Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Zoran Kusovac


  After the 1999 NATO action failed to unseat FRY President Slobodan Milosevic, the international community set out to achieve that goal by different means. Although the determination and financial assistance from the USA were crucial in providing the necessary funds and infrastructure and above all in sending the message that most of the Western world was united behind that goal, the role of the UK was significant, although the public is yet not fully aware of its extent or crucial importance. Several UK organisations combined their effort to explore ways and means by which the common goal might best be achieved and engaged in identifying the local players whose participation would make it possible.

  The FCO played a leading role in this despite the fact that it had no official diplomatic presence on the ground in Belgrade. The involvement of a number of diplomats who had previously served in the region establishing a wide network of contacts and acquiring first-hand experience in dealing with the often unpredictable local forces whose alliances and allegations often change overnight created a necessary pool of knowledge within the FCO. This knowledge was expanded by organising a series of events, meetings and conferences bringing together various members from the non-Milosevic camp and exploiting possible routes to success. The involvement of Wilton Park as a specialised FCO agency was one of the crucial links in this process. Other governmental agencies, of nature usually not discussed in an open document, also acted with determination and dedication, assigning experienced officers to a number of outposts as close as possible to Belgrade (Budapest, Banja Luka, Pristina, Vienna) where they could maintain regular contacts with the Serbian political actors and where their experience was on the whole well utilised.

  Several UK and foreign think-tanks and NGOs also provided valuable input. On the whole the FCO did a much better job in identifying the organisations and individuals which could provide practical knowledge and suggest realistic, pragmatic and efficient policy than did the corresponding ministries of most other Western countries who often allowed themselves to be guided by ideological or "humanitarian" rather than pragmatic principles.


  Public knowledge of the full extent and nature of contacts with the officials of the Belgrade regime and members of the opposition is likely to remain limited for some time, but there is no doubt that the UK approach produced results. A number of members of the former establishment are known to have sought discreet contacts with UK officials rather than those of any other Western country. Whether pursued or not, and to which extent, those contacts certainly provided a valuable insight into the degree of coherence of the regime and allowed for the co-ordination of support to anti-Milosevic activities.


  However, as soon as the main goal—the removal of Slobodan Milosevic was achieved, the approach which had made that goal possible became slightly counter-productive. A number of Western governments as a whole can be said to be in a state of near-obsession with Serbia and its new regime. While such an outcome is understandable as it follows a period of lengthy frustration in which no apparent inroads could be made in weakening Milosevic's regime, it could lead to dangerous oversimplification of the nature of remaining problems in the Balkans that will have to be dealt with in the future.

  The nature and degree of change in Belgrade does not seem to be fully understood by a number of decision-makers and the reason for that might lay in the lack of willingness to study the complex and difficult nature of internal relationships of elements of the previous regime and the often changing roles played by many if not most of the prominent members of the present governments of FRY and Serbia.

  While it is widely known that Milosevic's regime, in a pragmatic attempt to secure unlimited rule for a long period, engaged in murky dealings with the political and commercial underworld and with recorded criminals, the past relationship of a number of members of the current regime with the former establishment is often overlooked. The same goes for the relationships between members of the current authorities and the nouveaux riches, businessmen who co-operated with both the opposition and the government and the criminal underworld. Giving the current regime the benefit of the doubt could prove to be bordering on naivety. Rather, they have to be judged on performance, and guidelines for the elements on which the new regime will be judged and the timescale in which those are to be achieved must be made clear and leave no room for interpretation.

  Over-concentration on Serbia is detrimental to the general stability of the region. With Serbian elections ending the interim period of formal co-habitation of Milosevic's socialists with the DOS authorities, the international community should again concentrate on an array of regional issues, which include, in order of importance, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Croatia. The dangers of failure to understand and implement this would be that the international community would risk once again finding itself in a position to trail behind the events rather that predict and guide them.


  For all practical purposes Serbia should now be considered as a country with two paragraphllel governments. The federal authorities under President Vojislav Kostunica exercise practical control over the territory of Serbia excluding Kosovo. Their competencies over Montenegro are but nominal, despite the efforts to introduce some sort of direct representation of the federal authorities there by opening the "federal government offices" in Montenegro. Such offices are not entirely in the spirit of the existing federal constitution and they are most unlikely to succeed in imposing a degree of federal government's control on Montenegro.

  The authority of the new Serbian government under Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic stretches over exactly the same territory as that of the federal one: the territory of Serbia excluding Kosovo. This in itself would be a potential recipe for a clash of competencies; taking into consideration the different natures and political agendas of the two current leaders, Kostunica at federal and Djindjic at Serbian level, such a conflict can be safely predicted.

  It should be noted that both Kostunica and Djindjic are practically operating far above and beyond the competencies that their formal positions grant them: while the Serbian constitution gives sweeping powers to the president, it puts the prime minister in a position of clear subordination to the president. On the federal level the position is quire the opposite: the federal president is constitutionally a figurehead, while prime minister enjoys almost unlimited competencies. This paragraphdox is the results of both constitutions having been tailored to Milosevic and his system. Furthermore, the post of President of Serbia is now occupied by the last remnant of Milosevic's nomenklatura, Milan Milutinovic, who was a figurehead even under Milosevic. In a similar way, Zoran Zizic, the Federal Prime Minister, is completely by-passed and the federal executive is lead by President Kostunica and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus. Both latter are representatives of Serbia while Zizic, formally representing Montenegro, has no political credibility due to the fact that he was one of the leading officials of the Milosevic regime and a convinced pro-Milosevic campaigner in his home republic and was only appointed in a thinly disguised attempt to claim that the federal state actually extends beyond Serbia.


  The most remarkable feature of Vojislav Kostunica is his persistence in his political position since the beginning of the 1990s. This slightly old-fashioned conservatism based on "traditional values" (which had long lapsed from Serbian political practice into coveted memory of the disempowered urban elites) secured Kostunica's party a modest but fairly constant following, although few observers ever believed that his party would ever be able to dominate Serbian politics save as a member of a non-Milosevic opposition.

  Elevating Kostunica to the position of the joint candidate was only achieved after other leaders, most notably Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic, had burned their fingers and spoiled their chances by infighting, over-ambition and co-operation with Milosevic. The USA took an extremely pragmatic stand on the urgency for the opposition to act in unison and they hardly had any reservations about Kostunica becoming the front runner, despite repeated warnings from a number of independent sources. The UK position was less pronounced and in retrospect it can be said that the extreme pragmatic approach of the USA imposed Kostunica onto the rest of the Serbian opposition.

  Of the two clichés invariably attached to Kostunica, that of being a "moderate Serbian nationalist" and a "legalist" only the former is true. His self-proclaimed intention to act strictly within legal limits has already been derogated by his actions in assuming much wider powers than foreseen by the constitution and in his attitude to Montenegro. In this light, his claims that Milosevic cannot be extradited to the Hague on legal and constitutional grounds should not be accepted.

  Kostunica is a genuine Serb nationalist who never sincerely embraced the idea of Serbia being limited to its present borders. His genuine belief is that the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, should be joined to Serbia, at least practically through the weakening of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and establishment of "special relations" with Serbia if not outright annexed or incorporated. Next on his priority list is the incorporation of Montenegro into Serbia, annulling its status as a constituent state and making it barely a province within Serbia. This would be detrimental to the stability of the region as a whole. In trying to achieve this goal, Kostunica is trying to rally the support of France, Russia and Greece.

  The choice of France as the preferred Western partner reflects Kostunica's vision of national-romantic grandeur: he is genuinely fascinated with the figure and role of General de Gaulle as somebody who "restored national pride, re-instated the idea of (sometimes stubborn) nationalist pride and stood up to Anglo-American domination". Although he will publicly praise British commitment to traditional values, Kostunica is not at ease with British pragmatism, but even much less so with the American version of it. The choice of Russia is dictated more by the need to balance the Western influence, which Kostunica fears, rather than any shared values or interests, while in the case of Greece Kostunica values the symbiotic relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church.

  The real reason for Kostunica's refusal to allow Milosevic's trial in the Hague should be fully understood. Kostunica represents the less unreasonable Serb nationalist faction which realises that Milosevic's project of Serbian expansion failed not only due to mangled execution but also because its desire for a greater Serbia was pragmatic, rather than genuine. This faction, which has been boosted with Kostunica's election, believes that the goal remains to be achieved in future.

  Should Milosevic be tried by the ICTY, the criminal nature of the whole Greater Serbian project and all of its participants, genuine or pragmatic, would be dissected and exposed before the eyes of the world and the Serbs would no longer have any excuse to deny knowledge of the atrocities committed. However, a trial in Belgrade would obfuscate the issue of the very nature of the Greater Serbian project, concentrating instead on his guilt for the economic and political miseries in Serbia and common crime. Kostunica's agenda is to try Milosevic in Serbia to prove that Serbs were victims of Milosevic, therefore themselves innocent, rather than allow for a Hague trial which would expose others as victims of the Greater Serbian project in which a huge number of Serbs participated quite willingly. A trial in Belgrade would prevent the process of changes in Serbia which roughly corresponds to the post-1945 de-Nazification of Germany to ever happen.

  Kostunica has an extremely limited grasp of economic issues and his influence on choosing strategic partners for future investments in Serbia does not correspond to his general political influence. Yet, he would be ready to try to exclude from economic partnership those nations whom he perceives as not politically benevolent to his ideas.


  The issue of Montenegro and the related issues of the future status of Kosovo will remain the stumbling blocks for the international community's approach to FRY—whichever way they are resolved.

  It should be understood that stability in the regions to a large degree depends on the perceptions of the Yugoslav successor states and to a somewhat lesser degree of other regional neighbours, rather than on somewhat globalistic views of the international community. Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina all see themselves as past victims of Serbian expansionism, rather than just of Milosevic's regime and for them the change of government in Belgrade does not in itself guarantee long-term regional stability. They do admit that the possibility of a new war starting out from Serbia has been significantly reduced, but that in itself is not sufficient to guarantee long-term stability.

  Post-Yugoslav successor states in general do not shun regional economic co-operation and integration, but they deeply fear any attempts at political revival of any regional integration that would resemble Yugoslavia. The very idea of Yugoslavia effectively freezes any substantial attempts at co-operation, and the negative emotional charge of the name is such that as long as it lingers on regional co-operation will be something enforced by the international community and refused by its would-be participants.

  The necessary condition for the re-activation of regional co-operation at any level more sophisticated than simple bilateral trade is the complete dismantling of former Yugoslavia. To achieve this Montenegro must be allowed to pursue full independence, without tying it to the international community's fears of the implication of such a development for the status of Kosovo.

  Political ideas in Montenegro have evolved a long way since the creation of FRY in 1992 and a majority of the population now supports independence. What is more significant, the age structure of those in favour of independent Montenegro is in striking contrast with those who favour the union, with the young generation by and large supporting full independence. The often raised question of viability of Montenegro is somewhat of an obfuscation: in its current economic state it is as non-viable as Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo who all depend on foreign aid. However, the ultimate resolution of political issue would allow the population of the region to concentrate on economic rather than political issues, which is the only way in which self-sufficiency can be guaranteed.

  Both current proposals for the re-definition of federal relations are insincere, designed to buy lobbying time. If implemented, both the Montenegrin and Serbian models of the joint state would create unwieldy structures with built-in inefficiency, not unlike that of current Bosnia-Herzegovina. Support for Montenegrin independence, achieved by legal and peaceful means, would be welcomed by the more pragmatic segments of the Serb society, as it would also allow Serbia to finally shape itself as an independent state rather than the protector of wider interest of Serb minorities in the region or the driving force of an increasingly unpopular federal state.

  The UK policy towards Montenegro, like that of most European countries, has been clumsy. Having embraced Montenegro and President Milo Djukanovic as the only way of achieving an inroads into FRY, Montenegro was suddenly abandoned the moment Western diplomats could freely travel to Belgrade. This has been quite unwise, as it left the government high and dry in a crucial political moment. The USA acted less hastily and maintained a political presence in Montenegro, which once again secured it the position of exclusive influence, while Europe forfeited such as opportunity.

  The natural EU main partner for Montenegro would be Italy, with whom it shares the access to the Adriatic and a history of economic and political co-operation. However, during Milosevic's era Italy aligned itself with Belgrade, hoping to achieve a privileged economic position there, not unlike that of Greece. Following Milosevic's removal Italy opted to continue to support Belgrade, often without much subtlety, judging the future Serbian markets to be far more valuable than those of tiny Montenegro. Therefore, the country remains in search for a strategic European partner, being fully aware that its own size and distance make hopes of substantial USA involvement somewhat unrealistic.


  Following the deployment of KFOR and UNMIK and the rise of importance of the task of removing Milosevic, Kosovo slightly slipped from the agenda. It is (quite rightly) perceived as a hot potato.

  The current level of international involvement in Kosovo cannot guarantee anything but continued political, economic and security agony. The unresolved status of Kosovo continues to block all attempts at resolving some of the fundamental safety concerns; however lack of resolve to tackle that issue head-on and on its own merit guarantees the continuation of the current instability.

  The international administration in Kosovo is inefficient in its civilian part, while most of the military tasks of KFOR have been achieved. The remaining security problems are rather a result of KFOR being tasked with non-military duties, largely due to the failure of UNMIK to fully exercise its foreseen duties. The good performance of the UK military contingent is well known, however for whatever reasons the UK is far less prominent in the civilian side of the international mission to Kosovo. In the run-up to the nomination of the successor to largely inefficient UN Civilian Administrator Bernard Kouchner of France, Paddy Ashdown was often mentioned as a potential candidate. With past military experience and recent regional experience he could have been a good candidate, but in the process the post went to regionally untried Hans Hakkerup of Denmark.

  Expecting to nominally tie Kosovo in any way with Serbia and/or FRY in future is completely unrealistic, including the proposal to create a three-member federation of Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Such a state would require extremely complex mechanisms to ensure its functioning in all fields, from economy, to internal security and from education to transport, and adaptable models do not exist anywhere in the world. Furthermore, such a political concoction would be outright rejected by the majority of its population, both on the Serbian and the Albanian side. While Kosovar Albanians are genuinely equivocal in demanding independence, not all Serbs advocate Kosovo as a part of Serbia/FRY at all costs, even if very few would yet dare say it openly. However, the idea is slowly filtering through the more reasonable and non-nationalist intellectual, academic and NGO circles.

  The independence of Kosovo would be the ultimate change of borders of former Socialist Yugoslavia and would be fully justified on pragmatic, if less so on legalistic arguments. It would not foment the desire to create a Greater Albania nor separatist tendencies among ethnic Albanians in Montenegro or Macedonia. All those groups have their separate histories, economic and political agendas. Yet the independence of Kosovo—even if it would be wise to envisage a protracted interim period of international administration until viable and functional local structures are put in place—would allow all elements of the former Yugoslavia to plan and carry out their separate developments and mutual co-operation.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001