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TURMOIL IN YUGOSLAVIA

Milosevic Foe Is No Great Fan of the U.S.

October 06, 2000|JIM MANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Vojislav Kostunica has long been a determined opponent of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But that doesn't mean he is an unquestioning supporter and admirer of the United States.

Kostunica, who outpolled Milosevic in the Sept. 24 presidential election and on Thursday appeared to be finally forcing him from power, has some personal and political qualities that undoubtedly endear him to official Washington.

He is a constitutional lawyer who once translated the Federalist Papers for his country. He talks regularly about the rule of law, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary--ideas that have never featured prominently in Milosevic's political lexicon.

Kostunica, 56, was also a determined anti-Communist, who was dismissed from a university teaching job in 1974 for criticizing the regime of Yugoslavia's longtime Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito.

And yet, Kostunica also has built a record as a moderate Serbian nationalist who has been willing to contest American policies he views as heavy-handed or domineering.

He has made it clear that he opposes war crimes trials for Milosevic and other Serbian leaders, and has called the Hague tribunal "an instrument of American policy, and not of international law." In the early 1990s, he supported the right of Bosnian Serbs to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Washington officials, from President Clinton on down, have been careful to emphasize that they do not expect to see eye to eye with Kostunica on all issues.

"I have said before, the opposition candidate, who, according to all unbiased reports, clearly won the election, obviously has strong differences with us," Clinton said Thursday. "This is not a question of whether he agrees with us. All we want for the Serbian people is what we want for people everywhere--the right to freely choose their own leaders."

From the Clinton administration's point of view, whatever disagreements the United States has with Kostunica are almost beside the point--first, because Kostunica seems to believe in bringing democratic change to Yugoslavia, and second, because virtually anyone would be preferable to Milosevic.

Even though they needed Milosevic to seal a deal to end the war in Bosnia, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have been at odds with him for most of the past decade, culminating in NATO's air war over Yugoslavia last year.

Kostunica grew up as a Serb within Tito's Yugoslavia. During the early 1970s, he was working as a law professor at the University of Belgrade when he was asked to give his support to the Communist regime's dismissal of a political dissident at the school. Kostunica refused and was eventually fired himself.

He went on to co-found the Democratic Party, and later became president of a splinter group, the Democratic Party of Serbia. For years he was obscured by other, flashier opposition leaders, who were consistently outmaneuvered by Milosevic.

During his presidential campaign, Kostunica repeatedly attacked Milosevic for bringing Yugoslavia to a point where it is politically isolated, war-weary and weakened by economic sanctions.

"We want a normal life in a normal state," Kostunica said.

The prospect of a return to normalcy was something for which Milosevic could hold out little promise.

Yugoslavs' realization of that fact helped form the basis of the public statements by the Clinton administration and its allies.

The West has made it plain that if Kostunica's election victory was honored and he became the next president, the sanctions against Yugoslavia could be lifted.

Yet, during his campaign, Kostunica also hinted at nationalist views that may turn out to be more important in the future than they seemed last month.

He called for adoption of the Serbian national anthem used in the 19th century.

He refused to say what should happen to Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leaders who have been charged with war crimes at the court in The Hague.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Vojislav Kostunica

Democratic Party of Serbia challenger Vojislav Kostunica apparently unseated Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Sept. 24 elections, and protesters are demanding that Milosevic step down. A look at Kostunica:

Current occupation: President of Democratic Party of Serbia since its founding in 1992.

Personal: Born 1944 in Belgrade; married, no children.

Education: Bachelor of law degree, master's and PhD from University of Belgrade.

Employment: Became a law professor at the University of Belgrade in 1970 but was fired during political purges four years later. Served as editor in chief of several prominent law and philosophy periodicals.

Politics: Helped establish the opposition Democratic Party in 1989. The same year, he declined an offer to resume his tenure as a professor at the University of Belgrade, continuing his work with the Belgrade-based Institute of Philosophy and Social Theory. Served in the Serbian parliament from 1990 to 1997.

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Source: News reports

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