KOSOVO & YUGOSLAVIA: LAW IN CRISIS

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Interview with Ratko Markovic, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia
"with the... peace agreement, Serbia was deprived of Kosovo"

JURIST Exclusive, July 7, 1999

[Editor's Note: Ratko Markovic is Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia and Professor of Law at the University of Belgrade. This e-mail interview is the first interview he has given to any publication since returning from the Rambouillet/Paris meetings on Kosovo in March; the questions were posed by JURIST's Director, Professor Bernard Hibbitts, Associate Dean for Communications & Information Technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.]

JURIST: You headed the Yugoslavian delegation to the Rambouillet/Paris meetings on Kosovo earlier this year. Is the present Kosovo peace agreement better or worse for Yugoslavia than the Accord you rejected then?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: In the question you mentioned the Kosovo Peace Agreement and the Rambouillet Accord. The Kosovo Peace “Agreement” was signed after 78 days of bombing and destruction visited upon the whole of Serbia, and especially on the civil population. The signing and the initial implementation of the “Agreement” were required to put an end to the destruction of the country and human casualties. We signed that “Agreement” not by free will, but under coercion. As for the Rambouillet “Accord”, it never came to be, because of lack of agreement by one side. Have you ever heard of someone being threatened by bombardment because of lack of agreement in an “Accord”? Rambouillet was an ultimatum, not an agreement. From the beginning it was, and remained, a one-sided American dictate to the state delegation of Serbia. Considering that in Rambouillet and Paris our delegation still acted more or less by free will, we did not sign it. Now, however, we are like an injured person who agrees to amputation of an arm or a leg in order to save his life, so we signed the amputation of Kosovo in order to save our state and our people. What happened is clear. With the Kosovo peace agreement Serbia was deprived of Kosovo, the historical cradle of Serbian statehood

JURIST: The peace agreement sets down the constitutional structure of post-war Kosovo in only the vaguest of terms. Exactly how and by whom do you think Kosovo should be governed?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: The agreement was deliberately left vague so as to avoid bringing into question the matters of Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is now clear that the agreement was all about authorizing a transitional UN mandate for the establishment of a state within a state. Formally, Kosovo will be corpus separatum within the territorial framework of Serbia, but in fact it will be a separate state without certain external signs of statehood, although that does not make any difference. In this way the fiction of Serbian territorial integrity is maintained. This is not done for Serbia’s sake, however, but for the sake of others: the aim is to deter minorities in other states from following the dangerous example of Kosovo, starting their own separatist wars. A high degree of autonomy for Kosovo could only mean autonomy within the State of Serbia, and not autonomy for itself, independent of Serbia’s state prerogatives. Otherwise there would be separate statehood for Kosovo. But under the veil of the UN, NATO has in fact created the State of Kosovo where, to my belief, no one will be sovereign other then NATO, as long as the existing power balance in the world stands.

JURIST: If the U.S. Defense Secretary and other high Western officials can come and go in Kosovo as they please, has de jure Yugoslavian sovereignty over Kosovo not been lost already?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: The question contains the answer. Kosovo is visited by heads of states, ministers of foreign affairs and defense, the General Secretary of NATO and many other high officials worldwide, without any consideration for the fact that Kosovo is within the framework of the State of Serbia. This is because Kosovo is now a marionette creation of NATO, without a trace of Serbian and FR Yugoslav sovereignty on it. There are only centuries-old Serbian spiritual monuments (monasteries and churches) and other historical signs to witness that there once was another people there, living in its own state. According to recent developments, the purpose of NATO’s rule over Kosovo is not to establish ethnic coexistence, but to perform ethnic cleansing of all the non-Albanian population. Having made Kosovo more ethnically pure than the State of Albania itself, NATO could easily perform the next, “logical” step – proclaim the fusion of the two Albanian states into one. But nothing would change essentially, because NATO would then be sovereign in one unified state instead of in two separate states. Albania’s greed for a greater state was instigated by NATO at first, and later used and misused for its own benefit. Only when passions quiet down will Albanians realize that their belief in creating a greater independent state was just an illusion.

JURIST: What actions will the Serbian government take to ensure that Serbs who have committed atrocities against members of the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo are tried by the appropriate national and/or international tribunals?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: There are long-standing disagreements, conflicts and animosities between Serbs and Albanians on Kosovo, as well as among Albanians themselves, common to areas where there is a mix of ethnic groups. When Albanian extremists started their violent secession and tried to overthrow the constitutional government in Serbia, those disagreements reached a climax. There are laws and courts in Yugoslavia to handle this. The law does not excuse anyone’s crimes and it is in no way related to someone’s ethnic affiliation. Everyone who is responsible for criminal acts will be prosecuted for them before domestic courts and other proper state bodies. The question is: “why should an international court be in charge of such acts?” Why was Mr. Ocalan tried before a Turkish court rather than before an international court? In Kosovo we were not faced with a war but with an attempt to violently dismember part of the state’s territory, which is also a criminal act proscribed by the domestic criminal rules. The war on Kosovo was started by NATO on March 24th, 1999, and an international court can only have the jurisdiction over crimes that NATO committed against Yugoslavia, that is, Yugoslavia against NATO.

JURIST: Article 46 of the Serbian Constitution, a Constitution which you helped to draft, guarantees freedom of the press. How can you reconcile this freedom with the restrictions that were imposed on independent media during the war, and when can those media (in particular Radio B92, which in early April was subjected to a court-ordered change of management) expect to have their rights fully restored?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: As for the freedom of the press, the Constitution of Serbia is among those constitutions that offer the most complete guarantees of that freedom. But, the undeclared war by NATO started against Yugoslavia on March 24th, 1999. During the state of war, according to our Constitutions (Federal and Republic), certain freedoms can be limited, including the freedom of the press. With the abolition of the state of war, those limitations were also abolished. All sorts of media in Serbia bear witness to this with their content, from television to the press. It is understood that the freedom of the press is not to be used to hurt other human and civil rights. By the same token, public media cannot be spared from duties that legal subjects have to respect the law. Freedom of the press is not an asylum in which one can hide from laws, morals and courts.

JURIST: You were born in the same town as FRY President Slobodan Milosevic and it’s said that you’ve been friends since you attended university together. What was your reaction to his indictment as a war criminal by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia? In light of internal and external pressures, do you think he should step down from office in the interest of his country’s future?

Deputy Prime Minister Markovic: The fact that Mr. Slobodan Milosevic and I were born in the same town is of no importance here, because I left when I was eight years old. As children, we did not know each other. At the University we had no opportunity to meet either: when I started my studies at the School of Law in Belgrade, Mr. Milosevic was on his final year at that same School. Therefore my opinion regarding your question is not influenced by my friendship with Mr. Milosevic from childhood since that simply does not exist.

The indictment of President Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague is a transparent political game and a mocking of the court and the law. First and foremost, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia does not enjoy a high reputation as a court. Secondly, even if it were an appropriately established court of law, it should be in charge of war crimes made during the secessionist dismantling of the former Yugoslav Federation. The Kosovo problem arose a posteriori, which means that there was no war in Kosovo until NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia; rather an effort was being made to violently overthrow the constitutional establishment of the country. And when the war broke out, it was between NATO and Yugoslavia. And third, President Milosevic is protected by immunity, as every head of state is – until the Federal Assembly decides otherwise. This is a constitutional principle, which cannot be violated by an improvised international court. That court is nothing more than an instrument of NATO and it works on the agenda NATO had during the armed aggression against Yugoslavia, only with different means. Since NATO failed to remove the state leadership of Serbia by armed aggression (including a direct attack on the Presidential residence), NATO is now trying to do the same with the help of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This, however, will not succeed. The leadership of Serbia can be removed by elections, but not by the ICT. It has thusfar discredited itself so much regarding Serbs already brought to the Hague (particularly considering how some of them ended up in prison before sentencing), that one cannot easily find Serbs who would trust that court.

As for your question on President Milosevic “stepping down from office” under external and internal pressure, I think he should not resign, for NATO would thus gain legitimacy for all the crimes it committed on the territory of Yugoslavia. That would be NATO’s final sign of victory. President Milosevic defended the Constitution of Yugoslavia and Yugoslavia itself. He should have resigned only if he were not ready to defend the country and its Constitution. Anyhow, the President of the FR Yugoslavia, before taking office, takes an oath before the Federal Assembly that he will maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic and will respect and defend its constitution. Politically and legally, the only remaining possibility for removing the President of the Republic is in the Federal Assembly, if it establishes that with respect to resolving the Kosovo crisis, he violated the Constitution of Yugoslavia - in other words, those values he swore to respect before the Assembly upon taking office. The Constitution of Yugoslavia sets out this possibility, but it is a matter for the sovereign decision of the Federal Assembly.

JURIST: Thank you very much for answering our questions.


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