Why Kostunica May Want to Call Iran's Khatami

  • Share
  • Read Later
It may have looked like a revolution, but last week’s ouster of Slobodan Milosevic was not quite the decisive break with the past implied by that term — as President Vojislav Kostunica is discovering, at his expense. Parties that made up Milosevic’s ruling coalition pulled out of talks with Kostunica on Wednesday, warning that they’d only return when a campaign to strip appointees of the old regime of their positions in the bureaucracy is halted. And that could be a serious problem for Kostunica, who lacks the parliamentary majority necessary to form a government unless he can persuade Milosevic’s Montenegrin allies to switch sides.

Revolutions usually involve demolishing and replacing the old state structure, but what occurred last week in Yugoslavia was something different — a popular uprising to force Milosevic to comply with his own constitution. And that’s left Kostunica forced to contend with the fact that, under that constitution, Milosevic still enjoys substantial political power by virtue of his dominant position in both the federal parliament and the in the all-important government of Serbia. Not only that, but plans to hold elections for the Serbian parliament in December may further narrow his own political base. Kostunica is the leader of a small party that has been somewhat peripheral among opposition groups in recent years, and the 15 parties in the coalition he led — which was based not on a policy consensus but simply on the need to oust Milosevic — must necessarily go their separate ways in a parliamentary election. He may be set to learn, like Iran’s reformist president Mohammed Khatami, that winning the presidency by a landslide doesn’t always eliminate the old order.

But as a constitutional lawyer who simply wanted Serbia to become a "normal" European country, Kostunica wouldn’t have it any other way. Europe has begun moving to lift sanctions against Serbia following the visit to Belgrade Tuesday by French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, and Kostunica has been invited to a meeting of European leaders later this week. And reintegrating Serbia into Europe may be essential to deal with the regional challenges that lie ahead. By lifting Milosevic’s economic blockade of Montenegro, Kostunica signaled good faith in dealing with Serbia’s last partner in the Yugoslav federation. But he remains strongly opposed to that republic’s aspirations for independence. And while he may not have started any of the wars Milosevic fought over the past decade, he remains a passionate advocate of the rights of the Serb minorities in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. The latter territory’s ethnic-Albanian leadership may well regard Kostunica’s election as a setback, since there was no way the international community would force them to accept rule from Belgrade while Milosevic was in power, but now that he’s out they’re more likely to follow the U.N. Security Council resolution on the territory which recognizes Yugoslavian sovereignty over an autonomous Kosovo. The U.N. administration is now expected to give Belgrade more say over the running of the territory, and with the Kosovar Albanian leadership still dead set on independence, it’s unlikely that the region will be able to make do without NATO peacekeepers any time soon.

Still, Kostunica appears to be taking it all in his stride. After all, what he promised was to find political solutions to his country’s problems; not that those problems would simply disappear.