Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with H.E. Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the United States.
Ambassador Vujacic initiated his remarks by noting that, as of February 4, 2003, Yugoslavia will now be officially referred to as Serbia and Montenegro. While he noted that the country faces challenges on many fronts, Amb. Vujacic identified several recent achievements, including economic and fiscal reforms that have contributed to the decrease in inflation and stabilization of the exchange rate. Much progress has also been made in privatization, a process on track to be completed within the next few years. A new privatization law has been much praised by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is helping to guide this process.
Of particular note is Serbia and Montenegro's progress on human rights and implementing legal reform. In 2002 alone, for example, parliament passed more than 50 human rights laws with a particular focus on minority rights. International human rights groups and the United Nations have recognized these positive developments and commended the country for its progress. However, Amb. Vujacic noted that due to the wars that wracked Yugoslavia in the 20th century, many citizens have a cynical view of human rights issues and that much work remains to encourage people to stand up for individual human rights.
Regarding Kosovo, the Ambassador stressed the importance of UN Resolution 1244, which established an international security presence in the area to enforce peace and stability. This document, he stressed, is the basic document governing the future of Kosovo and needs to be implemented. Much remains to be done in terms of refugee returns, human rights, building civil society and education, among others. Efforts to stabilize the region have not been helped by efforts of certain Albanian leaders in Kosovo to adopt a resolution on independence. For this reason, the international community needs to remain on the ground in Kosovo for a long time to come.
Serbia and Montenegro have done more than any other country of the former Yugoslavia to prosecute war crimes. In April 2002 Yugoslavia passed a law of cooperation with the ICTY (known for short as the Hague Tribunal), has provided assistance to the special prosecutor, and has released secret documents to aid in the prosecution of war crimes - not to mention the fact that Yugoslavia turned former President Milosevic and his entire inner circle of leaders over to the Hague. It is important to Serbia and Montenegro that individual, not collective, guilt is established for these crimes. Local courts in Serbia are also prosecuting war criminals who were not identified by the Hague in efforts to achieve this goal.
Ambassador Vujacic also stressed the importance of improving the bilateral relationship with the United States. He noted the long period of good, even close, relations between the two countries since relations were established in 1882. In this sense, the tension and the break-off of relations in the 1990s must be viewed as an aberration. He emphasized that the relationship with the U.S. is now much improved under the current Bush administration, and that Yugoslavia welcomes the U.S. presence in the wider region of Southeast Europe and the former Yugoslavia.
Continued progress for Serbia and Montenegro will require patience and perseverance, and much remains to be done in order to bring stability and democracy to the region. However, recent signs are encouraging and the country's special emphasis on establishing good relations with its neighbors is a step in the right direction.