Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Chairman: Lady and gentlemen, may I, on behalf of the committee, welcome you to our proceedings. We are really looking, as a committee, at the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia post the fall of Milosevic. The whole landscape of the area clearly has changed as a result of the dramatic picture of October 5. It could have been a violent change, as happened in 1989 with Ceaucescu; it could have been a velvet change. It is to the credit of those in Serbia that it was, indeed, a non-violent change. We shall, with you, explore the implications. I welcome, on behalf of the Committee, Misha Glenny; Dr Karin von Hippel of the Centre for Defence Studies of King's College London; Tim Judah, who has appeared before us before; and Jonathan Steele, to give us your views on the significance of post-October 5 Yugoslavia. May I begin by asking for an assessment from each of you as to where power now lies in the new structure. How do you see the coalition which brought President Kostunica to power? What are likely to be the relationships between the federal authority of President Kostunica and the Serbian authority, and, also, the personalities, with Prime Minister Djindjic? Where does the power now lie? How is that power likely to evolve? Who would like to start? Tim Judah, you have written excessively—

  Sir David Madel: Extensively.

  Chairman: "Extensively" is the word I was looking for.

Sir David Madel

  1. Eruditely.
  (Mr Judah) Thank you. Over the last few days and weeks there has been this debate that has been going on and on about what to do about Milosevic and we have seen various ministers all giving contradictory statements. I think that really puts a spotlight on what you are getting at. I think the obvious problem is that you have a coalition of 18 parties—most of which are rather small, of course, but still they are holding together—18 parties within the Serbian Government, and then you have got the Yugoslav authorities which are dominated by Mr Kostunica, and then again, of course, you have the problem of Montenegro, the integration into the Yugoslav authorities of one wing of the Montenegrin body politic. Although it is hanging together somewhat or it is hanging together, it is making decision-making an extremely slow process. I think it is to their credit that the major conflicts which could have broken out have to quite a large extent been contained and internalised, but for the long-term, for the future, how that pans out remains to be seen.


  2. How fragile is it?
  (Mr Judah) A lot of it will depend on what happens in Montenegro. We have elections scheduled for April 22 in Montenegro. After that it will be clear if and when there is going to be a referendum. Clearly, if the pro-Belgrade forces win, it seems very unlikely that there will be a referendum, or, if there is, they will phrase a question which will be to their benefit; if the pro-independence forces which are now in control win the election, by implication they would also win a referendum because really the election is about the future of Montenegro, obviously, and therefore is about independence. But, of course, if after April, perhaps in May or June or a little bit further on—we do not know yet—there is a referendum then Montenegro secedes, then there is no more Yugoslav layer of authority. Part of the problem is that in Belgrade you have a country with a population that is smaller than the size of London but really with two governments: you have got a Yugoslav layer, but which does not actually run anything in Montenegro, and you have got a Serbian layer, which is also trying to contain a very diverse coalition. But I think it is really only after we have clarified the situation in Montenegro that at least one part of that problem will go away.

  3. Would anyone like to disagree with that or qualify it?
  (Mr Glenny) There has been, frankly, a fairly obvious power struggle in Belgrade ever since October 5, between Kostunica on the one hand and Zoran Djindjic on the other hand. My own feeling is that Kostunica—although the Montenegrin issue and the survival of the federation plays a very important role in it—is losing this struggle at the moment, fairly obviously; that his influence is waning domestically. Although he still maintains considerable popular support, he does not have a political base. Djindjic is a much more experienced politician. He has a very powerful and sophisticated political party which is sinking itself very effectively into all sorts of institutions. I think more and more the counterbalance to Djindjic and his influence comes from two politicians within the Serbian Government, Nebojsa Covic on the one hand, a former mayor of Belgrade, who is the deputy prime minister and the man who is responsible at the moment for the discussions of moving the negotiations on Presevo Valley, and Dusan Mihajlovic, who is the interior minister. They are not from Djindjic's party and they act as a certain balance on Djindjic. But Kostunica himself, I think, has damaged himself somewhat recently, particularly over the way that he handled the Carla Del Ponte visit to Belgrade. There is more pressure on Belgrade internationally and it has focused more on Kostunica's attitude than Djindjic's, who was much more cautious about how he responded to Del Ponte's accusations.

  4. Do you wish to comment, Dr von Hippel?
  (Dr von Hippel) I would rather focus more on Kosovo.

  5. So be it. We will come on to that. Jonathan Steele?
  (Mr Steele) I would like to add a couple of points which are more to do with institutions rather than personalities. I think there is still some question mark over the role and loyalty of the Yugoslav army, which is still led by the chief of staff who was there at the time of Milosevic. This has relevance, I think, for the Presevo Valley—and I am sure we will come on to that in detail later on—but also some questions over the Serbian police. We have just heard Misha Glenny pointing out that Dusan Mihajlovic is in charge of that, but some of the top people who have just been appointed, like Sreten Lukic ... He is a man who has quite a bad past in the Kosovo issue and he is now very influential at the head of the Serbian police. Then on the economy, although this may be in more detail than you necessarily want, I think there are problems about privatisation. In the last three months of last year, strangely, they allowed the privatisation ministry to be in the hands of only one minister, whereas most of the other ministries were divided up into three, as in the transitional government. That particular minister was loyal to Milosevic and carried out a rather odd, slightly sleazy form of privatisation: something like 200 companies were practically given to old cronies of the Milosevic regime. I think one of the questions which the new government has to face is whether to try and unravel these rather hasty privatisations of the last three months.

Sir David Madel

  6. When we were there last week, we had quite a lot of formal and informal references to the standard of living. If the standard of living slips, who will get the blame? If the standard of living rises, who will get the credit?
  (Mr Steele) I think obviously the government has to be thought in charge, but I mean the question partly will relate, I think, to the issues with which you are concerned, which is the European Union role. As I understand—and I am sure you were told on your recent visit to Belgrade—the EU money has come through very effectively for fuel oil for the central heating plants in the municipalities and electricity is being imported from Bulgaria, particularly, and being paid for by the EU. Some food, I think sugar and cooking oil, is being supplied by the EU. So there is a responsibility that the EU has taken on board, and I think, therefore, if the EU suddenly stops, let us say after six months or in the short term, and says, "We have now given enough aid," some of the blame may be put on the EU by the population for having supported democracy and begun to give some help and then apparently stopped it.

  7. The reason I asked the question was because you had already referred to a power struggle and it breaking down.
  (Mr Glenny) It will depend where people are. On the whole, I think, it will impact negatively both on Kostunica's rating and Djindjic's rating, but it is also a very localised thing. There are some areas where unemployment is much, much heavier and where there is considerable despair already. There is a peculiar situation in Belgrade, to which I think DOS is being very slow to respond, and that is the absence of a mayor, who has considerable executive powers, because the very popular elected mayor has gone off to be our master in Washington. The people of Belgrade are extremely angry about that. I think the question of where they put the blame will depend very much on which part of the country they are in. But, on the whole, they are more likely to blame Djindjic and his government than they are Kostunica. There is still a lot of popular faith in Kostunica.

Dr Starkey

  8. I would like to pick up on something that Mr Steele said, which is something of which we were aware when we were there. There are a lot of people still running the government who were there before, whose commitment to democracy must be somewhat doubtful. Are those people going to be gradually eased out? If they are not, are we right to have any real confidence in a democratic transition in Serbia?
  (Mr Glenny) When you say "people still running the government" what sort of people are you referring to?

  9. Various. I think the person who bombarded—
  (Mr Steele) Lukic.

  10. Lukic. Lukic walked past us in one of the meetings that we were in. You mentioned people who were pretty close to Milosevic who are in the ministries and what not, and of course there is the Montenegrin participants within the government who actually represent the party which was largely an ally of Milosevic.
  (Mr Glenny) I think you will find, if you look at the transitions throughout Eastern Europe, there was often tremendous overlap, for one very simple point of view: you have to have some people who actually understand the administration of government. There are some people who should clearly be unacceptable to the Serbian political establishment itself and the international community. There are individual cases, like the one, Lukic, that Jonathan has pointed out, but, on the whole, bearing in mind that a large number of people, including members of the opposition themselves, were compromised in one way or another under Milosevic—if not to do with war then certainly to do with the economy—you have to have a certain flexibility here. I am not saying that you allow war criminals in or anything like that, but there is a fundamental commitment to real change and opening up of institutions. I think there is a lot of evidence that that is happening, and, as regards to what Jonathan was saying about the sleazy privatisations, they have in the past week or so made a very firm commitment to investigate these and make sure that none of these cronies of Milosevic pick up this stuff for free. So I think you will see evidence of them really trying to strengthen democratic institutions at the expense of individual profit.

  11. Do the others agree with that?
  (Mr Judah) Yes, I agree with that, but I wanted to come back to a related question, which is to do with the economy but it is also to do with war crimes and to do with the Hague. It puts us, in a way, on the horns of a dilemma: Do we say we are not going to give aid? Or do we condition aid unless war criminals are handed over?—which then makes problems for the governing coalition. That is certainly going to happen with the Americans, who, as far as I have understood it, have put a deadline of March 31, by which time the President has to certify that Belgrade is co-operating with the war crimes tribunal to get aid, economic aid.

  12. One of the points that was made to us while we were there was that the danger with the war crimes tribunal is that it turns war criminals into heroes and martyrs in their own country. The newspapers yesterday reported a big demonstration in Croatia demonstrating exactly that, that they had turned into heroes these people who had gone. Do you think the Truth Commission is a way of actually dealing with that?
  (Mr Glenny) The Croatian situation is somewhat different from the Serbian situation. What has been going on in Croatia identifies how delicate this whole process is and that there is a very serious domestic impact that the Hague has. I sometimes think that the Hague is not quite aware of how political a role it has domestically in the countries in the former Yugoslavia. But, as regards Milosevic and the other four remaining indictees, hostility towards Milosevic and his regime at the moment is running so high still, that, after a process of arrest, negotiation, the whole process of getting Yugoslav laws in line so that they can be extradited, I actually do not think there would be a problem getting rid of Milosevic at the moment. Actually, it is in the Yugoslav authority's and the Serbian authority's own interest to get rid of this problem because while he is there I think he is actually more of a problem than were he in the Hague or in a Serbian gaol.

Sir John Stanley

  13. As you know, the focus of the committee's work is the British Government's policy. I would just like, therefore, to ask each of you if you could, as succinctly as you can, to answer this question. Do you feel that the British Government's present policy is doing all you would expect to try to reinforce the process of democratisation and genuine freedom within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Are there things you would wish to see the British Government doing that it is not doing at the moment? Are there things that the British Government is doing which you would prefer it was not doing at the moment? What is your view as to whether there should be a visit by a senior minister, particularly the Foreign Secretary, to Belgrade at this time? I specifically ask that question because it was suggested to us during our meetings last week in Belgrade that there might be a degree of diffidence in the Foreign Office at the moment about the Foreign Secretary going to Belgrade, given the high visibility of the cruise missile damage and possibly adverse public reaction on the streets if he went. Do you feel that a visit by him to Belgrade would be a beneficial and very visible indication of strong British support for the new democratic movement in Serbia?
  (Mr Steele) I think, broadly, British policy is quite correct at the moment. I would only be sorry if, in line with what I said before, there was any backing off in terms of money. I mean, it is very important to build up civil society or restore civil society in Yugoslavia. That was done a lot in the last year or two through programmes that eventually did culminate in the overthrow of Milosevic and I think it would be a great pity if we suddenly appeared to be backing off that in terms of cutting back our funding because we feel the whole issue of Yugoslavia was simply whether Milosevic is there or not. It is obviously a lot deeper problem than the fate of one particular man, even though he had a great power at the time. We need to continue these programmes for helping the media, young journalists, training people in the judiciary and explaining the benefits of an independent judiciary, all these kind of things, and, of course, in the social field I think a great deal needs to be done, in terms of their hospitals, their social work, their educational system and so on. I just hope the kind of programmes we have already got in place in many other transition countries would go forward in Yugoslavia. Coming on to your specific point about a visit by Robin Cook, if the visit is designed to establish contacts with the government, we have already done that, of course -because Kostunica and Djindjic have travelled a lot and people know pretty much what they think. If it is meant to be, as you have suggested, a visible sort of flag-flying exercise. I do not see any harm in that; I do not see any particular urgency in doing it either. I do not think it is very high priority one way or the other at this stage.
  (Mr Judah) Yes, I completely agree with that. I think the problem with Mr Cook is that perhaps it was his visibility during the period of the bombing which made him something of a hate figure. Why he became more of a hate figure than, for example, Hugo Vedrine, who was there within days of the fall of Milosevic, I have no idea, but that is simply the case and I think in that case it is probably just unnecessary for a visit. There is nothing really to gain. If that is the legacy of the bombing, well, let us just leave it, I would have thought.

  14. And on the wider issue of British Government policy?
  (Mr Judah) I agree, I think British policy is quite correct at the moment. Of course I completely agree with Jonathan that aid should be continued, etcetera, but I think the vast majority of the serious problems are not things which we can ... We may be able to advise or help when it comes to things like privatisation, but a lot of the political problems are their problems. They have to sort out their political problems. There is nothing much we can do about that.
  (Dr von Hippel) I can answer that in terms of how it affects Kosovo, if I may.


  15. Sure.
  (Dr von Hippel) I think that if Montenegro does become independent that is going to undermine the stability in Kosovo, and that would be something that will need to be addressed with the new government in Belgrade. It may be the time to start putting more pressure on both Kosovo and Belgrade to support a serious definition of what substantial autonomy means in Kosovo as well as to push them to hold province-wide elections sooner rather than later. That is one point. The second point is that Javier Solana went to Belgrade last week. There was a lot of negative publicity surrounding his visit and it turned out actually to be quite a positive visit and I think he felt very positive afterwards. In terms of Robin Cook, he is probably equally reviled, but it may be that it is time for him to consider when he will do it, and, even if it is, just to get it over with more than anything.
  (Mr Glenny) As far as I understand it, the diffidence was actually more from the Yugoslav side than from the Foreign Office's side of that visit, but the Solana visit is an important breakthrough and after that, in terms of the Yugoslavs getting over their problem, I do not think that exists any more. I think the point that Jonathan and Tim were making—about: Is there a specific reason for doing it now?—is more germane here. But there are serious issues. British policy is, of course, always linked up with EU policy as well. At the moment what you are still seeing is a degree of competition and misunderstanding between American policy and EU policy in the area. In some instances like the Presevo Valley the EU appears to fade away, for reasons which I do not understand. The main diplomatic thrust on Presevo is now coming from the US, who are actually getting close to micro-managing the whole situation, and I think, given that the EU must learn to take primary responsibility, diplomatic and aid responsibility for the former Yugoslavia in South-Eastern Europe, it makes it look rather bad when this sort of thing happens. It is very important to keep South-Eastern Europe in the public eye and not to allow it to become a non-issue, because there are several very important problems we are facing: Montenegro, Presevo, Kosovo and, in the longer term, Macedonia, not to mention Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they can come at you in their field and they can create a very serious security problem very quickly. So I think it is an important part of policy just to keep people aware that this is a very delicate situation. Very briefly on Serbia, there is a question about the independent media at the moment to which I would like to alert the committee, and that is the question of frequencies to independent television and radio stations. A moratorium has been slapped on this by the government which is essentially excluding certain independent media from proper access to the airwaves. One station that claims to be affected by this is B92, which was really important in keeping alive opposition to Milosevic throughout this period. This is something in which British policy can keep a close interest—we always have done in the past—to make sure that we do not see any kind of abuses going on, coming from the new government, which might restrict the flow of information to Yugoslav citizens.

  Sir John Stanley: The independent media is an issue which we raised on a number of occasions in our discussions in Belgrade and we also had some very interesting conversations with some of the representatives of the independent media, including the B92 station you refer to. Could I say, through you, Chairman, that, if Mr Glenny has any additional memoranda or any additional information or concerns about what the present government is doing in terms of restricting the independent media, it would be very helpful to have it in any supplementary memoranda which he would like to give the Committee.


  16. Indeed. Sir John, you will recall that when we were there, in relation to what Mr Steele said, there was a Wilton Park Conference with experts brought in on the freedom of the media, so we are doing something useful in that regard.
  (Mr Steele) If I may just add a point. The independent media is crucially important but so is the state media and I think it is very important that the state media does not become just a tool of DOS. One did hear remarks when I was there a few weeks ago that DOS was a kind of mirror image of the old Socialist Party-run media of Milosevic. I do not think that was entirely true. During the transitional period before the elections they did have an arrangement where the main parties were represented on some sort of board, but I am not quite sure, to be honest, what the position now is. I think if we could establish something much more like the BBC model or the ITN model, where you do have genuine independent non-partisan control of these state media, it is very, very important.

Sir Peter Emery

  17. Just following on from that, we saw the Commander in Chief and two members of the general staff in the army headquarters. They all had been serving for some time and we were inundated with a carrier of propaganda, pamphlets and tapes, massively condemning NATO and holding out that all the action of the American was scandalous, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Is that mainly with the military, only with the military, or do you see that spread right across or just in central Southern Serbia where Milosevic's support really lies? How deep is this? How difficult is it going to be to overcome, to bring democratic feelings that what happened was for the good of Yugoslavia?
  (Mr Steele) I think that particular point is going to be very hard to get across. It is very difficult for anybody to accept the idea that bombing was useful to bring about democracy in one's own country. Having said that, I do think that the bombing, with hindsight, can be said to have helped to bring down Milosevic, but I do not think the connection that ordinary people made was that the bombing was right, Milosevic was wrong, therefore the bombing helped to bring down Milosevic.

  18. How much is this condemnation going to suffer the future?
  (Mr Steele) I think this is a very big issue, how any country deals with its past, particularly when there are allegations and, indeed, strong evidence that criminality was used, not only at the top level but at many other levels, including, as you say, the army, and the police of course—do not forget the police. To come to terms with collective responsibility—and not collective guilt, because that is a different issue—because these governments actually were elected, the Milosevic governments, is a very, very complex and long-term thing. Perhaps that will come up in further questioning. I do not want to go on with that too long.
  (Dr von Hippel) In Kosovo, where I think the majority of the Serbs are quite conservative, actually, there was certainly an attitude among many of them that the Albanian exodus was organised by the Americans, etcetera. So I think there is going to have to be an information campaign, even in Kosovo, amongst the Serbs and it will take them a while to get to the stage where they are ready to have more discussions with the Albanians about what happened during the bombing campaign. But there is certainly ... I hate to use the word "ignorance" about what happened during the campaign, or maybe "denial", I am not quite sure, amongst many of the Serbs that I was dealing with there.
  (Mr Glenny) The hostility to the bombing campaign is very widespread, I would say almost consensual among Serbs. However, I would say that the desire for reintegration into the international community and Europe is for the moment notably stronger than that and it overrides the hostility to the NATO campaign. Where this is important is in the future, that if Serbs were to feel in the future that they were bombed and then neglected, or then discriminated against on, as it were, a more level playing field, then it may return as a cause for unhappiness, resistance to European policy or American policy. But for the moment—and this is why I stress needing to keep the region in the public eye and everyone encouraged and for us to be engaged the whole time—this is a problem that can be overcome with clear sensible policy vision from the West.

Mr Mackinlay

  19. The Federation of Montenegro. Take it as read, we understand that there are plenty of Montenegrins who support FRY and also a big community in Serbia, etcetera, we understand that it is argued that there could be a knocking-on effect in the region of Macedonia and so on if it was independent. Take that all as read. It did seem to me that there is a paralysis, because in fact you have these two governments, and the federal one, the area in which it runs, does not include Montenegro, so, in reality, there is not a federation at the present time. It seemed to me this has an impact on (1) the delivery on justice, including whether or not people are surrendered up—because who does it, the Serbian Government or the federal government? The interface with the European Union and other organisations: is it the Serbian Government or the federal government? In terms of privatisation: who has title? Is it the federal government or the Serbian Government? It seems to me that until that is resolved there really cannot be any advance. (2) It seemed to me that, despite taken as read the problems which might flow from Montenegrin independence, would it not be better to have resolved that and for there to be independence, because then there would be one government, one administration in Serbia which would be both good domestically but also in terms of international relationships' developments and containing other problems in the region. I mean, there is no constitutional symmetry at the present time.
  (Mr Judah) I think, although there is of course this overlap, it is perhaps one of a political nature rather than of a constitutional nature because I think that technically who does what is apportioned. For example, the Yugoslav Government is supposed to take care of foreign affairs and—

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