Kostunica Takes Over


After the euphoria of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, a sober and difficult task now faces Yugoslavia. It is fortunate that president Kostunica is a constitutional lawyer for he is now about to enter a legal minefield in which cronies of Mr Milosevic could yet prove to be a serious threat to his authority.

According to the complicated technicalities of the constitution, the president of Serbia wields greater power on the ground than the president of Yugoslavia. Serbia's president, Mr Milan Milutinovic, is a Milosevic puppet who has 100,000 members of a heavily-armed gendarmerie at his disposal.

Right through Serbia's power structure, associates of Mr Milosevic have their hands on the levers of power. There are problems in parliament too for Mr Kostunica. Mr Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), remains the largest party in the house. The 18-party bloc which supports Mr Kostunica, is also short of an absolute majority and a key role could now be played by the Socialist People's Party of Montenegro (SPPM).

This group, which opposes Montenegrin independence, supported Mr Milosevic until he was ousted and has only belatedly offered the hand of friendship to Mr Kostunica. In return, it would like to have one of its members installed as Prime Minister of Yugoslavia. Under the constitution, if the President is a Serb, the Prime Minister must be a Montenegrin.

A possible scenario looms in which Mr Kostunica could face a pro-Milosevic President of Serbia, a Prime Minister of Yugoslavia who was in the Milosevic camp up to last week and Mr Milosevic himself installed in his Belgrade mansion as the leader of the country's largest party. Mr Kostunica's chief weapons against such a threatening coalition are support from the army and his own popularity among the Serbian people.

He has promised to bring Serbia back into the international community and to do so while maintaining the dignity of the nation. In other words, Yugoslavia intends to join Europe's democratic nations on its own terms. One of these terms has been made quite clear very early in Mr Kostunica's presidency. He will not hand over Mr Milosevic to the International War Crimes Tribunal because he regards it to be composed of "NATO puppets".

Like most Serbs, Mr Kostunica, regardless of his opposition to Mr Milosevic, looks on NATO as an enemy and an aggressor. For this reason, the demand made yesterday by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, that Mr Milosevic be handed over, is not only likely to fall on deaf ears but to antagonise a large section of Mr Kostunica's supporters. For Mr Kostunica to comply with Mr Cook's demands in the short term, could lose him some of the popularity which is currently his most powerful weapon.

To tie economic aid to Belgrade to the handing over of Mr Milosevic would further weaken Mr Kostunica's position. He should be given the time, the support, the understanding and the political space to work as the democratically elected leader of his people towards a resolution of his country's problems.