Milosevic in The Hague: What it Means for Yugoslavia and the Region
Milosevic in The Hague: What it Means for Yugoslavia and the Region
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities

Milosevic in The Hague: What it Means for Yugoslavia and the Region

On 28 June 2001, St Vitus’s Day – an anniversary with enormous resonance in Yugoslavia – Serbian government transferred former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague.

I. Overview

On 28 June 2001, St Vitus’s Day – an anniversary with enormous resonance in Yugoslavia – Serbian government transferred former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague. By this bold political move, the government demonstrated in the clearest way its will to break with the past. With the timing driven by the international donors conference scheduled for 29 June, the transfer also confirmed the effectiveness of conditioning economic assistance to Yugoslavia on concrete political progress.

This ICG report describes the background to the transfer, how it was carried out, the internal political fallout, and what it all means for the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the wider region.

The disintegration of the federal government the day after the transfer showed that Milosevic’s removal from the country had rocked the Yugoslav political structures to their foundations. The ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition has been traumatised by the process that led up to the transfer, and may not survive to contest the next elections.

Federal President Kostunica is trying to form a new federal government, but this may prove impossible without new federal elections – something he wishes to avoid, in part because the outcome would be impossible to foresee. It would hinge on Montenegro’s governing coalition, which boycotted the last federal elections (in September 2000) but might not do so next time, if prior agreement on reshaping the Serbia-Montenegro relationship could be reached with the DOS coalition. There are signs that Serbian Premier Djindjic and Montenegrin President Djukanovic could reach such an agreement, over the heads of the federal presidency and government.

There has been a striking growth of pro-independence sentiment among Serbs themselves – a development that has large implications for the FRY. In the minds of the Serbian government, probably the only glue keeping the Yugoslav federation (FRY) together is the fear – whether or not legally well-founded – that, if the FRY dissolves, Kosovo’s independence will inevitably follow. The need to reshape the federation has never seemed more urgent. Should the EU, the U.S., and the FRY prove unable to redefine their policies and roles in a meaningful manner, the dissolution of the “third Yugoslavia” will not be long in coming.

Despite rather muted responses in Croatia and Bosnia, there is little question that Milosevic’s transfer will have an impact among Serbia’s neighbours. International pressure for the delivery of Croatian indictees will increase sharply, and the Tribunal’s prosecutor should be expected to turn her attention to the Bosnian Muslims. The omens that Bosnian Serb indictees such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic will finally face justice at The Hague seem more promising than ever. These developments have the potential to improve ethnic relations and accelerate normalisation in the war-affected zones.

Sadly, the place currently most in need of such benefits – namely, Macedonia – seems the least likely to enjoy them. Macedonia was spared from inter-ethnic violence during the decade of Milosevic’s power, and his definitive removal from the scene will do nothing to alleviate the potential for spiralling conflict there.

Belgrade/Brussels, 6 July 2001

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.