Interview with Mr Albert Rohan, 19th June 2008.
Svetlana Vukovic: You are an exciting guest to us because you are a person from the outside world. We are so self-isolated here, we have our stories, our problems, we are all Serbs talking Serbian stories in Serbian language. It is very precious to us to have you here just to tell us how we look from the outside. I am afraid the picture isn’t very good. So, about your relatively recent experience with Kosovo negotiations, when you helped Ahtisaari deal with the problem, I just wanted to ask you – how was it to talk, to deal with our politicians? We have our myths, our emotions, our Kostunica, all those things that made our point of view, which is like from the 19th century. You came from reality and tried to talk to them, did you have any major problems in communication?
Albert Rohan: Well, I didn’t have any problem in talking, neither to the people in government nor on the level of the negotiators. They were very professional, we could talk in English, we could talk directly, so there was no problem there. We knew, of course, their positions and their attitude was one of denial of reality, which is that Kosovo was lost in 1999 by Milosevic. In hind-sight it was a major mistake by the international community not to have solved the problem in 1999 once and for all. Instead there was this interim solution, where the administration of Kosovo was taken away from Serbia on the one hand, while the Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo was re-affirmed on the other, leaving the future status open. It would have been better to have solved it then and there and by now the conflict would have been over for a long time. Especially Prime Minister Kostunica’s refusal to accept the reality made matters difficult. Otherwise, arguing and talking with the Serbian colleagues was not a problem.
Svetlana Vukovic: We heard Marti Arthisaari once said “Look I am an old man, and I am annoyed”, so he was kind enough because that proposal of his was good for Serbs in Kosovo and our political elite didn’t appreciate it, I mean they treated him as an enemy. It was embarrassing to see how poorly they managed that situation, they didn’t see what was going on, they didn’t have a chance to do some things for Serbs in Kosovo.
Albert Rohan: Well, I must say, I myself was also personally attacked. We were not terribly astonished by this and took it as being part of the job. But we had one basic difference of looking at the problem with the leaders in Belgrade. They somehow pursued a Fata Morgana, namely that Kosovo would or could remain under Serbian rule. For us that was totally removed from reality and we tried to focus on how to protect the Serbian community in Kosovo. But they concentrated on this basic aspect of Serbian sovereignty and spent all energy, money and good will on something which in our view was a totally hopeless pursuit. We felt very quickly, after having started the negotiations, that an agreed settlement was impossible and that we could negotiate for 20 years or more without making any progress.
As far as our proposal was concerned, we had to take account of the recent history of the conflict, when in 1989 Milosevic abolished the autonomy of Kosovo, followed by a systematic oppression of the Kosovars, the human rights violations, the ethnic cleansing operation of 1998 which forced the international community to intervene, the end of Serbian rule in 1999 and the UN administration since then. Under these circumstances, it was unthinkable to simply go back to the autonomy of 1989 as if nothing had changed, as if nothing had happened. We knew that some form of independence had to be the basis of a solution. But we tried to build a bridge between independence, as the basis of a solution, and the interests of Serbia, in particular of Kosovo Serbs, because they were the most affected group. The negotiations dealt with community rights, protection of Serbian Orthodox Churches, decentralization. Decentralization has the motive to allow Serbs, who live in Serb majority municipalities, to run their own affairs to a maximum possible within the framework of Kosovo. So it was a dialogue of the deaf because we pursued on thing and they (Serbs) something else.
It is a pity they never even considered accepting our proposal which contained provisions for the Serbian community which exists nowhere in the world for a minority group, in particular for one which represents only 5 to 10 % of the population, depending on whether refugees would return. Serbs will have the right to at least one minister in every future government of Kosovo. If the government is bigger than twelve people, then two posts are reserved for them. Ten seats are guaranteed for Serbs in the Parliament, if the elections produce more – fine, then they will have more. The same goes for the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and all other important institutions. These are provisions, which would allow Serbs in Kosovo to participate in a more than adequate way in the decision making process. We can’t guarantee them wealth, we can’t guarantee them jobs, there is massive unemployment, which hits the Kosovars as well, but we can guarantee them a normal life and safe life. It is a unique offer and it is sad that upon instruction from the Serbian government in Belgrade the Kosovo Serbs don’t engage and cooperate. We can offer them all these rights, but they themselves have to exercise them. It is really a tragedy and the one thing we did not understand – and we had a lot of understanding for the attitudes from the Serbian delegation – but the one thing we never understood was how little they seemed to care for the Serbs in Kosovo. These people were used as pawns on a checkers board, regardless of their well-being.
Svetlana Vukovic: Yes, it was cruel, it was visible.
Albert Rohan: This was the one thing we failed to understand.
Svetlana Vukovic: In the end, Arthisaari’s plan will be the life of Serbs in Kosovo.
Albert Rohan: In my view, it is the only realistic option. The Arthisaari plan is being implemented now, whether Belgrade wants it or not. It is easy to implement it in all the provisions that do not need the active cooperation of Kosovo Serbs. All the measures for Serbs in Kosovo, however, need their cooperation. We can not establish municipalities for Serbs if they do not appoint mayors or if they do not elect assemblies. So, you can offer them all sorts of rights and competences, but they have to make use of them. We still hope in time there will be a sense of cooperation, especially in the enclaves. I can see a difference in the attitudes in the north and in the enclaves. Already in the past we met a number of Kosovo Serbian leaders who were inclined to cooperate but didn’t dare because they were under threats from Belgrade. This may change, maybe with the new government in Belgrade the atmosphere may slowly improve producing a more cooperative climate.
Svetlana Vukovic: Yes, Kosovo was a great frustration here. Sometimes people who acknowledged the reality, the independence of Kosovo, who are in some stage of, you know… It was a total defeat, not defeat but something stronger. We lost 4 wars and now people are using Kosovo, it was like the last straw I’m trying to explain the rationality of the situation in Serbia, it’s very hard to explain. It is an independent state now, they deserved it, and we did all those things. By the way, did Kostunica, or the people around him, at any moment – were they anxious to discuss those atrocities, or where they in total denial?
Albert Rohan: No. Even on the working level, which was lead by Mr. Samardzic and Mr. Kojen some of the other members of the delegation, in particular those coming from northern Mitrovica used terribly aggressive rhetoric. They were accusing their negotiating partners across the table of being terrorists, murderers and god knows what. Whenever people like Mr. Jaksic opened their mouth, the worst hate language came out, which destroyed any possibility of coming to a reasonable accommodation.
Svetlana Vukovic: They did it in front of the Albanians?
Albert Rohan: Yes. The way the negotiating was conducted was that we had the two delegations facing each others, they were direct negotiations, not indirect. I was chairing most of the meetings and I would give the floor to this side or the other and would only intervene when it was necessary. But some of the language used by one or two Serbian delegates really had no place in normal diplomatic negotiations.
Svetlana Vukovic: How did the Albanians react to that?
Albert Rohan: They reacted relatively moderately, they were careful not to be provoked. But when people like Mr. Jaksic would tell how many thousands of Serbs had been killed, how many churches were destroyed, of course, the Kosovars reciprocated with their own accusations against the Serbs. Then I had to intervene and say: “look we are not at an auction here, who killed more people, who destroyed more churches, that’s not the purpose of this meeting”. This came up again and again. It was not the delegates from Belgrade, it was the people from Mitrovica.
Svetlana Vukovic: Yes, but I suppose Mr. Samardzic agreed with everything that they said?
Albert Rohan: I don’t know whether he agreed or disagreed. I must only say that both Samardzic and Kojen acted in professional and consistent way. I had never any serious problems with them. They were tough, hard, but it’s the normal way you conduct these kinds of meetings.
Svetlana Vukovic: Did they dine together at the end?
Albert Rohan: No. We organized lunches during the negotiations, but they talked to each other only while standing around. I never saw them sitting together at lunch for instance, or at the same table.
Svetlana Vukovic: There were some decent people in the Albanian team? Veton Suroi was there?
Albert Rohan: Yes, very often. Also, there was not a single person in the Kosovo delegation which used the rhetoric like the one I have described.
Svetlana Vukovic: All those people from northern Mitrovica, they are medical doctors, you know?
Albert Rohan: Yes, I know. On the Kosovo Serbian side there were also some reasonable people. Just one or two black sheep who brought a tonality to the whole thing which I’m not used to.
Svetlana Vukovic: And he didn’t, until the end. It is so wrong to do the negotiations like that. I was very sad that he acted like that because he would tell us in the media how ‘I [he] showed them’ and how ‘I [he] said that!”. He was speaking what was on Kostunica’s mind. Do you have any encounters with Kostunica – surely you had – do you have some opinion about him?
Albert Rohan: I knew Kostunica from earlier years. But I must first say something about my relationship to Serbia. Belgrade was my first diplomatic post at a time, when you were not even born yet, in the early 60’s. I think I came to Serbia in ’64. For any diplomat the first assignment is like a first love, first love affair. Something always remains, some special attachment. In 1989, I returned to Vienna from Buenos Aires, where I had served as ambassador, and I took over the department for Eastern and South Eastern Europe in the Austrian Foreign Ministry, which covered the whole Soviet Union, Central Europe and the Balkans. As soon as I took over, everything collapsed in my area of work, from the Soviet Union to Yugoslavia. It was a very interesting time. Of course, starting at that time, I was coming to Belgrade continuously, so I feel totally at home here. I know many people in Serbian society, old friends, good friends and met many of the politicians, including Djindjic, Draskovic and many others. So I have a very long history with Serbia.
In 2000, on 5th of October I was in Vienna, by then the Secretary General of the Austrian Foreign Ministry. I watched the demonstrations at the Belgrade Parliament, the takeover of the radio by the people and said to myself: “I have to go to Belgrade”. The next morning I took a plane, came to Belgrade and in the evening was walking with some friends in front of the Parliament. It was a very eerie moment because everyone was expecting a reaction from the police or the army, but nothing happened. Then I returned to my hotel and saw on television that Kostunica had met with Milosevic and the result was that Milosevic would accept the election results and resign. The next morning I had a long meeting with Kostunica in the official building in Novi Beograd in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Austrian chairman in Office of OSCE. In that capacity I had asked for a meeting with the future President and we talked for almost two hours. I had an extremely favorable impression of him, we talked about everything, even Kosovo, where he was a little silent, but there were many pressing matters in the OSCE framework to discuss. I had a good impression of him and in the evening I participated at the swearing in ceremony.
The one thing I remember from those days was that all my friends in Belgrade said to me “we had enough of Kosovo, of the war, we don’t want to hear anything anymore about dying for Kosovo, we want a normal life, economic possibilities, we want to travel like everybody else in Europe.” So we all thought that Kosovo was a problem that was almost resolved. Then, over the years, Kostunica somehow started to instrumentalize the problem again, and I think by hearing the nationalistic slogans and rhetoric in the media day after day, people again became emotional about the issue. It is a great pity that they couldn’t deal with it in a cool way saying ‘look, Kosovo is gone, let’s try to make the best arrangement for our compatriots, the Serbs in Kosovo, and let’s have good neighborly relations. And in a couple of years we could all be in the European Union and then the borders won’t play such a big role anymore.’ This would have been the rational way to think. Certainly, when I met Kostunica during the negotiations, it was quite different from our meeting in 2000. He was both tough and bitter, and seemed to believe earnestly that Kosovo could remain under Serbian sovereignty.
Svetlana Vukovic: How do you explain this kind of change in a politician?
Albert Rohan: Well, I don’t know, I am not a psychoanalyst… There are two possibilities. Either the person changed or we got the wrong impression in the beginning. This is quite possible, I simply don’t know.
Svetlana Vukovic: I also considered him calm and modest…
Albert Rohan: I found him agreeable to talk to, he was brief, not long-winded, relatively precise. And also rather modest. I remember an exchange when we discussed everything that was expected of him, and the new democratic regime after Milosevic. He said: “But look, I am only the President here, there is a Government and a Prime Minister who are responsible for most executive matters,” and I replied “You are the only game in town, having succeeded Milosevic you are the most important person, so the whole world is looking at you, expecting certain things irregardless of what your precise constitutional powers may be, you are the authority in this place.” He didn’t seem too happy about that, but this also may have changed.
Svetlana Vukovic: Our basic hope, of this side of Serbia – because there are two Serbias – our best hope is that we are no longer capable of having another war, I suppose it is the hope of the world too, when dealing with Serbia. Maybe we are still capable of producing some violence inside of Serbia. Or it’s a fact that our tough nationalist politics are making things very bad for the Kosovo Serbs, or the people in Bosnia, because we somehow stopped any changes in Bosnia, because people in Belgrade sent them rational messages about the possibility to be independent. What kind of damage could we still do in the Balkans?
Albert Rohan: Serbia, because of its size, of its location, of its history is, of course, an essential factor in this region. It can have a very positive influence on the situation or a very negative one. I can only say: ‘Look, we are living in the 21st century, nobody in the world is interested in King Lazars myths or Lazars Guards, or radical nationalism.’ This has been overcome in Europe a hundred years ago, or at least 50 years ago, after WWII. These are tempi passati. There is absolutely no reason why Serbia should remain in the Middle Ages when the world moves on into the modern globalized world, where countries and regions cooperate, where borders loose their importance. Nobody can understand that there are still people and politicians that use slogans of the past centuries.
I don’t want to speculate what the damage is, that Serbia could do, but rather what positive things it can contribute. There are many myths in Serbia and one is that there is a ‘Western Conspiracy’ against Serbia. This is total nonsense, Serbia is extremely popular in Europe, still today, still after Milosevic. It has so many friends. When your beautiful tennis girls won in Paris the other day, everyone was rejoicing. Djokovic is one of the most popular tennis players in Austria. There are many other examples which show that there is enormous sympathy for Serbia, and countries of the European Union are leaning backwards to try and help Serbia. The Austrian government is one of them, it supports Serbia’s progress towards the EU, including the candidate status. Also the plan to abolish visas for Serbia and also for the other countries of the region. In all EU countries the Ministers of Interior are being difficult. They say “when you don’t have visa’s anymore then terrorists and criminals will come in”. I reply to them that terrorists and criminals surely have ways and means to get all the visas they want. The EU has proposed to abolish the visa requirement under certain conditions which have first to be met. Most of them are reasonable: new passports which can not be falsified, a databank for criminals etc. It’s now up to your government – if it fulfills these requirements we could abolish the visas tomorrow.
I want to repeat that there is a basic friendship for Serbia, which is held in high esteem in many countries. You simply have to say, “yes, we want to be a part of Europe” and get rid of such remnants of the past as the Kosovo issue. There is no country in Central Europe, including my own, which hasn’t changed its boundaries. Look at Austria a hundred years ago, and look at it now. We lost South Tyrol, which was a part of Tyrol, we lost it, and today everyone is happy. South Tyrolean’s have a position in Italy, which is excellent and we have a close special relationship with them, no problems. The Hungarians experienced similar losses and so did the Germans. Serbia is not a unique case. It is this idea of exceptionality that is a total illusion. Serbia is a normal, big, fine country with nice and gifted people, and an enormous potential. No more and no less. The door to Europe is wide open, but Serbia has to walk through on its own, we can’t and don’t want to force it. The possibility is there, with certain conditions that need to be fulfilled, like with all candidate countries, they are the same for everybody. There are some specific requirements for Serbia, which should be easy to satisfy and then there is a bright future for Serbia in Europe.
Svetlana Vukovic: Yes, on these specific conditions, there are signs that even those specific conditions could be abolished. I can see that, maybe for the first time Europe, maybe, honestly wants us there and it’s a great opportunity. On the other hand when Angela Merkel said “Well we’ll have difficulties after this Irish ‘NO’ with the Balkans, in Europe, it could slow down Croatia’s entrance into the E.U. Then you have Olli Rehn who would say in Bosnia: “No, no don’t worry.” Somehow I have a feeling that we are regarded by people from Europe like some mentally retarded child who is not capable of understanding.
Albert Rohan: Well, I wouldn’t agree with this at all and I certainly wouldn’t look at it in this way. It is a fact that the European Union has problems. It has nothing to do with Serbia, Balkans or Croatia. We have problems because there are different views inside the EU on the question of what the European Union should be. This has never been decided. There are those who want to have a very close political Union, like the United States of Europe, and others that prefer an economic area with little political cohesion. The majority of countries are somewhere in between. What we are unfortunately doing is like building a house without an architectural plan. We are going from one solution to the next, from one problem to another and there are always hic-ups and problems. In Serbia – and everywhere else – this must create confusion and we ourselves are confused.
Olli Rehn is right in one sense, that if you look back at the integration process, there have always been crises. For instance, with Great Britain negotiations were started several decades ago, broken off, resumed again and successfully concluded. The same happened with various Union Treaties. Somehow the process has always continued and slowly progress was achieved. I believe it is unthinkable that the enlargement would stop. It is true that the Irish vote is making things difficult because the Lisbon treaty would have facilitated institutional arrangements for our present membership but also for new members. Now we have to find a different way. Nobody knows what the EU is going to do; this will be sorted out in the next few months. There will be summit meetings where all the options will be discussed. Some will propose to create a “Core Europe.” Others – like my country – will oppose it. Whatever happens, I am sure that some kind of compromise solution will be found and things will go on.
Croatia will soon become a member, I am convinced, and then it is up to Serbia and other countries. We certainly don’t look at Serbia like a retarded child, that’s not the way EU looks at countries. We focus on those who are in various relationships with the EU in South-East Europe because it is the last region where the EU should still expand. We look at them as grown-ups who have to take their own decisions, we can not force them, we can not teach them anything. We can say: “You are welcome, these are the conditions, they are the same for everybody”. For Serbia I would add the cooperation with the Tribunal, and – we also have to say this openly – a cooperative attitude with the EU mission in Kosovo.
Kosovo is independent and it is an illusion to believe that this can be reversed. The EU mission has been established and it will slowly become effective. It is totally unrealistic to believe that anybody can prevent this and it’s a loss of time, money and energy to fight it. So what do we expect from a new Serbian government, whichever it is? Nobody will ask it to formally recognize the independence of Kosovo. But what one can expect is some kind of cooperative attitude. My friend Wolfgang Ischinger reminded me, in his last effort of negotiations last autumn, of the relationship between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal German Republic. They didn’t recognize each other, but since they were neighbors, they had to cooperate on border crossings, transport, traffic, infrastructure and similar issues. This is the way, I think, to proceed with Kosovo. For the Union there is a red line. We can not accept that Serbia actively opposes the EU mission when at the same time it aims to become a member of the EU. This and the need to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal are the only two specifics for Serbia.
Svetlana Vukovic: Do you personally believe that Ratko Mladic will be arrested?
Albert Rohan: I don’t know, I’m not a prophet. But I can see such sympathy for Serbia that I could well imagine that the ratification of the Stabilization and Association Agreement takes place without Mladic sitting in The Hague. Here everybody discusses whether it is going to be ratified in Serbia. The much greater problem, however, is whether it is going to be ratified in all EU countries. Some in the European Union are saying: “We put those conditions (cooperation with the Tribunal) on the table, rightly or wrongly, they have to be fulfilled.” The majority of countries, however, under the leadership of France and Austria, say “we shouldn’t have made these conditions for the Stabilization Agreement. We didn’t do it with Croatia; Gotovina was the condition for starting the negotiations on EU membership, not for the Stabilization Agreement, so why did we treat Serbia differently? Therefore we should close our eyes and ratify”. I think this will probably happen.
The next question is the candidate status for Serbia, which is a step further and would be useful, in my view. It is much easier to understand what it means than the Stabilization Agreement. I would be in favor of granting Serbia the candidate status without Mladic in The Hague. But I can’t see the membership negotiations themselves starting as long as this condition is not fulfilled and as long as there is not a change of attitude with regard to Kosovo. As I said, the European Union will play a main role in Kosovo; and one can not join the club and at the same time fight it, this doesn’t work.
Svetlana Vukovic: Are we breaking them by talking all the time about King Lazar?
Albert Rohan: We are not that far yet, this comes when the negotiations start. You must not forget, however, that membership negotiations with the European Union are not really negotiations. They are an exam on whether the legal system of the candidate country is in compliance with EU rules and regulations, that’s all it is. We see it with the Turks and Croats now. Nobody negotiates, they have to say, “These are our laws”, and then they are told whether these are in accordance with EU laws. We went through the same procedure not so long ago.
Svetlana Vukovic: Yes, let’s hope for the best. So do you think now that you have a pro-European government, hopefully, that Mr. Tadic and his crew will do something to improve those two specific conditions? Are we capable of doing something as a country, do you think it is realistic?
Albert Rohan: Well, we hope so. First of all, whichever government Serbia establishes is Serbia’s affair, it’s not ours. It is true that we would hope that the group around President Tadic will be able to form a government. I must add it is not a really agreeable thought that the old Milosevic party is the king maker in this affair. Together with the other 2 parties in their group they have 7% percent of the vote, they by themselves have 4 – 4.5%, so it’s a small bunch of old-timers that is the deciding factor of forming the government of Serbia. Not nice to watch, but these are the ways of life and in politics you have to be flexible. Therefore I have full understanding if President Tadic and his party take the SPS on board. We have always to think in alternatives, and in this case the alternative is worse. We hope that this government comes together and we understand that the leadership of the SPS is pro-European oriented. I do not expect immediate miracles from them, or dramatic changes of policy in any way. We expect that the SAA will be ratified in Parliament; there should be enough votes available. That doesn’t immediately change the life of anybody but one can proceed from there to discuss the candidate status.
A major problem will be the economy, but that is a matter for the government to decide, the high inflation, high unemployment. I would wish, as a friend of Serbia, that more energy be concentrated on these real issues rather than on phantom problems, like Kosovo.
In Kosovo there were some positive developments: there was no exodus of Serbs after the independence declaration and violence was restricted to two deplorable incidents. We hope that the situation remains calm, that the Government in Pristina, which really tries very hard to reach out to the Serbian community, will have some kind of echo, some kind of partner and that slowly, slowly, the situation will normalize. If these moderate expectations can be fulfilled, then I think we can look forward to a good future.
Svetlana Vukovic: What do you think of the Foreign Minister of Serbia? He is so… I do hope that someone will come and just take him away.
Albert Rohan: Well, I can’t really say anything about him. I met him only once, I think, when he accompanied President Tadic to Vienna during the negotiations. So I have no personal impressions of him. Also, it’s not up to me to give marks to the Foreign Minister of Serbia. Whoever is in that position, we have to deal with him.
Svetlana Vukovic: He is making a big success in the UN tomorrow, today, I don’t know, they have some session and Mr. Sejdiu will not speak as a…
Albert Rohan: President of Kosovo…
Svetlana Vukovic: But as such he will speak just like Mr. Sejdiu.
Albert Rohan: Well, having represented a state for 40 years I have a certain understanding for formalities. But, I must say, I often felt it was a bit childish. In the end it doesn’t matter in what capacity Mr. Sejdiu speaks, as long as he speaks and can say what he wants to say. I don’t expect big decisions in the Council in any case. The Council, obviously, is blocked and will not take any decisions.
Svetlana Vukovic: Just two short questions: What do you think – you have great experience – when you look at all those countries in the Balkans, like Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia – let’s say those countries with some kinds of troubles – whose situation is the most hopeless?
Albert Rohan: I would rather look at the hopeful situations: Croatia, obviously, is most advanced and almost part of the EU.
Svetlana Vukovic: That’s why I didn’t mention it.
Albert Rohan: The remaining countries all have their difficulties, and rather different ones. Albania has no major political problem, but it has started, because of its history, because of the last 40 years, from a low level of economic, social and institutional development. And they are doing well, but it takes time. They have overcome internal difficulties, conflicts don’t take place in the street anymore but in Parliament, which is a big advance.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has this rather difficult heritage of the war, the statehood is still in doubt, questioned by some elements of the state, and a Bosnian nation building has not really taken place. The constitution of Dayton, as we know, is dysfunctional. On the other hand, it is very difficult to amend it because everybody has vested interests and opposes changes.
The economic situation of The Republic of Srpska is surprisingly good. On the other hand, The Republic of Srpska is trying to prevent anything which would strengthen central government. These are the problems of Bosnia which in the long run may turn out to be the most difficult of these situations. Because, how do you run a state when elements of that state don’t want it? Mr. Dodik has declared that he has no wish to separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina and he sees the future of The Republic of Srpska within, but in a very loose federal arrangement. This is not so easy to achieve.
Montenegro, I don’t see any grave problems, they are doing fine now.
Macedonia has a serious problem. The crux of the Macedonian situation has always been the inter-ethnic relationship between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians. This has been solved in the Ohrid agreement, which has been implemented and which has brought a lot of progress. The one remaining problem is the conflict with Greece over the official name. Many in Europe are inclined to look at this question as scurrilous, bizarre. I always warned that it could have serious consequences, because one of the reasons why the ethnic Albanians are decided to remain within Macedonia is the hope for Macedonia to soon become part of the Trans-Atlantic structures, NATO and EU. And it’s true that Macedonia is a candidate country of the EU and is close to being invited to become a member of NATO. The failure to solve the name problem could prevent this, leading to a serious destabilization of Macedonia.
Therefore, in my view, the European Union should get much more intensively involved in finding a solution. Up to now it was left to the United Nations and to the special envoy of the UN in New York, who has tried to negotiate some kind of compromise. It didn’t work. So far the EU didn’t really want to get involved because Greece is a member of the European Union, Macedonia is not, and it is difficult to mediate between a member and a non-member. I think that, frankly, this attitude is wrong, considering that this issue could become a serious problem for the EU. With a little bit of good will, if one would somehow succeed in taking this problem out of internal politics in Macedonia and in Greece, forming national platforms in both countries, a way out could be found.
Serbia and Kosovo we have already discussed at great length.
Svetlana Vukovic: They have nine ambassadors there now, giving them their state.
Albert Rohan: But Kosovo is a state. For the last nine years, since the UN took over the interim administration, the state institutions have been developed and gradually received competences. The UN has very few competences left. According to our plan, the government of Kosovo will rule the country like in any other state. The international presence will have only limited, but within these limits, very strong powers. The purpose of the international civilian presence is to ensure that the Ahtisaari plan is being implemented, specifically in relations to the Kosovo-Serbian community. It is a guarantee for the Kosovo Serbs and the other, smaller minorities, that all the rights given to them are really being applied. That is the only role of the International Civilian Representative. In addition, the EU mission has certain limited competences in justice, police, border control. If the Kosovo Minister of Finance, for instance, makes a crazy budget, it’s his right; the internationals are not going to intervene. So it is, as you say, a state, which is developing state institutions. It was announced that they will have eight or nine embassies abroad, now they have to find the people, they have to train them… It’s a difficult process, but they will succeed.
Svetlana Vukovic: The biggest blow to the Serbian democracy, as we see it, was the assassination of Zoran Djindjic. Do you also see it that way?
Albert Rohan: If you look at history in a longer period of time, there have always been tragedies, assassinations, but still, life continued, countries continued. I knew Djindjic quite well, met with him often since the early nineties and held him in high esteem. His death threw back the normalization process and positive developments here in Serbia, this is for sure. But no person is irreplaceable. Of course, the successors are different characters, they have different weaknesses, different strengths. We all regretted terribly when Djindjic was assassinated, we condemned this foul act and we could see that it made the situation here much more difficult. What Serbia needs now – as then – is strong leadership guiding the country in a straight line towards the goal which must be to turn Serbia into a modern European state.
Svetlana Vukovic: To recapitulate, did we leave something out?
Albert Rohan: I think we didn’t discuss the need for coming to terms with the past.
Svetlana Vukovic: People tend to forget the unpleasant things, so we are trying to explain to them that it is necessary, it’s a good thing for you to face all those things.
Albert Rohan: When you talk about Mladic, I would say that in killing thousands of people in Srebrenica and other places he has become a symbol for all the crimes committed in the name of Serbia and of the Serbian nation. I always considered that the work of the International Tribunal was so important for various reasons. First of all, it helps the victims and the families of the victims to overcome this terrible experience if the crimes against them are somehow formally recognized. It’s part of the healing process. Equally important is that by individualizing the responsibility you take away the collective guilt of a nation. It was not the Serbian nation or the Serbs in general who committed these crimes. It was individuals, and you have to identify them in order to protect the nation. This is what the Tribunal in The Hague is doing and it deserves full support, in the interest of Serbia.
Having said this, it is also essential to undertake efforts in Serbia itself to come to terms with what has happened. At the moment, many here – this is my impression – are simply in denial that anything wrong has been done or that crimes have been committed by Serbs. And then there is this old myth of Serbia always being the victim. Of course, it is true that situations are never black and white. Serbs have also been murdered, Bosniaks have been murdered, and Albanians have been murdered. On all sides there were victims and perpetrators. But, one has to recognize that the origin of these tragedies came from here in the form of Milosevic, who started the whole thing, and the most hideous crimes were committed by Serbian paramilitary groups and by people like Mladic, if they are found guilty. This process of coming to terms with history, I think, hasn’t even started yet in Serbia.
After World War II many countries, including my own, had similar experiences. It took us – and others – a long time to accept the need for Vergangenheitsbewältigung,as we call it in German, the coming to terms with the past. But sooner or later it has to be done and it is the responsibility of politicians and historians alike to tell the people the truth. Even if it hurts.
Albert Rohan, born in 1936, Doctor of Law, former Austrian Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay and former Secretary-General of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, appointed in 2005 by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as deputy to Martti Ahtisaari, Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo.
As a lecturer, Ambassador Rohan lectured on developments in the Balkans, the situation in the Middle East, transatlantic relations and European affairs at universities in Princeton, Toronto, Ottawa, Budapest, Krakow and Vienna; the Council for Foreign Relations, New York; the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.; The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London; foreign policy associations in Berlin, Munich, Ljubljana and Vienna; EURAC Bolzano; Clingendael Institute, The Hague; PANEUROPA Movement in Vienna and Innsbruck; UN Association of Austria; and Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Paris.
He is the author of the book Diplomat on the Fringes of World Politics, Molden, October 2002.
Mr Rohan speaks German, English, French and Spanish.
1. Report of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Kosovo’s future status: English – French
2. Comprehensive proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement: English – French