Progress in Serbia matched by challenges

Kostunica: His accomplishment to date is amazing, but tougher issues await him.

October 20, 2000

THE WORLD is off to a good start in recognizing the change in Yugoslavia. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have made overtures to Belgrade to rejoin. Most nations are lifting sanctions.

The most urgent need is fuel and food to get the Serbian people through the Balkan winter. Fallen dictator Slobodan Milosevic left food warehouses, oil reserves and national bank accounts empty.

To the extent that numbers are real, inflation has been 120 percent; average wages of those employed, $40 a month; foreign cash reserves, $385 million; and defaulted foreign debt, $14 billion.

Vojislav Kostunica, elected federal president Sept. 24, has made remarkable progress in his bloodless revolution, persuading the Milosevic puppets of the Serbian republic, which largely coincides with his jurisdiction, to submit to a free election Dec. 23.

But to control the federal parliament, he needs the votes of the Milosevic allies in Montenegro. They are opponents of the pro-Western government of that republic, which boycotted the election and which Mr. Kostunica must now accommodate.

As a personality, Mr. Kostunica does not end the nationalities crisis in former Yugoslavia so much as move it forward. He is a genuine Serb nationalist, distrusted by almost all non-Serbs.

The Dec. 23 election requires a judgment as to whether Kosovo is part of Serbia at this time for this purpose. A decision will enrage either its Albanian majority or Serb minority. Mr. Kostunica's plan to commemorate a Serb poet in Bosnia alarms Bosnians.

His determination not to send Mr. Milosevic to trial by an international tribunal in The Hague for crimes against humanity raises the issue of whether Serbia will acknowledge the atrocities committed in its name. There is no path into Europe without doing so.

Mr. Milosevic is home, seemingly free to plot his restoration. Mr. Kostunica has been brilliant so far, but with each day the challenges only get more intricate.

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