulations to the Yugoslav President on the occasion of the FRY state holiday, April 27, a full week in advance, and in the name of the American people he expressed good will and friendship toward all citizens of Yugoslavia – “now that we are continuing to build on the foundations of friendship made on November 17 of last year” (the date when USA and FRY re-established diplomatic relations).  “The USA welcomes the opportunity to cooperate with the new, democratic Yugoslavia in establishing historically strong ties between the two countries, in order that we could once again emphasize American support for the process of reform begun by you and other democratic leaders.”  Besides the long forgotten warmth in all communication between Washington and Belgrade, also striking is the fact that in so few sentences the word Yugoslavia was used so often (without separate mention of Serbia and Montenegro).

NOT FORGETTING THE HAGUE:  Of course, it would be a mistake to think that there is a love affair between Kostunica and the West.  The British media continue to describe the Yugoslav President as a man who respects the law and as a conservative nationalist, all in one breath.  American media also describe him upon occasion as “yet another nationalist who merely wanted a Greater Serbia.”

In concrete terms, the main stumbling block remains Kostunica’s unwillingness to extradite Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague.  The leaders of the Yugoslav and Serbian governments are repeating in nearly ritual fashion that the extradition of Milosevic is not a priority issue – but key Western capitals still continue to ascribe paramount importance to this issue.  Milosevic’s trial will inevitably generate, and already has generated, certain compromises, but this entire problem promises to continue.  Still, Alex Bohraine stated in his New York Times article that Kostunica is “an astute politician who knows that evident political realities exist which will not disappear.”  He also wrote that “of course, the demand for trying Milosevic for war crimes is entirely justified.”  “Is it possible that Mr. Kostunica could answer in the affirmative the demands of the Hague and could overcome disagreement within his own government and from Mr. Milosevic’s supporters?  I think it is.”  Bohraine concluded that “Mr. Kostunica deserves both support and pressure.”

A REAL MAN:  When a tally is made, the greatest criticism of President Kostunica never came from Washington, Bruxelles or London, let alone Paris, Rome or Bon – rather, it came from Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists.

The campaign run by supporters of Montenegro’s independence was once again built on confrontation with Belgrade’s hegemony.  The only complication arose from the fact that Milosevic was no longer in power – where contradicting him did not require any special explanation.  In the absence of such a useful, virtually ideal enemy, voters were being persuaded that Kostunica is nearly identical, that is to say, even worse than his predecessor.  For instance, Podgorica’s daily newspaper “Vijesti” expressed an opinion before the elections with regard to who is a positive figure: “Milosevic made threats like a man.  Kostunica makes threats in an underhanded way.”  A graffiti appeared in Podgorica with the following message: “Slobodan is in prison.  Kostunica is free.”  It is interesting that the Liberals in Podgorica, who by contrast with the Democratic Party of Socialists have stood for Montenegrin independence since their founding, have been far more specific where Kostunica is concerned.

Still, this anti-Kostunic hysteria did not convince anyone, judging by the election results.  The very fact that Kostunica comes from Serbia – by contrast with the evident expectations of the authors of the campaign – was not sufficient in this.  Simply put, both as a personality and as a politician, both in terms of personal manners and convictions, he is so contrary to Milosevic (and Djukanovic also), that no arguments of relative masculinity of Milosevic were of any use.

The results of the parliamentary elections in Montenegro indicated that the federal state is more legitimate than the supporters of Montenegro’s independence are willing to admit.  Namely, all during the campaign they claimed that the federal state does not exist.  However, nearly half of the electorate claimed the opposite.

This still does not mean that Podgorica will not risk independence and that federal state will survive in some shape and form, but it does mean that despite a state which is in disarray, armed conflicts, internal trials and pressures from outside, Vojislav Kostunica has managed only to increase his influence in the first seven months of his presidency.

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