bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
Some advice for the West on democracy in Serbia
by Morton Abramowitz

Some Advice for the West On Democracy in Serbia

Morton Abramowitz

The overthrow of Slobodan Miloševic has greatly improved prospects for democracy in Serbia. But democracy and stability will not prevail if Serbia continues to insist on controlling Kosovo, with its overwhelming Albanian majority, and, to a much lesser extent, Montenegro.

Can Serbia free itself? Once again, much depends on what Western countries do. Their recent actions are not entirely encouraging. With incredible speed and without conditions, the West brought the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - until last month Mr. Miloševic's illegitimate enterprise - into most international institutions. It virtually ignored the events of the past decade and simply passed over the questionable legal basis of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. That raises the question: What would happen if Mr. Miloševic's henchmen were to retake power?

Why did the West act so precipitately? It wanted to give a quick boost to the newly elected Yugoslav president, Vojislav Koštunica, to help stabilize his coalition's control and make it easier to remove Miloševic holdovers. And it sought, as it tried unsuccessfully to do in 1991, to freeze borders in the former Yugoslavia, fearing what changing them would do to Bosnia and Macedonia. Thus Montenegro could not be permitted to go its own way, because without it there would be no federation for Mr. Koštunica to preside over. Moreover, without the federation, UN Security Council Resolution 1244 declaring Kosovo a part of the federation would be impaired.

The fact is that the federal republic is Serbia and has been for a number of years. Moreover, in pursuing its Serbia policy, the United States has unceremoniously begun to dump the friendly republic of Montenegro, uneasily federated with Serbia.

Montenegro and Kosovo

There is another way to deal with Montenegro. After the Serbian elections on Dec. 23 - which should produce a government free of Mr. Miloševic's flunkies - fresh talks can be held between Serbia and Montenegro. If the two agree to a continuation of a federal arrangement or some other kind of union such as a commonwealth, so much the better. In any event the peoples of Montenegro and Serbia need to vote on their relationship.

Kosovo is a far more difficult issue. European Union leaders proclaim that its fate lies with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. So does Mr. Koštunica. The problem is that Kosovo's people regard such a fate as unacceptable.

An immediate and dangerous issue coming up will be the Serbian elections next month. Will the United Nations allow Belgrade authorities into Kosovo to conduct the voting? Or will the UN administration in Kosovo run elections on behalf of Belgrade? The first action - perhaps either - would lead to violence.

But there is still an opening for a serious dialogue between Prishtina and a democratic government in Belgrade. It will require the establishment of a Kosovo government committed to protecting minorities and the emergence of Kosovo interlocutors with the legitimacy that comes from democratic elections.

Successful local elections in Kosovo last month bode well for elections to create a functioning government. This voting, promised by the international community, needs to happen early next year. Once two new governments are in place, talks are possible.

Effective management of its own affairs is the essential requirement for Kosovo at this time. And as long as independence is possible down the pike, Kosovars may well accept some sort of loose union as a first step.The prospects for such cooperation might be better if the West stopped encouraging Belgrade to believe it still has a future in ruling Kosovo.

Serbia has shown that it cannot integrate a highly antagonistic Albanian population into its polity. As an aspiring democratic state, it needs to begin talking to Kosovo on a regular basis, maintaining ties if possible but also preparing to accept an independent Kosovo if necessary. To insist on more will mean more violence, much less democracy and exclusion of the Serbs from European integration.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post, 29 November 2000


   Table of contents

  Latest issue



  Support the Institute


home | about us | publications | events | news | Library | contact | bosnia | search | bosnia report | credits