Prime Minister of Serbia

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Mr President, honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to thank the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, René van der Linden, for granting me the honour of addressing you as the Prime Minister of Serbia at a time when my country is holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe.

Serbia took over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in May and decided to focus primarily on the fundamental values of the Council of Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which are the three pillars that form the foundations of European societies. That is why the slogan of Serbia’s chairmanship – “One Europe, our Europe” – expresses our belief that all European states and all peoples wish Europe to be one and speak with a single voice in showing full respect for the three aforementioned crucial values.

In today’s address, I wish first to stress the fact that the Serbian authorities have been working assiduously and constantly above all to ensure the implementation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. That is best borne out by the adoption of the new Serbian Constitution, which passed the test of a referendum, was approved by the will of the people and fulfilled even the most difficult requirement that over 50% of registered voters should vote in favour of its adoption. In addition, the Assembly of Serbia adopted the document unanimously, which bears witness to full democratic, political and national consensus on the new constitution in Serbia.

I am anxious to point out that the European Commission for Democracy through Law, or the Venice Commission, made explicit its opinion that the new constitution reflects the democratic ideals of the new Serbia. Sixty-three of a total of 206 articles in the constitution contain provisions specifically concerning human and minority rights and liberties. In respect of national minorities, it is particularly important to point to the provisions that ban discrimination on any grounds, and prohibit the incitement of racial and national hatred. I wish in particular to mention the articles in the constitution that prohibit violent assimilation and promote the development of the spirit of tolerance; the provisions on obligations to allow national minorities to be represented on local and provincial government bodies; as well as the provisions requiring that account be taken of the national make-up of the population among people employed by the national administration.

The constitution says that, as well as the rights granted to all the citizens of Serbia, minorities should be granted certain additional rights that fall under the heading of positive discrimination such as the right to elect national minority councils. I wish to inform you that not only the letter of the Serbian Constitution but its legal provisions and actual practices have largely surpassed that, including a grant that is provided for by the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Local and provincial printed and electronic media are broadcast in minority languages. In the autonomous province of Vojvodina, for example, people belonging to the Hungarian national minority can receive tuition in their own language at about 80 primary and 30 secondary schools, as well as at several universities in Novi Sad, Subotica and Belgrade.

I should like to highlight the fact that the leaders of national minorities and the highest representatives of all religious communities in Serbia strongly supported the adoption of the new constitution. Thus in the multi-ethnic town of Novi Pazar, where Bosniacs account for a considerable majority, an exceptionally high number of citizens took part in the referendum. That attests to the character of the new constitution as well as to the trust that national minorities have today in the state of Serbia. That confidence has been built thanks to a number of specific actions undertaken by the Serbian Government to improve the overall status of national minorities and to enhance the participation of people belonging to those minorities in public affairs.

All of that, honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly, goes to prove Serbia’s full commitment to, and participation in, the building of the three fundamental European values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is precisely in the implementation of those values that Serbia sees a solution to the biggest problem in present-day Europe – the future status of the province of Kosovo-Metohia. You will be fully aware that the new negotiation process, mediated by the international troika, is under way and that direct talks took place between Belgrade and the representatives of Kosovo Albanians several days ago. It is quite natural, given that the negotiations are in progress, for us to talk openly at this august European institution, and I am convinced of the need to jointly support only a democratic and compromise solution.

I wish to reassert explicitly that Serbia is indeed committed without any reservation to a democratic solution based on the three pillars that form the foundation of Europe itself: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Accordingly, Serbia called on the Albanian side and the international community in Europe to commit themselves to measures that do not resort to violent, unilateral solutions. We firmly believe that everyone concerned should act only in support of a negotiated, democratic settlement.

It is the Council of Europe, which rests on those fundamental values and which is duty bound to safeguard them, that can help us to find a way to reach a democratic solution. That is why, during the course of the New York talks, Serbia proceeded on the crucial issue of granting rights to the Albanian national minority in the province of Kosovo. The essence of the problem is how to settle the status of the Albanian national minority in the province both democratically and in line with international law.

Serbia’s proposal, which it presented in New York, is that Serbia is ready to grant to the Albanian national minority the status of the most privileged national minority anywhere in the world today. Such a status would be secured in the form of the substantive autonomy of the province of Kosovo within Serbia. I trust that members agree that such a proposal can only have at its core the full and free development and prosperity of Kosovan Albanians. There is no intention on the part of Belgrade to limit or in any way curtail the rights of Albanians in the province.

Like any other sovereign and internationally recognised state, Serbia cannot allow the Albanian national minority to create a state within a state and to form another Albanian state in the Balkan region. No national minority anywhere in the world has that right. I ask why only the Albanian national minority should enjoy such a right – and only in Serbia.

In New York, Serbia called on not only the international community but the Albanian side to work together on determining the most privileged national minority status, and to consider the particular rights currently exercised by national minorities in the world today, which can be used as a reliable criterion to settle the dispute. It is important for me to inform you that we are at a turning point today, where the international community must decide which of the two pathways to opt for in tackling the issue of the fortunes of the province of Kosovo and, by the same token, the fortunes of Serbia

One of the two pathways leads to a democratic solution based on the European values of respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The second pathway leads to a highly risky zone and would lead to the setting of the most dangerous precedent in Europe since the end of the Second World War. The cost would be to allow a national minority grossly to violate a valid UN Security Council resolution as well as the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act – to form a new state on the territory of a sovereign and internationally recognised state.

It is my duty to draw your attention to the two arguments put forward in favour of the second extremely dangerous pathway. Top-ranking international officials have said that unless a solution is identified speedily, peace in the province may be jeopardised. That point was immediately echoed by Albanian terrorists, who have said that they will resort to massive violence unless Kosovo is granted independence. Such arguments would deserve no comment, if we had heard a single clear message from the international community to the effect that such threats, rather than being rewarded by granting a state, will be severely sanctioned.

The second argument for moving along the pathway of legal violence and dismembering Serbia should be considered in the context of annexe 11 of the rejected Ahtisaari plan. It was more than telling that all the Albanian representatives in New York repeated again and again that they would fully implement the Ahtisaari plan, when they were fully aware that the plan was not on the agenda. In other words, the Albanians hope that annexe 11 will be implemented, which would achieve their geostrategic, military and security interests, and that certain great powers would agree to recognise unilaterally declared independence.

Members of the Parliamentary Assembly should know that annexe 11 of the Ahtisaari plan envisages no clear civilian control over the international military presence in Kosovo, in the form of NATO forces. That would constitute yet another unheard-of precedent since the democratic world was built. We face the risk that the implementation of annexe 11 will become more important than identifying a democratic solution, which would outweigh the destiny of Kosovo, of Serbia, and even of the entire region.

The two pathways to solving the Kosovo problem that I have outlined merit us stopping to think them over. You can rest fully assured that, in keeping with the UN Charter and its own constitution, Serbia will not abandon the quest for a democratic solution, just as it resolutely rejects the thought that it could allow, for any reason and at any time, the making of a new Albanian state on its territory through legal violence and the pursuit of the policy of force by unilateral steps. I assure you that it is impossible to impose a solution on Serbia, and that any unilaterally declared independence would prove to be unsustainable. Unilaterally declared independence would only aggravate the problem, which would return us to the point where we would have to search together for a democratic and sustainable solution all over again.

Regrettably, it should also be borne in mind that there is a real threat that particular countries – even European countries – would opt for the blatant violation of the valid UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is binding on all governments and which specifically granted Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and would be prepared to recognise a unilateral act by Albanian separatists on the independence of the province. At the Council of Europe, we must pose the most natural question: if certain European states opt to violate Resolution 1244, what will prevent any European state tomorrow from violating yet another UN Security Council resolution if such a violation were mandated? The real question is whether all those taking decisions today have taken into account all the consequences that could arise in Europe and elsewhere in the world as a result of the use of legal violence and the blatant violation of international law and universally binding UN resolutions.

At first sight, it may appear that it is easier to cut things short, even at the cost of blatantly violating the norms and values of our present-day world. However, all the countries adopting that short-sighted approach should bear in mind that as early as tomorrow they themselves could face a similar threat. In that context, we all know – because we have learned the lessons of world and European history – that any violence and the breaking of universal rules that causes a sovereign country to be dismembered will inevitably produce grave and tragic consequences. Let us ask ourselves how many separatist-minded national minorities in today’s world are watching attentively how the issue of the Albanian national minority in Kosovo will be settled. How can one explain to them tomorrow that first-grade national minorities are allowed to form states but second-grade national minorities are not permitted to do so? Most importantly, would those minorities be prepared to reconcile themselves to that position, or would new problems arise through the formation of new states driven by conflicts and presenting a persistent threat to peace and stability?

I wish to voice my conviction that nobody should stay calm when faced with the fact that it is precisely in Europe, which is so very proud of its achievements in terms of respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights, that certain countries are thinking of dismembering a sovereign, internationally recognised country by virtue of legal violence and by means of a unilateral solution. We have also seen a powerful non-European country assure us that we should regulate our affairs at the heart of Europe through the use of violence and in direct violation of the UN Charter and argue that such an action would not constitute a precedent but rather a regular and normal state of affairs. It is quite the other way around. Common sense is warning us that we should stick to the time-tested values and not abandon a democratic solution by any means. Europe’s experience is too vast and its commitment to persevere in the quest for a democratic solution too strong for us to dare give in to pressures and too readily engage in undermining the foundations on which the entire international order is based today.

If Serbia were to yield under such pressure and agree to take part in the making of another Albanian state on its own territory, it would take over gravest possible responsibility for all the far-reaching consequences of such an action. For who is more called upon than Serbia itself to fight for adherence to universal rules when its territorial integrity and its province of Kosovo is at stake? By consistently acting as we do, we have earned the right to call on you, as well, to stand in defence of the highest European values so that we do not allow legal violence to take precedence over a democratic solution in Kosovo, which is at the heart of Europe.

I must say also that, to this very day, nobody has told us what might be wrong with our proposal and why Kosovo should be granted independence. What are the arguments that can challenge Belgrade’s offer on the status of the most privileged national minority? Are there any arguments at all on the legal grounds for taking away 15% of Serbia’s territory in order to create the second Albanian state in the Balkans region? How come the rejected Ahtisaari proposal does not contain even a single word on a legal explanation or justification for such a solution? Lastly, how come nobody has yet thought of at least a single argument in favour of Kosovo’s independence, unless we consider as such an explanation the often-quoted expression, “This is a reality.”?

Honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly, the only reality recognised by Serbia is the duty of all countries of the world to respect the UN Charter and to act in line with the values underpinning post-war Europe. Respect for that reality has brought peace, stability and prosperity to Europe. Rest assured that Serbia will do everything in its power to have this reality applied throughout its territory by means of a democratic solution; and rest equally assured that Serbia will never accept the reality of the policy of force or recognise any unilaterally declared independence for the province.

Serbia, honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly, rightfully expects your support in achieving a democratically negotiated settlement for the future status of the Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohia. We remain convinced that, by defending law and justice, the UN Charter, the order of the present-day world and European democratic values, we are not thinking only of our own future, and that by doing so Serbia is not defending only its own sovereignty and dignity. Thank you for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Koštunica, for your interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that question must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

The first question is by Mr Milo, on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr MILO (Albania)

Mr Prime Minister, thank you for giving us the full picture of the Serbian official position, mostly on the Kosovo issue. Based on the fact that the Albanians in Kosovo are the majority and represent 2 million people, and based on the fact...


Please, no statements, just questions.

Mr MILO (Albania)

This is a question. Based on the fact that many other nations in the former Yugoslavia are now independent and only Kosovo still is not, I would like to ask you if you are remaining in the old position of the Milošević regime or you are ready to co-operate with the international community to find the solution about the future of Kosovo which will bring to the western Balkans peace, stability and security?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thank you very much, Mr Milo. What I have stated here may be a Serbian official position, but it is based on Serbia’s full respect for basic international principles engraved in the UN Charter and of course the European values that we spoke about – human rights, democracy and the rule of law. There are many national minorities in existing countries which are concentrated on parts of these countries, but that does not give them the right to secede – to create their own states on the territory of already-existing states. That is leaving aside the wrong statistics about the number of Albanians living in Kosovo.

You spoke also about the international community. The international community does not speak with one voice in the name of one country or a few countries – it is much more complicated.

Finally, coming to the point of your question, I agree that most of the nations in the former Yugoslavia got independence in the 1990s or later on. That goes for all the nations that had not previously had their own nation state. Kosovo Albanians have their state; the name of the state is Kosovo. Those matters have been quite clearly defined in the report of the Badinter commission on the separation or dissolution of the former Yugoslavia at the end of 1991 – namely, that Yugoslavia consisted of six parts and that all those six parts are now independent states, Montenegro being the last one. But that does not mean that something that is a part of one of these independent states – that is, Serbia – should be a new independent state. Quite clearly, we have UN Resolution 1244, the Helsinki Final Act, European values and the report of the Badinter commission.

Mr OMTZIGT (Netherlands)

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslav still lacks two of its most privileged national guests – Mr Mladić and Mr Karadžić. Are you willing and able to tell the Assembly and to put in writing how you will deal with Resolution 1564 and provide complete compliance with the court? Do you no longer accept the policy of force? I greatly appreciated the fact that you made a statement to that end. Are you willing to take new steps to bridge the gap?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Serbia is aware of its international obligations, including Resolution 1244, the Dayton Agreement and our obligations to co-operate with the ICTY. Serbia is working hard to fulfil its obligations and complete its co-operation with the ICTY. There are only a few remaining fugitives. Of the names that you mentioned, only one has been connected with Serbia. The other – Karadžić – has been connected in the last few days with the United States. He may have done a deal with some United States officials – for example, Richard Holbrook. Leaving that aside, it is in Serbia’s interest and one of its priorities to complete co-operation. It is a priority of my government and was a priority of the previous government. It is not a matter of political deals but a technical problem. Two differently composed governments faced that problem when trying to achieve our goals. I am sure that we will achieve them.

It is always difficult to solve problems about individuals. I remind you that many countries whose representatives sit here know of problems that they wish to solve but have not been solved. However, there is strong political will in Serbia for completing co-operation with the ICTY.

Lord RUSSELL-JOHNSTON (United Kingdom)

May I follow up Mr Omtzigt’s question, because it is very important? Many years have passed since the awful massacre at Srebrenica, yet the pain and anguish that many feel still bites. Will the Prime Minister say specifically what his estimate is of when Mladić will be apprehended, and what resources Serbia is devoting to that?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Perhaps this is the moment to remind members of the dialogue that I held with the general prosecutor of The Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte. I was asked a similar question. I was asked for the date when Serbia would complete co-operation with ICTY. My choice would be yesterday. In other words, the sooner the better. However, as I said, we are experiencing problems. They are only technical problems.

There are other countries, dear Lord Russell-Johnston, that also have aims and goals that they cannot achieve immediately. There are other places in the world where people suffer crises and wars. Every day, an enormous number of people are killed. We ask the question, when will it come to an end? I will not single out one country on this occasion, but you know what I am thinking about.


In your speech, you emphasised the necessity of one Europe. I congratulate you on that sentiment, with which I agree. In the parliamentary campaign in Serbia earlier this year, one of the questions was whether to go the Russian way or the European Union way. I would like to know your position on that. Do you feel that Serbia can embrace the Russian Federation as well as the European Union, so that we do not have a division between those blocs with Serbia in the middle?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

When Serbia thinks about Europe, it envisages all the countries that are sitting together. Serbia also thinks of specific values and standards and has a strong orientation towards becoming a member of the European Union. I remind members that Serbia is close to beginning stabilisation and association agreements. There are different ways of bringing together the people who live in Europe.

We often think of formal organisations in Europe such as the Council of Europe and the European Union, but we also have a broader vision. We consider the Russian Federation to be part of Europe. It is in the Assembly and it is historically and geographically part of Europe. It is in Serbia’s interests to develop good relations with both the European Union and the Russian Federation. The European Union has a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. We should remember the great French President de Gaulle, who spoke of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

When NATO bombed Serbia because of Kosovo, most members of the Group of the Unified European Left opposed that because we did not see war as a civilised way of solving problems. Nevertheless, Kosovo is a problem that has to be solved, and it must be solved by you. Do you agree that unilateral independence is not the way to solve it? How far will you dare to go to find a negotiated settlement for Kosovo, so that Kosovo’s past no longer blots the future of Serbia and Kosovo? How brave can you be?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Serbia should go as far as necessary to find a negotiated settlement, to find a solution to Kosovo and to find a compromise. I think that it is possible.

Much time has been wasted in looking for that solution. Many of the negotiations up until now that have been conducted by the special envoy of the Secretary-General, Martti Ahtisaari, constituted wasted time because we have not had direct talks. It is perhaps better to say that the negotiations have been one-sided. I believe that it is easy to reach a compromise on Kosovo. The only pre-condition is trying to find a solution in the framework of international law. That means UNSC Resolution 1244. If we try to find a solution according to the standards and principles of international law, it will not be difficult. We will come together. However, if one side supports those standards and principles but the other violates them, it is difficult to reach a solution. It is clear where Serbia stands and what it stands for.

Mr BADRÉ (France) (interpretation)

asked Mr Koštunica to comment on the situation regarding the repatriation of 100 000 Serbian migrants living in European Union territories.

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thank you for the question. As you know, Serbia has ratified all the necessary agreements relating to the European Union and its future membership and it is ready to accept EU citizens of whatever nationality who want to come to Serbia, as is normal.

Mr NÉMETH (Hungary)

Prime Minister, your parliament recently adopted a law granting citizenship to Serbians living outside Serbia, similar to Croatia and Romania. As you know, Hungarians in Serbia also asked for Hungarian citizenship, especially because of Hungary’s imminent entry to the Schengen system. What do you expect from our law in relation to stability in the region and the inter-ethnic character especially, in the western Balkans?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

One of the latest amendments in Serbian citizenship law allows Serbian citizens living elsewhere in the world to use a specific procedure according to their willingness to achieve citizenship. That is the way to bring our compatriots together without putting stability in jeopardy in any way. If there is a country committed to full respect for international law principles, territorial integrity and sovereignty of every state, if there is a country that is developing and improvement good relationships with its neighbours, if there is a country thinking about improving the position of all national minorities, that country is Serbia. I must remind you that Serbia is the most multi-ethnic of all the countries of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I see nothing dangerous in acting to help communication through citizenship for any of our people living in any of the states of the former Yugoslav Republic, in Europe or in the United States and other countries such as Australia and South Africa.

Mrs MITREVA (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

Mr Prime Minister, the picture of excellent relations between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Serbia is seriously damaged by the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which denies the existence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church as the canonical successor of the archbishopric. Such an attitude deeply offends spiritual life and the national feelings of the Macedonian people. I am aware that the usual comment on this question is that church and state are separate. Nevertheless, Mr Prime Minister, given your personal authority and close relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church, can we expect your complete and constructive contribution towards solving this issue?

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thank you. I think that some problems should be solved by the subjects concerned – in this case the churches. That is the best way. The problems may have appeared in the previous communist period and the influence of the governments and authorities then. From time to time, there is discussion between the church authorities in Serbia and Montenegro and it is possible to reach agreement and compromise. I would not interfere in that process. On the other hand, I am always willing to support anything that will bring progress in relations between Serbia and Macedonia and I am sincere and frank in all my activities.

Mr HÖFER (Germany) (interpretation)

asked Mr Koštunica, with reference to his comments on the lack of a perceptive approach by certain European states to the Kosovo situation, which were the countries he was referring to and what he considered their aims to be.

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

When it comes to the Kosovo issue, Europe is divided, even though one speaks nearly every day about its unity or the necessity of unity. It is good that Europe is divided; first of all because the problem of Kosovo is not an easy one, which means that Europe in the best democratic traditions of its countries is thinking about the problem. There are countries in Europe which think about solving the Kosovo problem in an easy and rash way by dismembering Serbia and accepting pressure from one national minority to create its own state in the territory of existing states. Other countries are aware of the problems and also aware that, in many cases, similar problems could occur in their country. They know that the problem of Kosovo could be imported to their own country so they think differently. It is clear that, at the moment, some countries are extremely sensitive to the Kosovan issue and the dangers of a serious precedent in the form of an independent Kosovo – countries such as Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Spain to some degree, and others. It is important and encouraging that debate is going on in Europe and that perhaps through this debate we will reach something that is in accordance with European values and the principles of international law – giving any existing state the right to be protected and respected in its territorial integrity and sovereignty while not giving rights to national minorities living in those states to create or found their own states.

Mr GARDETTO (Monaco) (interpretation)

said that recent press reports had quoted one member of the Serbian Government as stating that Serbia would respond with military intervention to any declaration of independence by Kosovo. In contrast, other press articles quoted another member of the Serbian Government as saying that no military action would be taken in the event of such an occurrence. He asked Mr Koštunica to comment on the truth behind these reports, and to clarify what action would be taken to integrate Kosovan citizens into Serbian society.

Mr Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia

Today, we have heard the official position of the Serbian Government. If the Serbian Government thinks of intervention, you may conclude that it would be intervention only through law, with full respect for international law and, most of all, UN Security Council Resolution 1244. That is a clear position.

On the other hand, we must consider how we integrate Kosovo with Serbia. Kosovo has been part of Serbia for a long time. History is not made in a few years; it is carved out and developed over decades and centuries. I am aware that Serbs and Albanians can live together with the different institutional arrangements that have been operated by the Serbian Government. They have done that for such a long time, why should they leave tomorrow?

As I address the Parliamentary Assembly, I cannot but think that one of the crucial European democratic values is multi-ethnicity. Who can doubt that multi-ethnicity is possible in Serbia when Serbs already live with many minority groups? There are under 30 of them in Serbia, and many of them live in the northern part of the country. Why should that not be possible when it comes to Albanians? I am more than sure that it is possible. I believe in that possibility. I believe in multi-ethnicity. I believe in the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of existing states. I believe in the possibility of different people living together.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Koštunica. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the extensive answers he has given to questions.

I hope sincerely that you will continue your successful chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers and, in particular, that we can bring the conflict in Kosovo to a peaceful solution. I encourage you to make full use of the Council of Europe’s experience and institutions.

I thank you once again for addressing the Assembly.