The hard-line nationalist radical party won the most votes in Serbia's Jan. 21 elections, but moderates hope to block it from power by forming a coalition. The Democratic Party, the strongest moderate group, has named Bozidar Djelic as its choice for Prime Minister. It would be Djelic's second foray into politics, having been Finance Minister under reformist PM Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in 2003. Djelic spoke with Time's Dejan Anastasijevic in Belgrade.
You're seeking the top job in the Serbian government. Would you settle for anything less? Since voters in the pro-democracy camp just gave a spectacular lead to my party, and, since the party designated me as its pick to be Prime Minister, the answer to your question can only be no.
Apart from three years as Finance Minister, you've been a banker. How will you make up for your lack of political experience? In Djindjic's government, I learned fast. We inherited Serbia from Slobodan Milosevic as a destitute, ruined, isolated country. We sent Milosevic to the Hague, negotiated through dozens of strikes, clamped down on corruption and smuggling, and then upheld economic stability when gangsters killed Djindjic. I am battle hardened.
Serbia's membership in the European Union is blocked by its failure to arrest indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic. Where is he, and what do you plan to do about him? I am currently a banker, I do not know where he is. But finding him is at the very top of our agenda. If we are to achieve our ambitious E.U. goals, we need to be a credible partner. This credibility can only be maintained if we do our absolute best to arrest Mladic.
Kosovo, now a part of Serbia, may soon receive U.N. recognition as an independent state. How would Serbia react? Serbia offers the widest imaginable degree of autonomy to Kosovo within Serbia. International law is clearly on our side, and we are certain that Kosovo's independence would increase regional instability. It's time to leave the Balkan logic of fragmentation and move toward the European logic of integration.
If Kosovo is recognized as a separate state, what impact will that have on the government in Belgrade? It is crucial that no unilateral moves are made by the international community before a new democratic government is formed in Belgrade. Unilateral moves not discussed with a new government could strengthen the ultranationalist camp and lead to new elections where democrats would suffer and extremists prosper.
Russia seems to be the only country that supports Serbia's position on Kosovo. Russia is not the only country wanting a negotiated, balanced solution. Spain, Slovakia, Romania and others are on record supporting such an approach, and others are more and more open to reasonable views from Belgrade.
If Serbs in Bosnia decided to seek independence, as some of their political leaders have suggested, would you support the move? Serbia recognizes Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state and fully respects the Dayton Peace Accords. A government led by me would certainly foster stability in the Balkans.
Serbia has a 30% unemployment rate. How will you address this problem? According to international sources, the figure is lower, yet still way too high, about 21%. We propose a program that puts job creation at the top of the economic agenda. Over the last four years, Serbia attracted at least $1 billion a year of greenfield investment. Our plan is to double this figure.
Eight years ago NATO bombed Belgrade. Now NATO's Secretary-General has said that he would like Serbia to join. Is this a good idea? Yes, in due course, when we become both financially and politically ready.
Nearly seven years after the fall of Milosevic, the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party got the most votes at the polls. How do you explain that? This protest vote is slowly eroding but is still strong. But the overall vote at the Jan. 21 elections is clear: two-thirds of our citizens support European integration and economic reform. The Radicals will never be in government, at least not until they change their platform completely.