This interview is a transcript of TV B92’s
popular head-to-head talk show discussing current
issues - Poligraf
Referendum Date Is Not Set
January 31st, 2006
Miroslav Lajcák: The government
said they planned to hold the referendum in April,
but I said we had an ongoing process with certain
dynamics that will determine when the conditions
have been met to organise this event. I expect that
both sides will respect this and that they’ve
started out with the idea not to abandon the process
before it ends. The EU clearly stated they did not
want one-sided measures and steps being taken. So,
no one has decided that the referendum will take
place in April, because it might not, depending
on the process that is currently under way.
Guest: Miroslav Lajčák,
EU special envoy for the referendum in Montenegro
Host: Jugoslav Ćosić
Good evening. The month of April, heralded
as the time for staging the Montenegrin independence
referendum, is drawing near, but there is no consensus
between the government and the opposition in Podgorica
over issues of qualified majority, the wording of
the plebiscite question, not even when the two camps
will start dealing with them in face-to-face talks.
The Venetian Commission reluctantly stated their
views and recommendations for the referendum process,
but the authorities and the opposition have diverging
interpretations of these statements. Our guest on
Poligraf tonight is former Slovakian
Ambassador to SCG and EU special envoy for the referendum
in Montenegro, Miroslav Lajčák.
Mr. Lajčák, good evening and welcome to TV
Lajčák: Good evening.
B92: What are the chances that
the government and the opposition in Montenegro
will start talking to each other directly and not
Lajčák: The dialogue has already
begun. This is not a direct dialogue of course,
because it involves the EU, but the negotiation
process is, by all means, under way. I believe their
trust in one other will soon reach a point where
the dialogue will develop into direct, face-to-face
B92: During the last couple of
days you were involved in intense negotiations with
actors on the Montenegrin political scene. What
can you tell us about these talks, what was their
nature? What has happened during these past few
days at the meetings?
Lajčák: I have stated on several
occasions that, for now, I have every reason to
be moderately optimistic about the whole situation
because for several reasons. First, all of my partners
in Montenegro insist that the referendum issue has
to find a solution, it has to get off the agenda,
because it is an issue that traumatises the society,
so it is very important. Secondly, most relevant
factors have accepted the EU’s mediatory role, namely
the whole governing coalition and three out of four
parties in the opposing camp. Another positive element
is the fact that we have agreed on a framework for
the negotiations, a list of questions we have to
discuss in order to start preparing the referendum.
Our latest achievement, accomplished during this
latest round of talks, is that both sides have prepared
their starting positions within the framework that
we defined together. So, the process continues with
the dynamics it possesses at the moment and we are
now working on approximating these two views ahead
of the plebiscite.
B92: Which party does not accept
EU mediation? You said three out of four parties
of the opposition did.
Lajčák: It’s not that they do
not accept EU mediation. They have decided not take
part at all in the process searching out an agreement
for organising the referendum. The party in question
is the Serbian People’s Party of Montenegro.
B92: Is it true that you arrived
with some proposals that you tried to use as a skeleton
for building a consensus between the opposition
and the government in Montenegro?
Lajčák: Yes I did.
B92: What are these proposals?
Lajčák: The proposals are an aggregate
result of the previous rounds of negotiations. They
are recommendations that we have generally already
agreed upon. We facilitated the dialogue further
in that respect by formulating these agreements
and putting them on paper. These are eight items
that have already been published in the press and
they pertain to the entire organisation of the referendum,
issues such as the media, observers, funding, police
conduct, the issue of majority, of course, and also
whether we formulate one or two questions for the
citizens to vote on. So, eight concrete issues that
together form a plan for further action.
B92: Could you tell us whether
you have concrete proposals for solutions to the
problems that you have discussed with the political
camps in Montenegro, regarding a qualified majority
and the plebiscitary question?
Lajčák: We have a mediatory role
in this process and not one to impose solutions.
We are only here to help. Naturally we want the
process to comply with European standards as much
as and wherever it is possible. After the latest
elections in Montenegro, the OSCE and the Council
of Europe had their own recommendations, so we believe
this is the way to eliminate the grey zones, where
there are prospects for ambiguous interpretations
or misunderstandings. We want a maximum degree of
consensus and a minimum amount of misunderstanding.
B92: Ok, but we do have diverging
interpretations, of the Venetian Commission’s recommendations
for example, articles 39 and 40. I would like to
ask for your own interpretations of this complex
issue, as a representative of a neutral side in
the referendum process. What is your view on something
that the Montenegrin authorities have interpreted
in one way, and the opposition in another? We are
talking about the qualified majority that will secure
an undisputable outcome of the referendum?
Lajčák: There is always a certain
amount of risk when interpreting legal documents,
but what the Venetian Commission’s report clearly
states is that Montenegrin legislation that governs
the process of organising a referendum is not disparate
from international standards. At the same time,
the Venetian Commission suggested, bearing in mind
the significance of the issue at hand, the governing
coalition and the opposition in Montenegro should
raise these standards because, although they do
not conflict with international practice, they also
do not fully appreciate the importance of the concrete
situation. The Commission also said, concerning
Article 39, that questions at this level of importance
are settled in practice with a majority that exceeds
50% of the registered electorate. This is the framework
we have to work in, where the EU expects and makes
every effort to facilitate a process in which the
government and the opposition can reach an agreement,
a compromise that would raise the current standards
to a higher level.
B92: Mr. Lajčák, another important
aspect of the Commission’s views and recommendations
is defined in Article 64 of their report. Namely,
the initial version of this document anticipated
that a consensus between the government and the
opposition should be a condition for the EU to validate
the referendum as legitimate and regular, if I may
say so. However, the Commission has mitigated their
views somewhat and appealed for a compromise, only
expressing an opinion that a consensus would further
strengthen this political decision. Will the EU
recognise the results, under the hypothetical circumstance
that the Montenegrin opposition boycotts the referendum,
if it comes through respecting the minimum of conditions
stipulated by the Venetian Commission?
Lajčák: These are speculations
that I would not like to get entangled in here.
There is no answer to your question at this point.
What we know is that the EU expects an agreement.
What we also know is that Montenegro has defined
itself as a country with a European orientation.
So we expect all the political actors, whether they
are in the government or the opposition, to act
in accordance with this orientation, meaning that
they should accept and implement European values
in their behaviour and they should be open to compromise
and agreement. We are going to help them in the
process, but the bulk of the work is on their shoulders
and the EU will accept a decision that comes at
the end of this process.
B92: The Commission’s report suggests
that the referendum decision, whatever it turns
out to be, is implemented in line with the Montenegrin
Constitution. The Constitution, in turn, stipulates
that every plebiscitary decision has to be confirmed
by a two-thirds majority in Montenegrin Parliament.
What is your and the EU’s take on this? What are
the European Union’s expectations?
Lajčák: The expectations are that
the coalition and the opposition will reach an agreement
over this issue, as it should over a series of other
B92: The only explicit recommendation
that the Venetian Commission has made was to suggest
that Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia should
not vote. Can you possibly clarify why the Commission
made such a recommendation?
Lajčák: The EU has taken a clear
enough stand regarding the majority and the voter
turnout. Another issue are the voters living in
Serbia. I find it hard to add anything to what the
Venetian Commission has already said, because they
have done enough to justify their proposal. They
explained what the practice was in the region and
reffered to Article 7 of the SCG Constitutional
Charter, that voting and elections were organised
based on the voter’s place of residence and not
on citizenship, so to say.
B92: Mr. Lajčák, you served as
Slovakian Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro during
a very sensitive period, the beginning of the transition
process. The Montenegrin referendum has been an
issue that developed throughout the period you were
in office. The Montenegrin Government had been blaming
Serbia and its government during that time of blocking
the referendum process. What is your opinion? Do
you, or the European Union for that matter, have
any objections to the behaviour of Serbia?
Lajčák: I think that the EU’s
attitude towards Serbia, Montenegro and the State
Union is defined in EU documents and you surely
can’t be expecting me to venture outside what they
have stated. Serbia and Montenegro is a country
that has entered the stabilisation and association
process, which is the beginning of the road to EU
accession. The process has its peculiarities, what
we call the twin track approach. The EU wants Serbia
to join the Union and attain all the necessary standards
and is monitoring closely the events in SCG and
to what extent the country is capable of following
EU recommendations. The closest example is the EU
Council of Ministers meeting had come to certain
conlusions regarding the Western Balkans, the SCG
State Union, co-operation with the Hague Tribunal,
Montenegro, etc. So, we regularly have reports that
clearly show what kind of attitude the EU has towards
Serbia and the State Union at a given time.
B92: Permit me to take advantage
of your experience and the fact that you are a citizen
of Slovakia, a country that has parted from a common
state with the Czech Republic during the transition
period. Namely, what is your perception of the extent
of divisions in Montenegro? Do you see a potential
crisis in the context of this referendum? Could
you make a political comparison with this process,
which can alter the face of the Balkans yet again,
and the division of the former state of Czechoslovakia.
Lajčák: First I have to say that
Slovakia did not part from the Czech Republic. The
two states reached a mutual agreement over the division
of their former common state. Secondly, it is hard
to draw parallels and I don’t want to talk about
them, because some people could infer from this
that my appointment to this duty was a signal that
the EU was trying to use the experience of a country’s
division into two states in this particular case.
Nothing is true in all of this and that’s first.
Another thing is that concrete historical circumstances
in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia differed from
what we have between Serbia and Montenegro. I think
we would be straining the point if we were to look
for some parallels. There is one parallel, however,
that I keep referring to and this is the will to
negotiate, to look for a compromise and an agreement.
This is what the outside world expects, that you
resolve issues with your neighbours and your relatives
on your own and speak with a unanimous voice to
the rest of the world, not keep dragging someone
else’s sleeve and ask them to solve your problems.
This is one parallel that I would like to bring
B92: Is this what you have described
currently happening in Montenegro, since the authorities
and the opposition are practically communicating
through you with the European Union, they are not
talking directly to each other? I asked you that
a moment ago. Is the rift so deep that it could
put into doubt the EU’s assumption that the negotiations
will run smoothly?
Lajčák: The negotiations will
not be a simple process, but what we have now is
that both the government and the opposition have
accepted EU recommendations, although they have
diverging opinions about the legislation that is
supposed to regulate this process in Montenegro.
However, both sides are willing to participate and
they were pleased to accept the EU’s mediatory role.
This is a new phase, a new quality in the dialogue,
which is flowing, and I hope it will continue to
do so until we have an outcome in this process.
B92: Right. But I was asking this
in light of the fact that the projected time for
staging the referendum is April, which is not more
than 40 to 45 days away, and the government and
the opposition in Montenegro are still not sitting
at the same table.
Lajčák: The government said they
planned to hold the referendum in April, but I said
we had an ongoing process with certain dynamics
that will determine when the conditions have been
met to organise this event. I expect that both sides
will respect this and that they’ve started out with
the idea not to abandon the process before it ends.
The EU clearly stated they did not want one-sided
measures and steps being taken. So, no one has decided
that the referendum will take place in April, because
it might not, depending on the process that is currently
B92: In other words, the EU will
not support a referendum they believe is not the
result of an agreement between the authorities and
the opposition in Montenegro. Is that the message
you are passing on?
Lajčák: No, this is also a premature
conclusion. The EU supports the fact that the process
you mentioned is in the pipelines. The EU will also
decide what kind of attitude to adopt in relation
to the issue depending on the final outcome of the
process. It is too early to say anything, since
we have entered the most turbulent phase of the
B92: Mr. Lajčák, I came across
a statement of yours claiming that you like to be
where something interesting is going on. Now you
are in Montenegro where we have a pronounced political
conflict, which carries some other risks that the
EU has identified. Do you have any regrets over
accepting the duties of an envoy in such a difficult
Lajčák: I have no regrets and
I believe there will be no reason to have regrets.
Mine is a positive and good-willed mission, and
I am confident that we are moving in the right direction,
towards a solution to a problem that is traumatising
the society in Montenegro. Our intentions are undoubtedly
to prepare conditions for a free and fair vote that
will not give precedence to any political option
and doesn’t rule out any option in advance. This
is something that every serious politician has to
accept. This is the goal of my mission.
B92: You were the Ambassador of
Slovakia during a trubulent period, as I’ve already
mentioned. Right after the October 2000 changes,
you came to Serbia and Montenegro to observe a process
that Slovakia had managed to pull through. What
is your view on the current phase of Serbia’s transition
towards the EU?
Lajčák: I have to admit that during
my entire mandate in Belgrade I had this déjŕ vu
feeling, of something that I’ve already experienced.
I saw your country entering a process that we had
already endured in Slovakia. The complexity of the
problems that lay ahead of Serbia was much more
serious, of course, hence the ways to deal with
all those problems were more complicated as well.
We did not have to face the problems you had during
the 1990s’, such as armed conflicts, we did not
have a problem like Kosovo, the Hague Tribunal and
so on. That is why it was more simple and easier
for us in a way, to successfully emerge out of the
whole thing. The basics are the same, however, and
it was interesting to see how your country was entering
the process and dealing with the problems that it
B92: What was the biggest problem
in the Slovakian transition? Which problem, or set
of problems, required most time to deal with?
Lajčák: We had to face a number
of problems, of course. First we had perturbations
in the political scene, because after a democratic
order was established, political parties positioned
themselves in relation to their sentiments toward
a common state with the Czechs versus an independent
Slovakian state. When this issue was resovled, we
practically lost four years in the integration process,
because the Slovakian Government was told by the
EU that they did not satisfy the political criteria
for getting a green light for EU integration. So,
the neighbouring countries had begun negotiations
over NATO and EU membership. We lost four years
on the whole, two of which were the intensive phase
of the integration process. These are two features
that distinguish Slovakia, in that respect, from
other countries in the region.
B92: Was there any fear or xenophobia
among some political communities in Slovakia, regarding
foreigners and the prospect of getting closer to
the EU? Were there any extremist political movements
that issued threats at one time or another?
Lajčák: There was no extremism,
but some of the things you mentioned did happen.
Particularly among the political elite that was
unsuccessful in producing results that the political
elites in neighbouring countries achieved, namely
EU integration, and they tried to shift the responsibility
elsewhere. So, everyone was to blame, the Hungarians,
the Czechs, the Poles, the EU, NATO. No one liked
us or wanted us. All this was topped by claims of
a grand US-Russian plot to leave Slovakia stranded.
The only thing the elite was not prepared to do
is to take a look in the mirror and admit that it
was their own fault they failed to provide their
citizens with something that the governments of
the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, for example,
did. There had been tendencies such as these, but
in a milder, I must say, Central European variant.
B92: One of the largest problems
that the European Bank, the World Bank and the IMF
have noticed is that corruption affairs keep jolting
the Serbian society. Did this happen in Slovakia?
Has Slovakia managed to curb corruption and, if
it did, how? Do you have any useful advice from
you own experience?
Lajčák: I think there is not one
transitional country that did not have to face the
viles of corruption. This problem always exists.
The question is what kind of impact on society it
is permitted to have, that is, how much energy the
authorities are prepared to invest in curbing it.
It is not only a matter of making laws, but of implementation
as well. Corruption in parliament must not be permitted
and every available measure has to be employed.
For example, we have instituted an undercover agent
who is permitted to approach a person with a bribe,
who is then caught red handed and brought to justice.
Procedures have to follow through, so that the public
knows that the transgressor has been sent to jail
over corruption charges. This is also linked to
external factors, investors from abroad, who cannot
operate in a risky environment with high levels
of corruption. All this is connected to the process
of entering European institutions and integration,
because you have to decide whether you want to build
an open society or not. Open in such a way that
everything is regulated to be transparent, so that
citizens may ask the administration anything and
they are, in turn, obliged to respond. One of the
key issues in fighting corruption is to have public
pressure in this process, as well as media publishing
openly and without hindrance and specific cases
being followed through to a satisfactory conclusion.
B92: Are the citizens of Slovakia
satisfied with the degree of civil and human rights
and the institutions for the protection of these
rights in their country, including the right to
information that you have mentioned a moment ago?
Lajčák: It is hard to make an
overall estimate. We are all accustomed to…
B92: What is the dominant public
opinion about human rights in Slovakia, that’s what
I was asking, because I am certain that the citizens
of Serbia are not satisfied with the degree of the
Serbian Government’s openness to its own citizens.
Lajčák: People get accustomed
to improved standards very quickly and accept them
as something normal. I have to say that the administration
is under immense pressure from the public and the
media, and that several political careers were terminated
as a result of this pressure, because these individuals
were unable to justify their actions, even when
there was only suspicion of corruption without hard
evidence, becsaue they had failed to provide information
about the origin of the funds they used to build
their houses. We have an effective law on access
to public information and no institution can afford
to defy it. Journalists and citizens are aware of
all the kinds of information they are entitled to
request and they use this right. Hence, all public
institutions and the ministries are under immense
pressure and public control, and this helps.
B92: How much have the standards
of Slovakian citizens improved during the transition
from the early 1990s to this day?
Lajčák: We do have precise economic
indicators, of course, such as average salaries,
and they have an upward trend. Slovakia has had
the highest level of economic growth among EU countries
during the past three years and the estimates for
the next two years are just as good. On the other
hand, the level we started from was far below the
EU average, but people have accepted as entirely
normal something they must have only dreamt about
7 – 8 year ago. This is a reliable indicator that
things are changing for the better.
B92: One more question for you
Mr Lajčák. What is your message to the citizens
of Serbia, who are living hard lives in our transition
and sometimes lose hope that things might become
Lajčák: The EU is waiting for
Serbia, there is no doubt about that. Everyone in
Europe looks at Serbia as a future member of the
EU, that’s first. No one wants Serbia out of this
circle. Another thing, most of the work has to be
done here. There are no shortcuts or leniencies.
There has to be a positive atmosphere in the society
and we have to define priorities and act in accordance
with them. If European integration is a priority,
then we know why it is so, and everything has to
work in favour of attaining this goal.
B92: Thank you for your time and