As the euphoria surrounding his inauguration faded, President Vojislav Kostunica received assurances today from the United States and the European Union that help is on the way for Yugoslavia, crippled economically by 13 years of hard-line rule by Slobodan Milosevic.
In his first day in office, the new president found himself facing daunting challenges. He is expected to rebuild a shattered economy, end Yugoslavia’s international isolation, and assemble a government with as few old faces as possible while placating a pro-Milosevic wing that still wields considerable power.
Kostunica defeated Milosevic in the Sept. 24 presidential election. But Milosevic tried to deny Kostunica’s victory, sparking a national uprising that turned into a celebration Friday when Milosevic conceded defeat. Kostunica, a 56-year-old legal scholar, was sworn in Saturday night.
Today’s newspapers lauded the change in leadership, saying the country had rejoined the “ranks of democratic peoples,” while the European Union and the United States promised to lift some economic sanctions.
West Pledges Support
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States is ready and willing to aid in the transition to democracy in Yugoslavia.
“The Yugoslav economy is a disaster, and we have to do everything we can to help,” she said today on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We want to support [Kostunica]. We want to get assistance to him. I’ve been talking to our European partners. We will be lifting certain sanctions” imposed to punish Milosevic for aggressive behavior toward first Bosnian Muslims and then ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
However, Defense Secretary William Cohen said today from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki that any assistance from the West should help the Yugoslav people rebuild their country, but continue to weaken Milosevic’s political base.
“We should remove those economic sanctions directed toward the people, but at the same time keep in place the sanctions against Milosevic and his cronies,” he said.
The U.N. arms embargo will stay in place for now, since it can only be revoked by the Security Council.
However, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said European Union foreign ministers would begin by lifting an oil embargo and a flight ban, which has not been strictly enforced, while keeping a freeze on assets held by people linked to Milosevic and a ban on issuing them visas.
Vedrine, whose country has invited Kostunica to an EU summit in the southwestern coastal town of Biarritz, will chair the foreign ministers’ Monday meeting before heading to Belgrade to meet with Kostunica on Tuesday. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EU’s administrative body, wrote Kostunica today to pledge support in helping Yugoslavia “rejoin the European family,” but added “many difficulties lie ahead.”
In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, set to be published Monday, Prodi noted the European Commission had proposed in May that the EU set aside 2 billion euros from its budget over the next six years for Yugoslavia.
$500 Billion Needed
A leading Yugoslav economist, Mladjan Dinkic, who is expected to be Kostunica’s choice for central bank governor, said the country needs a quick end to economic sanctions and $500 billion in aid right away if the new government is to survive its first few months.