"Lateline", 28 September 2000
LATELINE Australian Broadcasting Corporation Late night news & current affairs
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
LOCATION: abc.net.au > Lateline > Archives
Joining an international chorus of world leaders urging President Milosevic to accept Yugoslavia's election result is Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Mr Papandreou is in regular contact with President Milosevic and, earlier this month, became the first Western envoy to visit Belgrade since the NATO-led bombing last year.
Compere: Mark Bannerman
MARK BANNERMAN: Joining the international chorus of world leaders urging President Milosevic to accept the election result, is the Greek Foreign Minister.
Mr Papandreou is in regular contact with President Milosevic and earlier this month, becoming the first Western envoy to visit Belgrade since the NATO-led bombing last year.
While Greece supported the NATO action, it also actively pushed for an end to the bombing.
The Greeks see themselves clearly as powerbrokers, promoting a plan to facilitate Milosevic's departure.
I spoke to George Papandreou earlier.
MARK BANNERMAN: Minister, if I understand it correctly, you would like to play and Greece would like to play a significant role as a negotiator and a facilitator for peace and goodwill within Europe and particularly in the Balkans.
Now, you've watched the Yugoslav elections, is it time for Mr Milosevic to go?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU, GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, as you said, Greece is in a unique position as a member of the European Union in the Balkans, the only member, to help the region become part of this wider European family, which basically means identifying and adopting practices and values which are of democracy, open society, open economy, peaceful relations with neighbours and so on.
Obviously, we're very interested in Yugoslavia also, which is part of this region.
We have communicated and I personally have communicated both to the Serbian people, but also the leadership of the Yugoslavia, both the government and the opposition, that Europe wait, does open up its arms to a democratic and European Yugoslavia, but there have to be changes in Yugoslavia.
MARK BANNERMAN: What are those changes, though?
There has been an election, 48 per cent of the people seem to be saying, "We want the opposition in, not Mr Milosevic."
Should there be a run-off election?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Obviously, it's very important that democratic procedures are respected by all.
There has been a different point of view as to the results.
The official side is saying --
the government side is saying that 48 per cent for the opposition, which is obviously a victory for the opposition, but the opposition itself is saying that they have the absolute majority --
MARK BANNERMAN: Who do you believe?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I think what the opposition has said now is that maybe we should have a recount and this might be a very good idea.
MARK BANNERMAN: So, a recount?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: If there is a recount with international observers of one sort or another that are objective, I think this could be a way out to, in fact, establish who's right in this actual assessment and then make a decision on that as to whether there's a necessity for a second round or not.
MARK BANNERMAN: Would you be saying to Mr Milosevic, "Have that recount"?
Would that be your advice?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I would be saying, "Anything that can enhance the transparency "and the democratic procedures "is something we would support."
This is the message I gave to him personally when I was there only a few days ago, actually.
MARK BANNERMAN: So the opposition is saying if there were to be a run-off election, they fear that Mr Milosevic could somehow manipulate that result as they claim he has in this one?
Should they be concerned about that, if down the track, the recount proves pretty much the figures we've seen?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, we've said that whatever happens, it should be done, as I said earlier, in a very democratic way and, therefore, I think if there was a second round, and of course no-one knows yet what will happen, there should be very clear, open monitoring and I think international monitors would be every useful, and I think that would help both the opposition but also the government in its credibility as to what happens in these elections.
The opposition, I think, now is saying, "Let's have a recount", and I think that's an important point to retain and possibly could be a way out for
MARK BANNERMAN: You know Slobodan Milosevic, you've talked with him, as you've said, very recently, will he listen to that advice?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: That's what we hope.
We hope that there will be a peaceful transition to whatever new situation will be there whether it is a change of government or a return to Milosevic.
Although we see that there is very strong support for opposition and I would say that the opposition seems to have the upper hand and the general support of the public.
They want a change there, I think that's very obvious from the results.
So I think that we have to say that there should be a smooth, democratic transition in Yugoslavia.
MARK BANNERMAN: If he rejects that suggestion that you've made and would be made to him, what happens then?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, obviously, then we would be in an impasse, obviously, we would have problems in Yugoslavia and, obviously, there would be further tensions and polarisations.
MARK BANNERMAN: Instability for the region?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: This is one of the problems.
This is why we have said and we believe that democracy is an element of stability.
The more democratic the countries are, the more the democratic institutions represent the will of the people, and it's expressed, the more stable our region is.
This has been lacking over the past century, really.
MARK BANNERMAN: So looking at it another way, if that was followed, there is, if you like, an order to the election, a recount and we find that Mr Milosevic has lost, the 'New York Times' is reporting that you in some fashion are talking with the Americans, talking with Mr Milosevic and they are saying you are working out a compromise, some way he could go gracefully, is there any truth in that?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I wouldn't want to get into that kind of wheeling and dealing.
I -- I will say, though, however, that we, as Greece, have ratified the International Court of The Hague and respect its decisions.
I did say, however, during the Kosovo War, when he was indicted, that politically that didn't help us find a solution either to the war situation, but either to a political transition.
MARK BANNERMAN: So, is there a compromise?
That's the question.
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: That's a big question, and I don't know if there is a compromise.
MARK BANNERMAN: Let me ask you this: Would Greece accept him and give him a haven if he would were to go quietly?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: This hasn't been an issue, and no-one has asked it -- neither he nor anyone else has asked us.
MARK BANNERMAN: Let me ask you, would you?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I wouldn't -- I would refrain to say, "Yes" on that, because I fear that this would have to be something -- if this would be a discussion -- that everyone involved would have to be with, and I doubt that they would.
MARK BANNERMAN: Because, he is still considered by the UN to be a war criminal, isn't he?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: That's right.
MARK BANNERMAN: And that makes it difficult for you?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: And that would be very difficult, for, I think, for any country.
One thing that has been proposed by the opposition is that we, in fact, handle this issue as an internal matter.
I don't know if the international community would accept that, however, this is something the opposition itself has mentioned.
MARK BANNERMAN: Because you know those opposition leaders, they came to Greece and they met there, ultimately, I suppose the question is do you believe, knowing each side as you do, that there can be a compromise?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I would hope so.
And I would hope that there's a clear message to all in Yugoslavia that through democratic procedures, one can find solutions, one can find compromises, one can find a transition, whatever it might be and whenever it might be in a way which would allow Yugoslavia to become, again, part of not only our region, but also Europe, in the wider sense, become part of the European values which I think belongs very much to the Yugoslav people, these values, and to the international world.
We have always said, Greece has always said that isolating Yugoslavia, demonising Yugoslavia has had a negative effect.
And Yugoslavia hasn't allowed for a natural, normal political development.
It has created further polarisation and nationalistic tendencies and, as a matter of fact, a bitterness towards the outside world which was seen not as the outside world supporting democratic practices, but sometimes seen or interpreted as the outside world simply having a prejudice towards the Serbian people as a whole.
MARK BANNERMAN: What you're saying here would be a real breakthrough.
If this plan that you're putting were to go ahead, if there was a count, and if the opposition was found to be correct in its allegations that 400,000 votes go missing, and then Mr Milosevic says there may be a way out, this would change Europe?
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Absolutely.
This would be something which, whether it's a recount which comes out for a need for a second ballot a second round, or whether it comes out with a definitive, final result in favour of Kostunica, either way would be a way out.
And if these democratic procedures are followed, we would have a major, maybe historical, change for Europe, certainly for south-eastern Europe, for our region.
And that's why we're so involved and so interested in what might happen in the next few days.
MARK BANNERMAN: Mr Papandreou, thanks for joining us.
GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Thank you.