bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
UN welcomes FRY and furls Tito's flag
by Jonathan Steele

UN welcomes FRY and furls Tito's flag

Jonathan Steele

Yugoslavia has been accepted as a member of the United Nations as a reward for its people's decision to vote Slobodan Miloševic out of power. The security council has agreed unanimously to admit Yugoslavia even though the new president, Vojislav Koštunica, has not formally accepted the jurisdiction of the UN-appointed international criminal tribunal which indicted his predecessor for war crimes.

Diplomats said the decision followed heavy pressure from America's UN envoy, Richard Holbrooke. He also persuaded other UN members, in particular Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia, not to tie the issue to outstanding property claims arising from the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

No progress was made on the tangled financial and legal question of the Yugoslav succession while Mr Miloševic was in power. These governments had been hoping that Mr Koštunica could reopen matters such as the seizure by Belgrade of most of the old Yugoslav embassies around the world as well as the assets of the old National Bank of Yugoslavia and the airline, JAT.

The need for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to apply for UN membership stemmed from a resolution of the general assembly in September 1992 which followed the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It ruled that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, could not automatically continue the membership of the former Yugoslavia.

The UN's 1992 decision was important since it meant the new FRY could not claim to be the state from which the other republics had seceded, but it too was a new creation. This has profound legal implications for the status of Kosovo, which never joined the new FRY by consent.

Paradoxically, however, the old flag of President Tito's Yugoslavia was allowed to go on flying outside UN headquarters in New York as though the old state still existed.

Lawyers are expected to argue for months over the details of the succession, but Mr Holbrooke cut across them with the decision to rush Mr Koštunica's application for membership at full speed.

‘This is a great day for democracy - in the Balkans, in Europe - and a great day for the United Nations’, he said. ‘Eight years of sterile, stupid argument over Yugoslav membership in the United Nations is over. That terrible flag of Tito's flying on First Avenue comes down. It's a tremendous day.’

Mr Holbrooke met the new Yugoslav president at a meeting of Balkan leaders in Macedonia last week and reportedly came away highly impressed.

European concern

In spite of the US haste in welcoming Mr Koštunica, there is concern in several European capitals over the new president's first steps in regional policy.

Croatian officials point out that there are more Croats than Serbs in detention in the Hague thanks to their government's willingness to co-operate with the tribunal since the death of Franjo Tudjman, the nationalist leader. They wonder why Mr Koštunica is being embraced so quickly without more movement by him to hand Serb war criminals over.

Western European governments are also unhappy with Mr Koštunica's clumsy visit to Bosnia last week, when he went to the Bosnian Serb entity before travelling briefly to the capital, Sarajevo. The prospect is growing that the hardline nationalist party, the SDS, once led by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, may do well in next week's Bosnian elections. Although Mr Karadñic no longer has direct influence over the party, some diplomats fear that Mr Koštunica may increase Belgrade's links with the SDS.

There is also concern over his criticism of the UN-run local elections in Kosovo as invalid. He based his argument on the fact that the Serbs of Kosovo chose to boycott them. Diplomats are surprised that a constitutional lawyer such as Mr Koštunica should imply they were illegal. In political terms, his remark was a disturbing sign that he feels a need to put Kosovo on his list of priorities when there are major internal issues, such as the economy and the energy crisis, to deal with. Mr Koštunica has also started off poorly with Montenegro, although he did make the gesture yesterday of travelling to Podgorica for talks with President Djukanovic for a meeting of the supreme defence council.

Montenegro is calling for a complete overhaul of the federation. One new Montenegrin demand was for a separate seat in the United Nations as a sign that Serbia and Montenegro are both sovereign states.

The American rush to give Mr Koštunica UN membership was partly designed to head off the Montenegrin demand.

The Guardian (London)

2 November 2000


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