Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica may have been swept into
power by the strongly democratic yearnings of his people, but he
now faces a host of daunting challenges, not the least of which is
how to bring to justice the man who masterminded the "ethnic
cleansing" of Bosnia and Kosovo.
Slobodan Milosevic's victims and many human rights advocates fear
that, notwithstanding his indictment by the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, Mr.
Milosevic will escape justice because Yugoslavia or some other
nation will grant him safe haven.
But Yugoslavia's new democrats have higher priorities than
dealing immediately with Milosevic. They now are focused on
consolidating their hold on government and rebuilding their
country's desecrated political and economic institutions.
Whether a trial happens sooner or later, in Yugoslavia or at The
Hague, victims and observers should have patience, because bringing
Milosevic to justice is in everyone's interest. History shows that
a thriving democracy with lasting peace can only be assured when
crimes of the past are acknowledged and peoples' need for justice
Even though Mr. Kostunica does not support The Hague tribunal,
his administration chose not to "cut a deal" with Milosevic before
driving him from power - even after Jiri Dienstbier, the UN human
rights envoy for Yugoslavia, announced that he was in favor of
granting immunity from prosecution in return for Milosevic's
Furthermore, Yugoslavia's new foreign minister, Goran Svilanovic,
supports the formation of a truth commission of independent experts
to investigate responsibility for crimes and the suffering of
victims of all parties to the Yugoslav wars, and the opening of an
office of the ICTY.
Significantly, Kostunica has not ruled out the possibility of
trying Milosevic in Yugoslavia.
But Kostunica has his hands full trying to unify his country, and
he doesn't want to alienate any of the constituencies he needs.
Those who would rush Milosevic to justice ahead of the other
priorities set by Kostunica need to imagine themselves in the new
president's shoes before condemning his choices.
At the same time, demands for justice do not disappear with time,
as evidenced in the recent upsurge in legal proceedings against
Nazi survivors for crimes committed at the time of World War II.
Whether Kostunica wants them to or not, those demands will assert
themselves onto a democratic agenda and force their way up the
In time, they will supplant other priorities that he now puts on
the front burner. This is what happened in Chile. From the day
Augusto Pinochet ceded power, many Chileans called for his
prosecution for human rights abuses. Anti-cipating this demand, Mr.
Pinochet declared himself "senator for life," with accompanying
amnesty from judicial prosecution. …