- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Vojislav Kostunica, the unlikely hero of Yugoslavia's democratic revolution, will have problems governing with an unwieldy 18-party coalition, a shattered economy, and unresolved issues with the United States, NATO and Russia.

Western analysts said a Kostunica-led government will enjoy an initial international wave of good will, having rid the Balkans of the man many blame for a decade of ethnic fighting and instability.

But Mr. Kostunica's strong nationalistic views and his lack of experience in governing could cause problems. During the campaign for Sept. 24 presidential elections, he sharply criticized U.S. efforts to help his party and accused the United States of seeking to partition his country.

Mr. Kostunica "has strong differences with us," President Clinton told reporters at the White House yesterday. "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."

With power slipping out of Mr. Milosevic's hands by the hour yesterday, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine repeated the European Union's willingness to begin lifting crippling economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia following Mr. Milosevic's violent campaigns in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Mr. Kostunica, 56, a constitutional lawyer who has never held elective office, has said his main goal is to make Yugoslavia a "normal" European country again. He promised during the campaign to serve just over one year as president.

But any new government will face a steep learning curve after Mr. Milosevic's near monopoly on power since 1989. Potential pitfalls include:

• Forming a government. Mr. Kostunica's umbrella Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition contains ardent Serbian nationalist factions and pro-Western liberal reformers. The 18 opposition parties have a history of feuding, although they surprised analysts by holding together in the latest fight against Mr. Milosevic.

Janusz Bugajski, an analyst of Eastern European affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said any new government will have to quickly make peace with the police and military two pillars of the Milosevic regime.

"Otherwise, in a growing political vacuum, Serbia could descend into chaos and bloodshed," Mr. Bugajski said.

• The economy. Years of isolation and economic embargoes by the West have left the Yugoslav economy in desperate straits. The opposition released a "Program for a Democratic Serbia" that calls for radical market-oriented economic reforms and new infrastructure investments, but opening Serbia to European competitors may hurt the country's inefficient producers in the short term.

• Kosovo. Mr. Kostunica harshly criticized the NATO campaign in Kosovo and attacked Mr. Milosevic for what he said was a "betrayal" of Serbian nationalism in the lost wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Mr. Kostunica insists that Kosovo remains an integral part of the Yugoslav Federation, and his democratic mandate could actually provoke ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who long for their own country.

Ibrahim Rugova, considered a centrist among the Kosovo Albanian political leaders, told the London Daily Telegraph yesterday that "independence is still very much the goal."

"The change of regimes in Belgrade is irrelevant to Kosovo," Mr. Rugova said. "Kosovo is a separate issue. There is no room any more for a new combination of states.

Mr. Kostunica has also supported plans to divide Vojvodina, the northern region of Serbia, into three parts, diluting the political clout of the ethnic Hungarians who make up a majority of the population.

"But," said the Belgian-based International Crisis Group in a pre-election analysis, "Kostunica, whatever his prejudices and support for the Serbian national cause, does not appear likely to use instruments of state to ethnically cleanse whole swathes of territory."

• Mr. Milosevic. The uncertain status of the defeated president and Mirjana Markovic, his powerful wife, presents problems for a new regime. U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Daniel Serwer said yesterday that the couple has too many internal enemies to remain in Serbia, but where they might go remained uncertain last night.

The opposition candidate has repeatedly said he would not honor an international war-crimes indictment of Mr. Milosevic and four military aides, calling the Hague-based tribunal a "political instrument of Washington."

But the Clinton administration continues to insist that Mr. Milosevic must be handed over to face trial, which could lead to early friction with the new government in Belgrade.

• Russia. Traditionally Serbia's patron in the region, Russia has had a bumpy ride with Mr. Kostunica.

The opposition candidate complained this week of President Vladimir Putin's "shortsighted" policy of trying to strike a balance between the Milosevic government and himself.

Despite the immense challenges of rebuilding Yugoslavia, Mr. Kostunica can expect a warm honeymoon for now.

"We know we'll have problems with him," said a senior U.S. government official, "but he's so much better than what was there before that there's no comparison."

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