Yugoslavia's new President Vojislav Kostunica met with TIME's in his wood-paneled office in Belgrade's cavernous Federation Palace. Looking rumpled but rested in a loose gray suit, he discussed his views on issues ranging from war crimes to the future of Kosovo.TIME: Are you concerned that the old regime will attempt a countercoup?
Kostunica: There are no chances for that. That notion is based on the idea that the Milosevic regime can't be beaten. But he has lost. And now his party is in disarray.
TIME: You have spoken about a volcano beneath the surface of Serbian political life in recent days. Would you explain?
Kostunica: We have had small revolutions within state enterprises. In some cases they were spontaneous and quite justifiable, and in some cases they were imported by people close to the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. I am not happy about it. Still it is very difficult because no one is in control of the police. We are not like the Czechs. This is more than a velvet revolution.
TIME: Should Milosevic be tried for war crimes?
Kostunica: At this moment I am not thinking about that. We are burdened by all sorts of difficulties concerning the social and economic situation. An instant trial in the Hague would endanger the very fragile democratic process here.
TIME: What about in the future?
Kostunica: It's possible. Quite possible. But this is more complicated than it's been made out. The Serbs created a cult of personality around him, but that cult was made stronger by the international community. Anyway, more important than war crimes is political responsibility before one's own people.
TIME: Do you agree Serbs committed war crimes in the 1990s and should be tried for those?
Kostunica: Yes. But war crimes were committed by all nations.
TIME: Serbs do not bear the preponderance of responsibility?
Kostunica: It's a complicated matter. If the Croatian President had not tried to revive the idea of a Croatian independent state, the Serbs would not have rebelled and Milosevic would not have had a chance to abuse that. And when it comes to war crimes, there were war crimes committed by nato last year.
TIME: Can you envision an independent Kosovo?
Kostunica: I can envision many things. But after that picture goes another picture — of the Albanians in Macedonia, in southern Serbia, and in Montenegro and even Greece. One should be pragmatic. There are some problems that you can't solve — like Jerusalem.
TIME: Do you have a message for the rest of the world?
Kostunica: This is something very important. It is God's will and punishment that we in Serbia and Montenegro are where we are. Sometimes we suffer because of our geopolitical position. But we are also proud. This has nothing to do with Milosevic. He was just abusing these sentiments. But we hope that the West will now understand us in that positive sense.