Serbia's European Integration

Serbia’s European Integration

13:00, 27 Jun 2006

RUSI, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ET

Link to map: multimap

About the event:

Dr Kostunica was elected Prime Minister in March 2004 after having previously served as President of Yugoslavia 2000-2003. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Belgrade University in 1966 and received his doctorate in 1974.

In 1970, he was appointed Assistant Professor at the University’s Faculty of Law. He published many works in constitutional law, political theory and philosophy.

In 1989, Dr Kostunica co-founded the Democratic Party and in 1992 set up the Democratic Party of Serbia. He has since served as the Party’s President. He was an opposition deputy in the Serbian Parliament between 1990 and 1997.

The President of the Serbian Government Vojislav Koštunica's address

RUSI, London 27th June 2006

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank you for your kind words and warm introduction and for the opportunity to address the prominent audience in the Royal United Services Institute. An opportunity such as this one reminds me of my previous visit and the lecture I gave at St. Anthony’s College in Oxford in November 2001. I was speaking then as the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, approximately one year after the electoral victory of the democratic forces over Slobodan Milosevic’s regime and the dramatic events which followed before the recognition of the electoral results on 5th October 2000. While speaking in Oxford, I pointed out the obstacles which at that time stood in the way of the approach of my country to European integration, the specifics of its position within the context of transition as well as the difficulties linked to the tragic inheritance from communism in general and the previous authoritarian government in particular. Even then, accession to European integration was marked as the strategic goal and main priority of Serbia’s recently gained democracy. Today, not a full five years later, we are in a position to estimate how much of that road Serbia has travelled towards the goal it set itself, as well as which obstacles still remain.

In my lecture to the students of St. Anthony’s College, I emphasised the importance of the development of institutions and the establishment of the rule of law as the main precondition for the recovery of the social tissue which had been seriously damaged by the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the wars which followed, isolation, sanctions and finally NATO’s military intervention. Today, I can say with conviction that this first and most important condition has, for the main part, been fulfilled. Serbia meanwhile has experienced at least two peaceful, democratic electoral cycles, the institution of the President of the Republic is functioning normally after a long interruption, the executive power answers to Parliament while Parliament, in its current convocation, has adopted over 230 systemic laws compatible with European legislation. The army and police have been placed under civil, parliamentary control and the judiciary is, slowly but surely, freeing itself of the inheritance of political dependence and corruption. I would like to express particular satisfaction with the excellent results the police have achieved in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Furthermore, nobody can deny, nor has made any attempt to do so, that the freedom of the press in Serbia is absolute, and that the situation regarding human rights, and particularly the position of minorities, is in accordance with the highest European standards.

We should also add to this positive side of the balance that privatization in Serbia has made significant progress in the last five years and the macroeconomic situation in general is in fact very good. In the last two years the gross national income grew at an annual rate of 9.3 and 6.5% respectively, the foreign currency reserves increased to almost $8 billion, direct foreign investments are approaching an annual figure of EUR 2 billion with a tendency of growth, imports have fallen and exports increased, and according to the World Bank’s neutral appraisal, out of 155 ranked countries, Serbia was the first in terms of the tempo of reforms in the economy. Even if we take into consideration the high unemployment rate of over 20% and the relatively high annual inflation of 10-15%, in comparison with the situation facing us after the October changes in 2005, the progress achieved is indisputably huge.

Because of all this, it is logical to pose the question as to why today, six years after the return to democracy, Serbia has not come much closer to the achievement of its basic strategic goal – that of accession to the European Union. Namely, it is well known, that the negotiations regarding the SAA, which were, after receiving a positive Feasibility Study, meant to be the next step on Serbia’s path towards European integration, have been called off.

Back in November 2001, I told the audience present at my lecture in Oxford, that in addition to the predictable transitional difficulties (which are, incidentally, in the case of Serbia more complicated that usually), my country also faces three extremely serious and specific problems. I identified those problems as the status of the state and relations between Serbia and Montenegro, the issue of Kosovo and Metohija and the cooperation with the ICTY in The Hague. The fact that two of those problems, in a different form and degree, still exist, is a reason to briefly address them from the current accessible perspective. But let me say something about the way the first problem, which related to the relations between Serbia and Montenegro, has been taken off the agenda.

As everyone knows, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia firstly became the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and after the expiration of the three year time limit established by the Belgrade Treaty from 2003, Montenegro used its right to a referendum, at which its citizens, in May this year, voted in favour of independence with a majority of 0.5%. No matter how great a part of the Serbian public, including my Government and myself personally, hold the position that in a time of general integration it does not make a great deal of sense to long for disintegration, that the further fragmentation of the Balkans is undesirable and that Serbia and Montenegro together would find it easier to approach the European Union, nobody from Serbia in any way influenced the campaign and the outcome of the Montenegrin referendum. We considered it unfair and unreasonable that 260,000 Montenegrin citizens, who are residents of Serbia, should be deprived of the right to vote in the referendum (especially since the Montenegrins from, for instance, Australia or Argentina had and were able to use that right), but we accepted Europe’s decision for it to be so. We also thought that it would be good for the sustainabilty of the referendum’s outcome if at least 50% plus one of the total number of registered voters voted for it, as was the case in Quebec for instance, but that suggestion was again rejected. Serbia, therefore, acted consistently, sensibly and in accordance with the decision of the union of states it wishes to join, and the result of the referendum was accepted albeit with no enthusiasm, but with no bad blood either. The independence of Montenegro has been recognised and diplomatic relations have been established. The links between the nations in Serbia and Montenegro are so deep and strong, since they stem from our origins, mutual history, culture, language and religion, that there is no political power, internal or external, which could seriously disturb them.

The good will of Serbia towards its new neighbour was also confirmed during the recent official recognition of Montenegro, when the Government of Serbia, on the same day, brought the decision to make it easier for Montenegrin citizens who reside in Serbia, if they wish to do so, to take dual citizenship, as well as for Montenegrin students who study in Serbia to receive the same treatment as their Serbian colleagues. Therefore, there is no reason for the fear that the independence of Montenegro could in itself be the cause of any disruption of stability in the region: any danger of that kind, as I will try to show later, comes from a different side. If, however, it proves that that decisions of the European factors in the whole process of Montenegro’s independence were not quite opportune, the responsibility for that will not rest with Serbian side, which expressed its reserve in a legitimate way and in good time. It cannot be denied that in the whole process of Montenegro’s path to independence, Serbia consistently conducted itself in the spirit of democratic tolerance and constructive approach, in the very spirit, ladies and gentlemen, which represents the fundamental value, and even the pledge of the European Community’s existence.

I feel compelled to point out to you that these same principles of justice, constructive approach and compromise have also marked Serbia’s conduct towards the difficult and potentially dangerous problem of its southern province, Kosovo. That is, without doubt, one of the most difficult European problems today, perhaps because what lies at the base of everything, simply said, boils down to the threat of pure violence. The Albanians in Kosovo want full independence and international recognition, and they want that immediately, and – as the UN and the EU should know very well – they are perfectly willing and able to resort to organised violence if they are denied it. Serbia’s non acceptance, for the sake of appeasement, to renounce part of its territory is based above all else on documents of international law, starting from the UN Charter and Helsinki Final Document to a series of specific Security Council decisions. However, this position also has a base in some other, political and moral considerations which the international community should be aware of in as much as they are aware of the legal documents. The messages, some more discreet than others, which have recently been arriving to Belgrade from the world, indicating "some kind" of independence as the future status of Kosovo, have a discouraging effect and seem to disregard the direct and inevitable consequences of such an imposed solution.

Serbia firmly and honestly believes that the violation of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of a democratic country would be tantamount to undermining the very foundation on which international order rests. But apart from this, the most fundamental of all possible considerations, it should not be disregarded that granting independence to Kosovo would mean the acceptance of the mass violation of human rights, as well as ethnic cleansing as a legitimate means to acquiring independence. Serbia would certainly not accept the imposed solution involving the independence of Kosovo and Metohija, so that any such act would, in accordance with the Serbian Parliament Resolution, be declared invalid and legally void, which would, without any doubt at all, receive the full support of the large majority of citizens. We would act in such a way in the conviction that in doing so we are not only defending our freedom and the democratic structure, but also the regional stability and the fundamental principles of international order. There is no doubt that the eventual imposed solution of the Kosovo issue would place Serbia in an exceptionally difficult position – both in terms of the internal situation and relations with the surrounding area, but also regarding the widest international context.

Perhaps the time has come to give more careful consideration to the weight of the consequences which would result from the decision to impose the solution for Kosovo and Metohija on Serbia. The question is what Serbia can, and what she must and should do in such a case. The answer to this question lies in several essential facts which I mentioned addressing the Serbian Parliament, when the Resolution about the negotiations regarding the future status of the Southern Serbian province was established. On that occasion I said that the Kosovo and Metohija issue concerns the future of Serbia and the life of all of its citizens, and emphasised that Kosovo and Metohija is part of Serbia, not only as part of its history, but also its present and its future. I said that when we talk about Kosovo, we talk about our nation, our territory, our tradition and culture – in fact about our very roots and identity.

You can rest assured, ladies and gentlemen, that all of the relevant political parties and the large majority of citizens in Serbia strongly believe that. What is then the fate of Serbia, if in spite of its will, and contrary to the fundamental principles of international law, Kosovo and Metohija is taken from it, thus trampling on what are the essential state and national interests of Serbia? The Serbian Parliament would certainly resolutely reject any imposed solution, and that would inevitably mark the turning point, which would in the long term determine all political events in Serbia, its politics, life, the relationships within the country itself, but also Serbia’s relations with the rest of the world.

Serbia takes the Vienna negotiations regarding the future of Kosovo very seriously and has constructive answers to all of the questions which are asked. We are convinced that a well thought out decentralization strategy could create the conditions for the survival, security and return of those non-Albanian citizens who are at risk, which would in turn preserve the multi-ethnic structure of the province. The Albanians would have substantial autonomy, the widest which the concept of autonomy allows in its broadest interpretation. That means full self-government within the domain of the legislative, executive and legal authority, even with the possibility of accession to regional and international financial organisations. The guarantor of such a solution should be the international community as the participant in the negotiations and the signatory of the document.

Unfortunately, it must be said that the negotiations in Vienna are not going well and that there has been no progress in the field of decentralization mostly because of the total lack of flexibility of the Albanian side, which does not accept even the remotest possibility of compromise. The way Belgrade sees it - if the principle that the fulfilment of standards must precede the status negotiations has already been abandoned, it is inadmissible to decide about the status if the issue of decentralization has not been resolved at the very least. It is particularly wrong to insist on strictly determined deadlines, which make what is already a complicated and sensitive situation even more tense and potentially explosive.

This is, in brief, our view of what is currently probably the biggest regional and one of the biggest European problems. Its solution therefore demands a genuine European approach, which will lead to a result which is permanent as oppose to temporary, thorough as oppose to superficial and universal as oppose to one-sided. In the sensitive area of the Balkans, it is essential not to reopen Pandora’s box of changing borders, which will inevitably happen if, during the search for a solution, only the demands of the Albanians for independence are adhered to. The only way to avoid that is the implementation of the wealth of European experience. If Europe has succeeded, through various constitutional and institutional solutions, in providing unity in ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the biggest part of the continent, there is no reason not to achieve the same in its southeastern region. What applies to Europe, also applies to the Balkans, or to be more precise - it applies to the Balkans exactly because it applies to Europe.

What is a serious cause for concern is the fact that cooperation with the ICTY in The Hague still presents the most serious, or more exactly, the only remaining real obstacle to the approach of Serbia to European integration, but – it should be openly said – also the obstacle to any other form of recovery and the progress of the state. This could best be seen when, at the beginning of May, the negotiations regarding the SAA were called off, which decision, in a single move, undermined all the achievements of the Serbian Government on the country’s road to European integration. This was, basically, done only and exclusively because of the non fulfilment of the explicit condition that one man be extradited to The Hague, which, in our opinion, caused the whole problem to spin out of all normal political proportions. What I want to say is that we have ended up in a situation in which the extradition of one man (regardless of how serious the accusations against him are) directly dictates not only the fate of an entire state and a nation consisting of eight million people, but also the future of democratic order and even – finally – the stability of a whole, traditionally sensitive part of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, within the context of Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY in The Hague, I would like to recall some simple statistics. According to the information I have in my possession, out of a total of 108 Serbs indicted for war crimes, 51 are currently being tried before the court, 15 are serving sentences, 8 have served their sentences, the charges against 16 of them have been dropped for various reasons and 12 of them died prior to or during trial, while a total of 6 indictees are still free. The determination and readiness of the Serbian authorities to fulfil their obligations towards the ICTY cannot be brought into question in any way. I would like to remind you that since Milosevic himself and some other indictees were extradited to The Hague back in 2001, and after the adoption of the Law on Cooperation with the ICTY, the current government has extradited as many as 16 indictees during several months of 2005. Not only does the political will for the extradition of Mladic exist, but also absolutely all of the potential which one democratic country has at its disposal is engaged in the task of locating him. However, in spite of the fact that we are prepared to offer any kind of proof that we are doing everything in our power, the decision to call off the negotiations, with all its precarious consequences, remains in effect, and the Damocles’ sword of the completion of cooperation with The Hague continues to hang over Serbia.

Anybody who has tried, even for a moment, to look at the whole situation with an impartial eye could not fail to notice the disproportion between the ephemeral nature of conditions and the lasting nature issue which is at stake. We have, in fact, ended up in a position where the survival of an entire European democracy directly depends on bringing to justice one single indictee, which, even if this is interpreted as a matter of principle and credibility, is still absurd. It seems to me that I shall not be exaggerating if I say that in the entire European, and even world history it is difficult to find a precedent for such a need to isolate and eliminate one man. All this, it goes without saying, does not change the position in which my nation and my country currently find itself. I believe that Serbia at least has the right to know how it can prove that it is doing everything humanly possible to fulfil its obligations. That is the best way to prove Europe’s repeatedly emphasised readiness to help and support Serbia, and at the same time to move on from the impasse in which, through resolving one serious problem, we have ended up.

I feel compelled to point out the fact that Serbia is becoming tired of the constant pressure and conditioning. While, on one side, wish for partnership with Belgrade is constantly mentioned, the friendly hand of support has not once been offered without that fatal "if". I beg you to understand that this does not refer to the survival of one specific government or of any single party-political option, but to the future of a democratic order, to regional stability and ultimately – to the elementary principles of justice and equality. This incessant exposure to pressure and the need to constantly prove constructivism cannot continue without consequences, and I believe that the roots of the disappointment, frustration and bitterness, which are said to be felt in Serbia, originate exactly from there.

If the international community were to show more understanding for the sincerity of Belgrade's efforts to eliminate the remaining obstacle in the aim of completing cooperation with the ICTY, or if it would at least more clearly define the criteria which would be sufficient to remove the mistrust towards the authorities in Serbia, if some gesture of support were offered instead of the rhetorical flow (for instance, equalising the visa regime to that which Rumania, Bulgaria and Croatia enjoy) – I have no doubt of the improved results which would follow such an approach. What I am saying here is not an appeal for material aid, privileges or some gesture of special generosity, but exclusively for equality and what is referred to in English as "the benefit of the doubt". We should not lose sight of the fact that somewhere, in the last instance, lies the interest which is mutual to Europe, and the United Kingdom and Serbia – and finally to the whole world of the future, peace and common sense.

Ladies and gentlemen, taking everything into consideration, it would mean a great deal to Serbia, particularly in the position in which it currently finds itself, if it could count on the understanding of Great Britain as its traditional ally in all great historical ordeals and moments of truth. Convinced that there will be such an understanding, and that the old and proven friendship, even in the hardest times, which exists between Serbia and the United Kingdom will blossom anew, I would like to thank you for your attention.

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