Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Gabriel Partos


  1.1  Vojislav Kostunica's victory in the Yugoslav presidential contest on 24 September 2000—confirmed with the help of pro-democracy protests that culminated in a mass demonstration in Belgrade on 5 October—eliminated various nightmare scenarios in Serbia. These included prolonged international isolation and continuing impoverishment of the population under Slobodan Milosevic, leading to possible unrest, a military coup or even civil war.

  1.2  Kostunica's success was followed up by the landslide victory of his 18-party alliance, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) in the Serbian parliamentary elections on 23 December. The DOS landslide—though foreseen as soon as early elections were called—was crucial in the dismantling of the Milosevic regime because under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) key powers are in the hands of the two republics, Serbia and Montenegro. Even in areas that belong to the federal authorities' sphere of competence—foreign affairs, trade and monetary policy though not in defence—Montenegro assumed de facto control over its own territory during the final phase of the Milosevic regime. As a result, Serbia and Yugoslavia are now largely synonymous.

  1.3  With the fall of Milosevic's pariah regime, the "black hole" in the middle of the Western-sponsored Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe has been removed; this will make regional reconstruction a more realistic proposition. Belgrade has a central role to play in any Balkan-wide co-operation project: Serbia lies along on the busiest land route between the Middle East and Western Europe; it controls a stretch of the Danube, the main shipping artery between the Balkans and central Europe, which is expected to be cleared of debris—caused by the NATO air strikes—by April; and over the years it has traditionally nurtured links with both East and West (though not always at the same time).

  1.4  The FRY is well on the way to being reintegrated into the international community. It has already joined the UN and the OSCE as a full member; it has been admitted into the IMF and the Stability Pact; it has restored diplomatic relations with Britain, France, Germany and the United States (and neighbouring Albania); and it has established diplomatic ties with the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Slovenia.

  1.5  Parallel to its reintegration into the international community, Serbia has started receiving foreign aid, in particular from the EU, which has contributed 200 million euros in emergency funds to help Yugoslavia through the winter. For the moment, most of this is humanitarian rather than reconstruction aid.

  1.6  But pressure—linked to the withholding of aid—may be expected to mount on Belgrade to meet its international obligations, including the extradition of suspected war criminals, first and foremost, Milosevic, to The Hague Tribunal. The ex-leader remains an embarrassment and a potential threat to the DOS leadership. Therefore, Milosevic may well end up in gaol either in Serbia or The Hague; or he may be "encouraged" to find asylum abroad.

  1.7  The international community's enthusiasm in welcoming back "the prodigal son" and lavishing aid on Serbia—or at least holding out the prospect of doing so—is causing considerable resentment in the region among loyal pro-Western states and those who view themselves as victims of Serbian aggression in the 1990s. Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, as well as Kosovo and Montenegro, are among the countries or entities that fear they may be neglected in the West's rush to go to Serbia's aid.

  1.8  How Belgrade responds to these challenges will depend, in part, on the outcome of the rivalry between the two key players in the post-Milosevic era, President Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's Prime Minister. Kostunica, a cautious, conservative nationalist is less likely to co-operate with the West than Djindjic who is a pragmatic, outward-looking politician. Another factor of uncertainty is the lifespan of the improbably broad-based DOS alliance which is unlikely to last longer than 18 months to two years. Once it breaks up, fresh elections may need to be called.


  2.1  Kostunica's election has not changed the Montenegrin leadership's determination to go for some form of new constitutional arrangement that would acknowledge Montenegro's de facto independent status. Over the past two years the Montenegrin political elite under President Milo Djukanovic has got used to governing without interference from Belgrade.

  2.2  With a democratic regime under Kostunica and Djindjic in charge in Belgrade, Podgorica is no longer being held back from moving towards independence by the presence in Montenegro of the Yugoslav army and of a militant pro-Serb minority that could be manipulated from Belgrade. These factors had caused fears in the Milosevic era that early moves towards independence might precipitate unrest, possibly even civil war in Montenegro.

  2.3  Montenegro has raised the stakes by renewing a referendum call—with plans to hold it soon after parliamentary elections, due on 22 April. President Djukanovic is demanding virtual independence within a loosely-knit confederation with Serbia (which would give each republic its own separagraphte seat at the UN, etc). In the absence of a deal, Montenegro would go for outright independence. Current opinion polls suggest that the pro-independence parties would win the elections; and that the independence call itself would probably get a clear, albeit relatively small, majority.

  2.4  The Podgorica leadership is hoping the long term economic benefits of separation from Serbia will persuade the diminishing pro-Serb elements to go along with independence. With its Adriatic coastline and mountains and a population of just 650,000 Montenegro believes a revival of tourism would bring it prosperity while Serbia struggles to overcome the economic legacy of Milosevic's rule.

  2.5  The international community remains strongly opposed to Montenegrin independence because it would reinforce the Kosovar Albanians' similar demands. Besides, the demise of Yugoslavia would make it unclear what entity, if any, Kosovo belongs to since UN Resolution 1244 implies that Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia, rather than an integral part of Serbia. But given the Montenegrin leadership's determination to go for some form of independence, there is little that can be done to prevent it.


  3.1  The municipal elections on 28 October produced an overwhelming victory for pro-independence candidates among the dominant ethnic Albanian majority. The strong support for pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo in preference to the ex-KLA fighters' successor-group, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, does not dilute that demand for independence.

  3.2  The ethnic Albanians are now pushing for presidential/parliamentary elections as early as possible, leading to an independence referendum afterwards. Hans Haekkerup, the new head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, says a proper electoral framework needs to be established first, but otherwise he is not opposed to elections at a relatively early stage. However, a referendum is not on UNMIK's agenda for the time being.

  3.3  UNMIK is resisting the independence demand because of the concern shared by much of the international community that it could encourage further fragmentation in the Balkans. It might encourage separatist ethnic Albanians in regions neighbouring Kosovo—principally the Presevo valley in southern Serbia and in the western and northern part of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—to go for the options of autonomy/independence/merger with Kosovo. It would also lend ammunition to the Bosnian Serbs who would want to unite with Serbia rather than reintegrate with Bosnia's other entity, the Bosniak (Muslim)-Croat federation.

  3.4  Rugova and other Albanian representatives are reluctant to get involved in talks with Kostunica or Djindjic on Kosovo's future status on the grounds that Kosovo proclaimed its independence as far back as 1990. The Albanians want an independence referendum (which would deliver a huge majority in favour) accompanied by talks with UNMIK and the international community on how it should be implemented. The Albanians' strong commitment to independence will make if difficult for UNMIK to register progress in any negotiations on Kosovo's future status.

  3.5  UN/KFOR are likely to be viewed increasingly as something of an occupation force/administration—and then may have to act more like one, particularly if they want Serb refugees to start returning, and stem the flow of guerrillas and supplies across the boundary between Kosovo and the Presevo valley. However, large-scale confrontation between UN/KFOR and the ethnic Albanians is unlikely in the foreseeable future because of the locals' continuing reliance on the international presence for finance and security against Serbia. But relations between the two sides are probably going to sour.

  3.6  UN/KFOR are heading for a long-term presence: 10 years or more is not an unrealistic expectation, particularly if Kosovo's status remains undefined. In the shorter term, if the Bush administration carries out its pre-election threat to withdraw US forces from the Balkans, the European NATO allies will have to make up the shortfall.

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Prepared 27 March 2001