New York, 11 September: The dissolution of Yugoslavia has been completed and any further attempt to change borders or ethnic makeup would mean an invitation to continuing the Balkan drama, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica warned in New York this evening.

Speaking at the conference of NGOs in the system of the United Nations, he indicated that it was not possible to accept the results of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and create a nation state.

Kostunica recalled that, if that happened, "the whole region would feel the consequences, starting from Macedonia, across Serbia and Montenegro, to Bosnia-Hercegovina and so on."

"It is a dangerous illusion to claim that the biggest problem of the international administration in Kosovo-Metohija is Kosovska Mitrovica, which has preserved its multiethnic makeup up to a significant extent, and not Pristina, Gnjilane and Prizren, which have been almost completely ethnically cleansed," he said.

"Unless we are ready to accept and sanction the consequences of ethnic cleansing, and we certainly are not, then conditions must be created in Kosovo-Metohija, and without delay, for the return of 250,000 refugees and internally displaced persons," Kostunica said.

Stating that it would be utterly wrong to resort to "final solutions", Kostunica said that the support of the nongovernmental sector from Europe and the USA would have to be aimed at building the institutions of a democratic and law-governed state.

The protection of human rights in European countries in transition is only feasible through membership of the Council of Europe, Kostunica said, outlining
the great importance of the Western NGOs for the process of post-conflict renewal of the region and the establishment of ties...

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BBC Monitoring International Reports


55th Annual DPI/NGO Conference
Rebuilding Societies Emerging from Conflict:
A Shared Responsibility

H. E. Dr. Vojislav Kostunica
President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

New York, 11 September 2002

Vojislav Kostunica
Address at the 55th NGOs Conference

Rebuilding Societies Emerging from Conflict: Shared Responsibility
United Nations, New York, 9-11 September 2002

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I say first that I regard the invitation for me to address the closing session of the 55th Annual Conference as a recognition and tribute to the citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Non-Governmental Organizations in the United Nations system who, after so many problems and difficulties, in particular over the last ten-odd years, were able to free themselves of internal and external captivity, prevent the disintegration of their country, and embark on its reconstruction and the establishment of democracy and the rule of law. The non-governmental sector most surely played, and still plays, an important role in this respect, and I will have more to say about Yugoslav experience as a case study for the world.

The civil war in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was the most severe armed conflict in Europe since the Second World War. It claimed thousands of lives, rendered hundreds of thousands homeless and turned them into refugees or internally displaced persons. The GNPs and national incomes of all the successor states shrank dramatically and they are now back where they were a long time ago. The territory and market of the former Yugoslavia have been so fragmented that the integration of its successors into European and Euro organizations will be severely hampered far years to come.

And, despite all the wars, thankfully, virtually none of the Balkan states have become ethnically “pure”. This is particularly true of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which remains very much a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-confessional country. Regrettably, some in both the region and in the West still assert that the process of disintegration of the former Yugoslavia has not been completed, and that the ten-year-long Yugoslav tragedy must continue until it has. Some still believe that a nation-state is the only possible solution to the problems of this ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse region, and that war must be prosecuted until the “ethnic cleansing” is finally achieved.

There is almost a rule of modern Balkan history that, in their efforts to secure allies, the protagonists of wars always resorted to propaganda that depicted their struggle in a finer light. It is not surprising then that nationalistic ambitions are even today usually concealed behind legitimate and highly moral goals, such as human rights or religious, cultural and political liberties. These issues were raised over and over again in the fierce media campaigns designed to win over the foreign public and foreign governmental and non-governmental organizations. Unfortunately, it was at times deemed more important to provoke the opponent into committing a brutality than to protect the innocent. But the moment the real objective was achieved or an advantage was gained over the opponent, human rights and liberties vanished from the media and from politics, and the repression of the minority by the majority continued according to the customary pattern. Hence the only reliable indicator of the real goals of the protagonists of ethnic conflicts has always been and remains their attitude toward minorities and how they protect minority rights. This, in my opinion, is especially important in the rebuilding of all the counties in the western Balkans, and should be a concern of both governmental and non-organizations. There are several observations I wish to make in this context.

Firstly, our starting point must be that the process of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia ended after bloody conflicts that lasted ten years, and that any further attempts at altering borders or the ethnic makeup of the population would in fact be a call for the continuation of the Balkan tragedy. It should be borne in mind also that ethnic problems and the so-called national questions in the Balkans have always been interconnected, and that a solution applied in one case must be applied in all similar cases. Consequently, if the basic principles of the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia and Herzegovina were developed on the concept of a, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-confessional community, it is not possible to accept the results of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and establish a nation-state there. Were that to happen, the ramifications would be felt in the whole region, from Macedonia, over Serbia and Montenegro, to Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond. It is a dangerous misapprehension to maintain that Kosovska Mitrovica, a city that for the most part remains multi-ethnic, is the biggest problem facing the international administration in Kosovo and Metohija, and not Pristina, Gnjilane or Prizren, cities which have been thoroughly ethnically cleansed. If we are not prepared to accept and sanction the results of ethnic cleansing - which we certainly are not - conditions must be created without delay for the return to Kosovo and Metohija of some one quarter of a million refugees and displaced persons. This, in my opinion, would be the benchmark for the success of the international community policies in Kosovo and Metohija, policies upon which the stability of not only the southern Balkans but also of South-East Europe as a whole depends.

Secondly, notwithstanding the major contribution of many NGOs over the past ten years, from relief and humanitarian aid to support for democratic forces, I believe the priority now is the development of democracy, establishment of rule of law, good governance, market economies with effective social safety nets, and overall stability in the region. I am confident that democracies do not wage wars, a belief that has been reinforced by the events over the past two years during which democracy has been restored in Yugoslavia, in Croatia and other countries in the region which now have democratically elected governments. It would be very wrong to urge “final solutions” as these lead only to conflicts without end. The non-governmental sector in Europe and here, in the United States, should therefore concentrate its efforts primarily on the development of institutions needed in a democratic state ruled by law, for only such a state can effectively guarantee human, ethnic, cultural, religious, political and other rights and liberties. If the Balkan counties have good internal orders and genuine respect human rights and liberties, then we will have good international relations in the region, and we will have good reason to be optimistic about the fixture of South-East Europe and the prospect of these countries acceding to European and Euro-Atlantic organizations.

I feel I must point out here that the promotion of human rights, as one of the main goals of transition, is possible in the European countries now in the process of transition only through their membership of the Council of Europe. The Council’s most significant and best known achievement in this area is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The Convention lists the inalienable human rights and liberties, obliges the contracting parties to ensure those rights and liberties for all persons in their jurisdiction, and provides an international mechanism to monitor and protect these rights.

The system established by the Convention, which builds on the experience and accomplishments both in Europe and the UN, provides non-governmental organizations with an institutional and legal framework to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, to bring violations to the attention of the European Court, and to submit applications seeking redress. The state may not place any restrictions on the freedom of association if NGOs comply with the fundamental, liberal-democratic rules, including the right to advocate changes in legislation. In all, there is really wide scope for thoughtful action.

Thirdly, during the ten- Balkan drama, many western NGOs endeavored to establish or maintain dialogue between the warring parties. Though moat of these efforts were unsuccessful due to the circumstances, they were not in vain. I believe that they will gain in importance in the post-conflict process of the renewal of these societies and the re-establishment of the severed ties between ethnic, cultural, political and other communities. The advantage of NGOs is that they are not circumscribed by all the factors that affect the actions of states, and I believe they can therefore make a major contribution to establishing lines of communication and dialogue where these do not exist as yet. In spite of the legacy of the past, we must maintain a dialogue, primarily to aid those whose need is the greatest - refugees and internally displaced persons, the families of people who were abducted or disappeared in the maelstrom of war - and to lay the groundwork for a life together in South-East Europe, just as we did in southern Serbia. Last but not least, we must talk to resolve outstanding issues and deal with the remaining focuses of crisis.

Fourthly, even if it had not been ravaged by war, this region is simply too small to be capable of living isolated from its neighbors. The Balkan markets and economies are small and there is no economically predominant country that could be the locomotive of the region’s development. In brief; the only prospect for a way out of hardship and underdevelopment is the development of South-East Europe with the assistance of the European and Euro-Atlantic organizations. The Balkan region is a part of Europe and its countries must become part of the process of European integration. Here, too, I see an important role for the non-governmental sector which should work to promote civil society and the rule of law in the region and help to create a climate conducive to change and development. At the same time, it should also help to bridge the gap between the developed and underdeveloped parts of Europe and to impress upon the European and Euro-Atlantic organizations that Europe cannot be “single and free” until it encompasses the countries of South-East Europe. The price will be high indeed unless this is achieved: poverty, loss of hope, crime, and political radicalism which already threaten the region’s security and are spilling over the Schengen and other borders in the shape of refugees, asylum-seekers, smuggling and crime.

I believe the non-governmental sector has a part to play in the post-conflict renewal of South-East Europe, primarily because these organizations are legally registered in accordance with a special, institutionalized procedure, are relatively independent of government agencies, distribute resources on a non-profit basis, and have their own autonomous internal organization that makes it possible for them to often precede government agencies. The sector frequently raises the standard of international public opinion, provides guidelines for the actions of government agencies, and affects the development of newly democratized societies far more and much more deeply than in the case of developed and organized societies. Therefore, in my view, it also bears more responsibility.

What I am about to say may sound like a warning but it comes from experience: the record of the non-governmental sector in the part of the world I come from clearly shows that the right to non-governmental political activity is not the same in the different parts of the former Yugoslavia. When I cite Kosovo and Metohija as an example, I ask how many Serb and how many Albanian NGOs are active there at the present time. Another question arises in this context: if human rights are the framework for non-governmental association, do NGOs in Kosovo and Metohija concern themselves equally with the human rights of Serbs and Albanians? The answer to this question raises in its turn may other queries.

Non-governmental organizations obviously are not and must not be the political instruments of governments or serve the interests of business and political groups, nor may they be harnessed and used by political or ethnic lobbies since that would negate the very reason for their existence and activity However, they can and should be a strong factor of democratic change and an effective partner in the social dialogue that must accompany the process of transition in countries that have gone through deep conflicts. In this sense, their role in what is the main topic of this conference - Rebuilding Societies Emerging from Conflict - could be truly valuable and we would thus really have a Shared Responsibility.

President Kostunica with Bishop Artemije