Serbian premier presents programme, cabinet
BBC Monitoring Original Source: RTS TV, Belgrade

Text of address by Serbian Prime Minister Designate Vojislav Kostunica to Serbian Assembly, broadcast live by Serbian TV satellite service on 2 March; subheadings inserted editorially.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary since the time Serbia rebuilt its statehood. Today, we are faced with the question of what Serbia requires of us today. What does Serbia expect of us today, 200 years on, at the start of the new century? Not only of the government, but of all the authorities in the most diverse posts, what does it expect of us as its citizens?

Let us recall, 200 years ago Serbia was establishing its state status, winning its freedom step by step, that is, the status of an internationally recognized state. At the time, Serbia started to reorganize itself economically, politically and culturally, thus following the norms and standards of civilization and democracy which had prevailed in the more developed parts of Europe. In the second part of the 19th century, Serbia, as an independent state, together with Montenegro of course, became an inherent part of the European community of states at the time.

Today, at the beginning of the new century, Serbia faces - not entirely and not in the same way, of course - some of the tasks that it faced for 200 years. That is why those who warn of our demographic and material loss, wasted time, historic blunders and failures are right, but those who maintain that, in spite of everything, and particularly given the circumstances, Serbia nevertheless moved forward, are also right. We need to stress several issues that are of particular importance for Serbia to continue moving forward, now, at the beginning of the new century. What are the problems that we face today?

Serbia must first of all resolve its state status that has been brought into question if we know that Serbian authority is not present in a part of its territory, in Kosovo -Metohija. Instead, the highest authority there is that of the international community. Second, Serbia must establish its status within the state union with Montenegro, establishing and strengthening in this way the state union in line with, rather than in violation of the Constitutional Charter, making the state union a functional, rather than a non-functional one, which is largely the case today. Third, or the third task when it comes to the revival of state institutions, is that Serbia must organize itself internally by establishing strong democratic institutions and by putting in place a law-governed state. A law-governed state means breaking away from the vestiges of the state of mind and the practices of a party-governed state. A law-governed state means decisively doing away with voluntarism and wilfulness in the legal sector. Finally, the law-governed state requires doing away with corruption, large-scale corruption in particular, and all attempts to suppress and render senseless - in an essentially unnatural and formally illegal manner, by means of acquired privilege and wealth - the will and the interests of the people and the institutions through which the people's will and its interests are demonstrated.

Fourth, Serbia, with Montenegro, must also resolve its status in the European Union. All the legitimate disagreements and conflicts between relevant political parties, in this assembly and in the Serbian public notwithstanding, there is no question about Serbia's inherent position in Europe and its need for the formal recognition of its position through membership in European structures. The membership is not only desired, it is a necessity that cannot be avoided at this point. As a rule, when you want something you usually profit from it. The same is not necessarily true for the things we must do, but there is no alternative at this point to Serbia and Montenegro's European path. That is why it is our highest duty and obligation, not only to put a stop to the decades-long deterioration of the institutions, but to establish an institutional, primarily constitutional, framework which will finally ensure Serbia's stable progress. Of course, institutions, laws, the integration of society, are not simply a goal unto themselves, but a means of ensuring a more peaceful, more secure, and generally better existence for the citizens in every society, particularly in societies that suffered under comprehensive violence from within and without.

Status of Kosovo

But first things first. I will briefly outline [pauses] and you will receive a comprehensive text after the recess, how the government envisages changes in the state, the economy, and in all of society's main activities. I will, of course, first address what I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation - the state, how to organize it, how to strengthen its institutions, and, of course, I will first speak about the part of the state where our authority is the most controversial, and where the international community's authority is above ours.

I will start with Kosovo -Metohija as the most important issue for this state, this government, and this parliament. Keeping in mind this fundamental position, I wish to say that the government will conduct a policy of realistic state interests. Let me first explain what this means in concrete terms. It means that the issue of Kosovo -Metohija's status will not be resolved without Serbia and the state union of Serbia-Montenegro. Anyone who wishes to put this issue on the agenda must be aware that without Serbia and the state union this will not be a realistic option, and that, as far as Serbia is concerned, the term "status" - so frequently mentioned these days in relation to Kosovo -Metohija - can have many different definitions, but never independence.

The first and the most serious problem in Kosovo -Metohija was and still is the return of Serb refugees to their homes and hearths. Naturally, we cannot resolve this problem without UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo ], but we can propose a feasible plan in phases which would progress according to the schedule of guaranteed security for the returnees. [sentence as heard] The same phased principle should be applied in returning property to its legitimate owners, private persons, and the state, and to the protection and restoration of Serbian and European cultural heritage in the province. However - and I wish to stress this in particular - in spite of all the dramatic changes, there is an urgent issue when it comes to the Serbian population's lack of rights in Kosovo -Metohija, and that is the issue of establishing new mechanisms for the protection of the Serbian population, property, and the cultural heritage in the province. In cooperation with the relevant authorities, the government will, of course, insist with UNMIK and the international factor on a different and new definition of the institutional framework for the protection of the interests of the Serbian community in Kosovo -Metohija.

If essential autonomy is the formula set out in Resolution 1244 that secures Kosovo - Metohija's self-administration in relation to Serbia, then the essential autonomy of the Serbian community in Kosovo -Metohija is the new formula that will secure the community's survival in today's Kosovo -Metohija considering the discrimination of Serbs which prevails there in the interim institutions and considering the manner in which the majority ethnic group treats [the Serbs]. Essential autonomy of the Serbian community in Kosovo means territorial autonomy, the division of Kosovo into entities, or the cantonization of Kosovo -Metohija, and the corresponding cultural and individual autonomy. In the course of setting up the institutions of authority in Kosovo and in securing this form of essential autonomy for the Serbian community in Kosovo , we must take into consideration another issue which was taken into consideration in Bosnia-Hercegovina after the Dayton agreement. The fact is that the national, ethnic composition of Kosovo -Metohija changed radically after 1999. In setting up institutions in Kosovo - Metohija, the situation in the province in 1999 must be taken into consideration.

State union

Next, I would like to address the relations in the state union. A little over a year has gone by since the Constitutional Charter of the state union of Serbia-Montenegro was endorsed. Not much, not enough, has been achieved in that time on its internal, institutional and legal organization, or in the implementation of its constitutional authority. Once the Serbian government is set up, we will approach, with full responsibility, our obligations which stem from the Constitutional Charter and our basic, democratic and European orientation. The government will do everything possible in its authority to define in practical terms and to strengthen the functionality of the state union of Serbia-Montenegro. This primarily means that the government must work on meeting Serbia's obligations towards it. As part of the constitutional changes that await us, it will be necessary to adjust Serbia's constitution to the Constitutional Chapter. As far as work on harmonization is concerned, it must be completed, and the work that has already been done on the endorsement of the action plan, namely, the harmonization of the economic systems of Serbia and Montenegro, must be implemented in the coming period to ensure a rapid application of market economy conditions throughout the state union.

EU policy

This government will step up the implementation of a pro-European policy. This means there will be more work and less talk in this area. In its internal development, Serbia must become a safe country with human and minority rights in line with European standards, where laws are observed and institutions function, where the laws of market economy are in place, where white-collar crime has been eradicated, and corruption diminished in the greatest degree possible. What could be more European than the attainment of these goals in internal development? The policy of association is primary here, of course. It is a policy for which the European Union has already defined the guidelines; regional ones in the form of its strategy for European partnership, and the direct guidelines which concern Serbia-Montenegro. We expect the completion of the Feasibility Study, and immediately afterwards, the start of negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement. However, it is already clear to us that we must immediately start coordinating just about every law that we have and that we shall pass with the European Union's rules and legal norms. That is why the government will draft a national strategy for association with the European Union, in which it will set out the main elements of its association policy and the obligations the state bodies, economic entities, and other social factors will have in this long-term process.


But let me move away from the state institutions and the state they are in, and how the government envisages changing them, and address the economy. Let me say right away that our citizens, the little people, believe [words indistinct] that Serbia's own strength is enough of a guarantee that an economically strong Serbia is an attainable idea. Contrary to this belief, we can see that life in Serbia has been hard for too long. A great number of people cannot make ends meet. Without demagogy and any irresponsibility, I will say that the reasons for the grave economic situation are not simple, they are not from yesterday, and some of them are the result of Serbia's comprehensive political circumstances in the recent and distant past.

Concentrating on the current state of the economy, I wish to stress several crucial problems which we have to face, aware of the fact that if we want certain progress, there can be no short-cuts or simple solutions. I first wish to stress that it is not good that the state has levied high taxes on the work force. I know that some 950,000 people are out of work today, and numerous indicators show that there is a surplus of workers in many companies. Production continues to decrease, there are no funds in the budget that would stimulate investment, there are no funds for agriculture, and there are still no affordable mortgages. At the same time, Serbia is importing apples and wheat. Import exceeds export by 5bn dollars, the country's debt has reached 14bn dollars, and the rates for its repayment will increase in the coming years. The programme goal of the government's new economic policy will be to create conditions for competitive domestic production in order to initiate economic activity, increase the presence of domestic goods on the market, and to boost import [as heard]. This will create jobs and more revenue will stay in the economy. The government will lower taxes that are burdening production, [it will change] the customs policy, and will make non-customs measures more efficient, and it will work on securing more favourable loans and on encouraging investment. The government will support the policy of the dinar's stable exchange rate.

We are aware that, in the initial period, lowering taxes will decrease budgetary revenue, for which we will compensate through increased turnover tax and excise duty, particularly where luxury products and products hazardous to health are concerned. Clearly, the intention is to distribute taxes in such a way that the wealthier strata of society take on a greater tax burden. With an appropriate customs policy, a more efficient collection of customs duty, and through non-customs measures, we will help those sectors which can be competitive to stand on their own feet, and we will influence foreign producers, whose products are present on our market, to relocate at least a part of their production to Serbia.

We are going to prevent uncontrolled imports at dumping prices and the import of goods that do not meet the existing standards. Exports, with active efforts to attract foreign capital, will take priority in the work of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. We are going to set up necessary institutions that will be procuring export contracts. Of course, in order for us to continue with the necessary restructuring of the economy, one of this government's priorities will be to carefully analyse situations in each industrial sector and draw up appropriate strategic plans. The restructuring of large systems does not and must not necessarily mean a loss of jobs if we make an effort to turn them into more profitable jobs in small-and medium-size companies that are more flexible and easier to manage. As for privatization, it is necessary for us to consider in what way the existing privatization procedure can be improved and rid of evident deficiencies. The transformation of ownership must be honest, fast, and in everyone's interests. Through an appropriate legal framework, the interests of the state and minority shareholders must be protected. Any disputed acts of privatization that are suspected of being disadvantageous for the general interests, illegal, or a violation of concluded contracts, will be revised.

As for agricultural production, a new and realistic system of financial incentive will be introduced, which will facilitate long-term planning and ensure necessary security for the farmer. We plan to implement adequate customs and non-customs protection of domestic agriculture and prevent the uncontrolled import of basic farming products to the Serbian market, which will create better opportunities for domestic producers. The objective of these measures is not protectionism, but the protection of one of the most important domestic resources - agriculture - in line with the standards of protection applied by the EU as well.

In particular, let me point out that, as one of the first tasks, the Trade Ministry, in the area of its competence, will shed light on all issues related to the sugar affair. This is not only something that we owe to our citizens and the EU, but is also an economic priority to ensure normal export of farming products.

The development of and a reform in the management of traffic systems need to be funded from realistic sources, through concessions, partnership between the state and the private sector, and in line with a development strategy that is the basis of Serbia's further development. Of course, it is necessary to step up work on the completion of Corridor 10, which will make the highway through Serbia the cheapest and most secure thoroughfare that connects Europe's west and southeast.

Social welfare, health care

As for the welfare policy, it certainly needs to be taken care of by the state, rather than companies. We shall be actively pursuing social dialogue with all relevant partners, all with the aim of finding solutions that will improve life for everyone. One of the first steps by the new government will be to conclude a welfare contract between leading labour unions, employers' associations, and the state.

The health care system is one of the best indicators of the development level at which our society currently finds itself, and everything will be done to create the conditions for our health care system, which has been in a poor financial state for quite a long time now, to ensure the right to health care protection, which is one of the most important goals of our government. To achieve this, we, of course, need to change the relevant laws, primarily the law on the revision of health care, as well as the [word indistinct] of the Serbian Health Insurance Fund.

Environment is the last segment of this sphere. The establishment of a common system of environmental and natural resources protection is one of the areas that requires urgent legislative measures, in addition to adopting EU standards. Our government's work will aim to include actively environmental protection into the process of economic reforms and privatization.

Justice and state administration

A few words about the justice and state administrations and the necessary changes in these segments of the state machinery. Of course, in the transition countries the justice administration has a particular significance. It is clear that the justice administration in Serbia today is in a very bad shape. It is characterized by a large degree of politicizing, ineffectiveness, and, unfortunately, corruption. In addition to the long period of abuse by the one-party system and the forgotten role of the judiciary in the democratic society, the decline of our judiciary was also helped by the violation of the judiciary's independence when amendments to judiciary-related laws were passed. The underprivileged position of most of the employees in the justice administration prompted a great number of skilled people to leave, and has made work in the justice administration for young and hard-working law experts insufficiently attractive.

As for the state administration and its reform, despite the fact that two bodies were set up in the meantime, which were supposed to be in charge of that - the State Administration Council and the Agency for State Administration Development - a true reconstruction of the state administration is waiting to be carried out only now. It is necessary to draw up a long-term strategy of the administration's reforms in the shortest possible time, which is an integral part of our and EU integration processes. The basic goals of the future administration reconstruction will be, of course, downsizing, decentralization, de-politicization, and professional advancement. The government's particular priority is the passage of a law that prevents conflicts of interests, which will prevent [words indistinct] of government offices to the detriment of society's interests. A particular priority task for the government is the passage of a law that would regulate the competencies and functioning of a certain institution, whose job is that in those cases where citizens have already received a ruling on the protection of their rights, but they are still not satisfied with the degree of that protection, to ensure this protection in a different way. This is, of course, the institution of an ombudsman, that is, a people's lawyer. Of course, it does not fall within the competencies of the state administration in the strictest sense of that word, but the government will nevertheless endeavour to promulgate a law on political parties. Let me recall the fact that there is a law on financing political parties, but not one that regulates their status.

As for the so-called [word indistinct] sector, the government will, of course, put forward its bill on NGOs. This is an area that is totally unregulated, particularly in terms of the lack of financial transparency in this sector. I am speaking of NGOs.

Even though the new law on local self-rule was passed in early 2002, one of the government's priorities will be a true reconstruction of the local self-rule system, a comprehensive decentralization of power, and a higher degree of financial autonomy for local self-rule units. The Interior Ministry will be transformed into a professional body of the state administration, which will fully respect human rights, people's dignity, the constitution, laws, and international regulations in its work. This ministry must be open to the public, politically neutral, and in all this it will protect essential national interests. Let me particularly underline that the government's priority in interior affairs will be to shed light on all murders and attempted murders that took place before and after 5 October [2000], as well as on major industrial and financial scandals that caused alarm among citizens.

In the area of security, the government will continue the started reforms in the Security Information Agency [BIA], which have so far been only formally implemented. We shall endeavour to elevate state security to a level at which one will be able to say rightfully that it has been completely depoliticized, purged of all legacies of the past, and that the BIA, in terms of its staff, technical and technological condition, is fully ready to do its job.

Cooperation with Hague tribunal

Finally, as regards the justice administration and interior affairs, let me say a word or two about something that Serbia has been confronted with for all these years in a rather difficult way. It is cooperation with the Hague tribunal. The government will do everything to make this cooperation a two-way street. In this sense, among things, we shall endeavour to secure all legal, material and expert preconditions to speed up the trials of all people accused of war crimes before our domestic courts, to obtain from the Hague tribunal evidence against our citizens which can be further used, and to offer adequate assistance to all our citizens indicted by the Hague tribunal in their defence before the tribunal. Similarly, we shall endeavour to conclude a contract with the United Nations, which would make possible for the prison sentences passed by the Hague tribunal's panels of judges to be served in our country.


Finally, let me briefly present the government's plans in the spheres of education, culture and science. As one of the pillars of the state, education must assume its role as a driving force that facilitates the progress of entire society. To implement this goal, we need to incorporate into the existing educational system the best principles of the national educational tradition and the general principles applied by the EU. In this, of course, we must pay attention to our national and cultural individualism, and in part also to the specific status of [word indistinct] institutions. In that sense, we are going to propose amendments to the law on education, which will envisage the formation of a national education council, an independent body of experts consisting of representatives from all relevant national institutions, as well as pedagogical and educational institutions.

As for science, we are going to set up a national council for science, to which representatives of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and all prominent scientists from Serbia and the diaspora will be invited. We shall increase subsidies for science and pass a bill on scientific-research work.

Finally, as regards culture, this government will define in clear terms a national strategy of Serbian culture. A Serbian national council for culture will be working on this project, to which we shall invite the most competent representatives from all cultural segments. It is our goal to start the renewal of culture by adopting the national strategy, and we, the government, shall support the entire process by proposing legal regulations and increasing a budget for culture, and, of course, science.

We shall encourage private entrepreneurship and initiative in culture, and we shall also support the preservation of the cultural tradition of all ethnic communities in Serbia. The new government will additionally regulate relations between the state and religious communities, because the previous laws from this area have been abolished. We shall do everything to right wrongs, such as the nationalization of property owned by religious communities. In addition, we shall regulate by law the legal position of religious communities and enable hospitals, homes for the elderly, and penitentiaries to introduce spiritual counselling. We shall also grant tax relief and other incentives for religious communities.

Citizenship law, minorities

Considering that a large number of our compatriots live outside Serbia-Montenegro, the Serbian government deems it its duty to create the conditions for the diaspora to get involved in the country's political, economic and cultural life. The first necessary condition for that has already been created by amending the election law. The next step will be amendments to the law on citizenship, which will make it easier for persons of Serbian descent to assume citizenship and thereby enable the Serbian diaspora to exercise their rights in a more comprehensive way. Speaking of the diaspora, the government will work to rectify two major injustices done to a great number of people, of whom many are in the diaspora today, which is the return of seized property and the rehabilitation of wrongfully convicted persons.

Finally, as regards national minorities, they are living witnesses of the history of this part of Europe. Frequently victimized in the past, today they are becoming a bridge between nations and one of the most important participants in the process whose goal is reconciliation, mutual understanding, and the development of lasting trust in the region. In order for ethnic minorities to be able to fully participate in Serbia's politics, new amendments to the election law, similarly to those in some of our neighbouring countries, have enabled minorities, on the basis of a natural threshold, to appoint their representatives to the Serbian Assembly. Likewise, the government will make sure that ethnic minorities will be represented in an adequate way in the executive authorities and the administration.

On Serbia's territory there is a whole army of sufferers, refugees, some 370,000 of them, of which over 250,000 have assumed Serbian citizenship. We need to do everything to make their life easier in the new environment or facilitate their return to the homes which they were forced to leave. Therefore, the government will extend its full assistance primarily in dealing with property issues in Serbia, and in dealing with property issues in the countries from which those refugees arrived. We must find a way to simplify the legalization of newly-constructed buildings, start parcelling out building land, and extend full help in solving the problem of their unemployment. The question of refugees is no longer a humanitarian issue, but it is an integral part of Serbia's development and welfare policies. It is particularly important to encourage regional cooperation, because without cooperation among Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and the state union of Serbia-Montenegro, it is not possible to solve this problem.

Perhaps I should - or should not - mention something that is the last, but not least important thing this year, and that is sports. Considering that we are in an Olympic year, our government will do everything to create the conditions for our athletes to prepare themselves and participate in this year's greatest competition. Bearing in mind the importance that sports has in our society and the international reputation that, thanks to the successes of our athletes, our country enjoys, we shall urgently adopt a national strategy for sports and draw up a law on sports that will include a long-term definition of sports in our society. Considering that at this stage sports needs to be financed from the budget and donations, we shall initiate a public debate on laws that would regulate privatization in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, let me conclude by saying that different times see different words that sound as though they had some supernatural power and meaning, words that one should not question, words that are used to instil fear in people. One of such words is reform. Of course, my question now is whether this government will be reform-oriented. Every new government strives to implement some changes, in which it is more or less successful. If we look at rhetoric before, during and after elections in stable democratic states, you will see there, too, that the word reform is highly valued, at least in some fields, like reforms in education, health care and pension insurance. You may call it as you wish, but this government will endeavour to change things in certain areas and follow the guidelines that I have mentioned. Whether you call it reform-oriented or not, in any case it will not be proving that it works well and that everything is fine, using money siphoned off from citizens' pockets to pay glitzy and expensive campaigns. It will not be proving that the burden of transition and reforms needs to be carried mainly, if not even solely, by people. On the contrary, this burden needs to be carried by all of us. Those who have more should carry more, and those who have less should carry less. The only valid judgment about how a government works can be passed by people's deputies in the parliament and the people directly. Therefore, this government will endeavour to be responsible, which means that others, too - the parliament and citizens - and not only the government alone, will assess how successful it has been in everything.

New cabinet

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, this was a brief summary of the programme. You will receive a more comprehensive version after the break. At the end, I would like to inform you of the future cabinet's composition. Since you are going to receive biographical data about all the members of the cabinet separately as well, I will omit these data. I will just read out the names of the cabinet members:

Miroljub Labus - deputy prime minister;

Dragan Jocic - interior minister;

Mladjan Dinkic - finance minister;

Zoran Stojkovic - justice minister;

Zoran Loncar - minister for state administration and local self-rule;

Ivana Dulic Markovic - minister for agriculture, forestry and water resources;

Dragan Marsicanin - economy minister;

Dragomir Naumov - minister for mining and energy resources;

Velimir Ilic - minister for capital investments;

Bojan Dimitrijevic - minister of trade, tourism, and services;

Predrag Bubalo - minister of foreign trade relations;

Slobodan Lalovic - minister of labour, employment, and welfare policy;

Aleksandar Popovic - minister of science and environmental protection;

Ljiljana Colic - minister of education and sports;

Dragan Kojadinovic - minister of culture;

Tomica Milosavljevic - health minister;

Milan Radulovic - minister for religions;

Vojislav Vukcevic - minister for diaspora.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, thank you.

Original Language: Serbian

RTS TV, Belgrade March 2, 2004 1004 gmt /BBC Monitoring/(c) BBC Record Number: 101174362E2D8ADC

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