Having toppled Mr. Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia’s new president, Mr. Vojislav Kostunica, must now consolidate power if he is to return his country to the family of European nations. His efforts to form an interim government have been hampered by Yugoslavia’s federal structure and the bad blood between its two constituent parts, Serbia and Montenegro. Mr. Milosevic’s Socialist People’s Party, which has not given up hope of returning to power, is doing its best to complicate matters for the new president. The West can help, but it must tread carefully: The Serb people harbor deep resentments after the NATO bombings during the Kosovo War.
As difficult as it was to get Mr. Milosevic to respect the will of the Yugoslav people, forcing politicians and bureaucrats to do the same may prove equally challenging. Every level of the government administration is still in the hands of supporters of the ousted president. Mr. Kostunica’s democratic alliance is the largest bloc in the 178-seat federal Parliament, but it does not hold a majority.
Last week, the president struck a deal with the Socialists that will allow him to establish an interim government until parliamentary elections are held in December. Under the agreement, power will be shared among Mr. Kostunica’s political allies and the Socialists. The Socialists will hold the post of prime minister, but he must reach a consensus with two deputy prime ministers from the democratic parties. The Socialists, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia and the Serbian Renewal Movement will jointly control key ministries, including the Interior Ministry which commands a police force of 85,000.
The deal is realistic, since parliamentary elections will be held in two months. It is still problematic, however. The Socialists are counting on the euphoria surrounding Mr. Kostunica’s victory wearing off. With their supporters in key positions in the government, the Socialists can try to undermine Mr. Kostunica’s initiatives, which would add to the disillusionment.
Moreover, the agreement complicates relations with the republic of Montenegro. The Yugoslav Constitution tries to balance power between the republics: If the president is a Serb, then the prime minister must come from Montenegro. The power-sharing deal violates that arrangement, and Montenegro is not willing to go along.
Mr. Kostunica traveled to the capital of Montenegro last week for talks with the republic’s pro-Western president, Mr. Milo Djukanovic. While the two men agreed to settle their differences peacefully, they failed to resolve the issue. Mr. Djukanovic is hoping to use his leverage to negotiate a new federal government structure that would eliminate the influence the Belgrade government has over his republic.
While Mr. Kostunica may have more in common with Mr. Djukanovic than did his predecessor, he is still a Serb nationalist. His sympathies for the Montenegrin president must be balanced against the fact that the Serb people will not take kindly to the loss of their last republic.
Mr. Kostunica will discover he has new allies in his fight to keep his country united. The West recognizes that the new president walks a fine line and is doing what it can to help shore up support for the new government. That means the European governments will pressure Montenegro to strike a deal with the new president.
The West will also be pushing the Kosovars to reach agreement with the new government in Belgrade. Indeed, the Kosovo question may flare again, as Kosovars find that they have lost their claim to the sympathy of the West. That could be dangerous, since Kosovo nationalists have been ruthless in the pursuit of their goals. They have even gone so far as to give Mr. Milosevic an excuse to send in his security forces.
The last thing Mr. Kostunica needs is another separatist struggle. He has to focus on rebuilding his country’s tattered economy and undoing the damage wrought by Mr. Milosevic. Thirteen years of misrule, four wars, the NATO bombing and the sanctions have turned Yugoslavia, once the most advanced of the socialist economies of Europe, into the poorest country in the region. Both inflation and unemployment are running at 50 percent. During the past decade, the economy has shrunk on average about 7 percent annually. What remains of the domestic economy is in the hands of racketeers and cronies of the former president.
Yugoslavia needs help, and Mr. Kostunica is likely to get most of what he needs. Governments that wish to assist him must recognize that ousting Mr. Milosevic was merely the first step in what promises to be a long process. It will be a frustrating experience. Patience and generosity will be critical.
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