George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
George A. Papandreou - President of Socialist International - Former Prime Minister
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RADIO B2-92-Interview with George Papandreou

RADIO B2-92, 9 August 2000

George Papandreou, Foreign Minister of Greece

Friday, 09.08.2000.
Guest: George Papandreou, Foreign Minister of Greece
Host: Miodrag Vidic

RADIO B2-92 : It seems that at this evening’s reception for you at the Greek Residence in Belgrade, police came into the residence, took four Otpor members who were there as guests outside and arrested them. Is there a better illustration of the situation in this country than that?

PAPANDREOU : I was not there to see exactly what had happened, but this incident was communicated to me. There were different versions of it but in any case, I feel that this incident was a very unfortunate one and I asked Minister Jovanovic to look into this immediately. I said that if these young OTPOR representatives were taken into custody, they should be immediately released. Obviously, we are waiting for this and it is very important that they are released.

RADIO B2-92 : What is Mr. Milosevic’s reaction to the message that you had brought?

PAPANDREOU : It is not for me to assess or to express what Mr. Milosevic may have seen as my message, but what I can say is that I come from a country which is very close to the Yugoslav people and has stood for very difficult issues at very difficult times. Therefore I came to speak very clearly and openly, we have nothing to hide, no hidden agenda, we are here as friends and we are saying the clear truth. The truth is that we believe Yugoslavia has a place in democratic Europe and needs to make these necessary changes, to move ahead and change the relationship between Yugoslavia and Europe. I do hope Yugoslavia is ready to make this step and there are crucial decisions to be made both by the leadership and by the people of Yugoslavia, so this is the message I brought. It is up to him, to the other leaders, to the Serbian people to make decisions.

RADIO B2-92 : Did you have the impression that he will refuse to cede power through the elections?

PAPANDREOU : We would like to see free, open democratic elections and a democratic process in general. This is very important. I cannot judge what will happen. I simply hope that whatever the election result is and whatever the Serbian people want, they have the right to be able to express this through voting, through their democratic right. Of course the world will be watching, the European Union will be watching and will be assessing. There will be either positive or negative consequences depending on this process. This is the question of a principle, we would very much want to see an opening to Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav voice in the European Union.

RADIO B2-92 : How do you personally feel as the first politician to come here since Mr. Milosevic was indicted by the Hague Tribunal? This is the first period in which Greece has no longer been seen as it was before, as a friend.

PAPANDREOU : I came immediately after the war and visited Yugoslavia, the day after the military pact took place. But, the reason I am here is because we are in the region, we are a part of this region and we have responsibility. We want to see European Balkans. We feel that it is important and possible that people of the Balkans can work together. This means very clearly that certain rules are respected and that basic institutions work, democracy, respect of human rights, the respect of borders. These are the principles which can allow us to work, therefore we have made a big effort to convince not only the European Union, but the world at large that they must work together for these principles. We in the Balkans also must convince ourselves that if we work together on these principles we can live together in a very different way and with a strong Balkan voice. I feel that it is in our interest to be very honest with Yugoslavia and I cannot say honesty is something, which works against friendship. Honesty is a basis of a friendship. If you expect us to be friends I think you would expect us to say truth, even if it hurts. We are not doing it in a way of demonising or criticizing. We very much condemn saying that all the Serbs are the same. This is the language we do not use and we do not believe in. We do not believe in these stereotypes. We believe that the Serbs have gone through a difficult situation, very often Yugoslavia has been badly treated by the international community. We wanted a different approach concerning the issue of Kosovo. But at the same time, there is a way out; the world is not against Yugoslavia. The European Union particularly wants to see Yugoslavia as a part of the family, but there are very important decisions to be made and the Yugoslavs themselves must make the decisions, apart from the leadership. These decisions must be long standing and the trustworthy ones.

RADIO B2-92 : Do you think that it is necessary for the democratic forces to win the elections in order to make these decisions or could Serbia be transformed under Milosevic if he changes his policy?

PAPANDREOU : It would be wrong to come here and express my personal preferences. The Serbian people are to make that decision. I am not here to preach. I think the Serbian people have all the abilities to understand what their interests are, but they need to know what Europe is thinking and that there is a prospect. They can decide Europe if they want to. How they will do that, I cannot know. I did say that the election process is equally important. If the elections are not open and free it is not going to help at all.

RADIO B2-92 : You are heading tomorrow to Podgorica and Kosovo. The regime in Podgorica will not recognize these elections and it will not take part in them. What will your message be to the people you are going to meet in Podgorica?

PAPANDREOU : I live in a country where at different times we have gone through many difficulties ourselves, the dictatorship, and the wars. There have been times when we boycotted the elections. I can understand very well what that means and the reasons for it, but at the same time one should use the right to vote as much as possible, even in difficult situations, because it is important that a voice is heard whatever the voice may be. I think participating in elections is important and even though there may be difficulties, the participating does send a message in one way or another

RADIO B2-92 : There are rumours that Milosevic may postpone the elections because of the polls that are showing that he is not that popular. He could do it by making some kind of conflict at the Kosovo border. Is there anything you can do to prevent that?

PAPANDREOU : I do not know what is on Mr. Milosevic’s mind or what may happen, but I think the fact that I am here and that there is a European message and the message says: we want to see open, fair and democratic elections which is a loud and clear message. If there is a positive procedure, that would mean something positive in our relationship; if there is a negative procedure, whatever that might be then obviously it will have negative consequences. That is a message I hope will be respected.

RADIO B2-92 : Is there any idea at all about the possibility of offering Milosevic and exit strategy, some kind of exile, and maybe suspension of the Hague indictment. Especially, since Kostunica has said that he would not extradite him to The Hague

PAPANDREOU : First of all, Greece is a signatory of the court and has ratified the international treaty. The Greek Parliament obviously respects the decisions of this court. When I was on CNN during the war it was just a few minutes after the Milosevic indictment had been announced. My statement then was, and I believe that now, was that the indictment had complicated the political situation more than it had helped the political situation, the stability and democratic development as well as the change in Yugoslavia. I said that most likely it would not help the quick resolution of the war situation. Now, I am not a mediator and this is not the purpose of my visit. My message is very clear, but I do understand what Mr. Kostunica has said, and I understand the reasoning behind what he has said. And I do hope that others understand the reasoning too, the European Union and others. Greece has always said that on any issue and in any case that we can be of use, we will be, because we want to see if we can help move ahead in solving some of the problems in the region.

RADIO B2-92 : This is the first time that the democratic opposition in Serbia has become mature, it is serious and we can see it in polls. A long time ago Europe spoke to the democratic opposition saying: "You must take the first step, you must do something," and now we see the results: the opposition has taken the first step. Are European politicians aware of that and are they ready to help the opposition at this crucial moment?

PAPANDREOU : Again, at a time when we are close to the elections I want to be clear, not to say things which could be misinterpreted as getting directly involved in the election process and in the internal politics, although, as I said, internal politics will be coming out with a result which will affect not only Yugoslavia, but the region as well and of course the relationship between Europe and Yugoslavia. What I want to say is that a democratic development is to create institutions and is to create political formations. I think this will be an important process, which will be seen as something which must continue. A process in which there is a consolidation of political forces, of development of a political dialogue, a political life in Yugoslavia which can allow for a depolarisation, an embodiment and the strengthening of some types of political institutions which then can really move further for democracy. So I think this development will be watched very carefully too, and could be important for what the European Union will do.

RADIO B2-92 : Do you in Greece, as a government minister have problems with public opinion that is always somehow against the people of Serbia, while the Serbian nation is equated with Slobodan Milosevic?. Do you think there is any possibility of making a relationship with a different kind of Serbia?

PAPANDREOU : Well, I think Greek people live in democracy and know very well that there are different political forces in every country. Of course, I think that there is an emotional tie to Serbia and to the Serbian people and this is something which has not been a general feeling and many people have not had the opportunity to get into the internal situation, the politics in Yugoslavia and the issues in Yugoslavia. They have seen the troubles Yugoslavia has gone through, and therefore also have immediately related them to the Serbian people and, of course, to President Milosevic. I think, as time goes by, the relationship has been developed and has become more sophisticated. Of course, the Serbian society, Yugoslav society is one with many views, with many different approaches, with different struggles, for democracy, for change, for Europe, for different types of approaches to problems and I think it is very important that all political forces in Yugoslavia also communicate with Greek public opinion. This is not going to be communicated automatically, magically, and I think it is important that the Greek public opinion is also educated in what is happening here and what the different views are. This is a responsibility that those involved in politics here in Yugoslavia have to inform public opinion in Greece of what is happening here.

RADIO B2-92 : There are stories, rumours that date from the period of close connections between the regime in Athens and the regime in Belgrade, when Milan Milutinovic was the ambassador in Greece, that there were a lot of business connections between Greece and Serbia. What is going on right now, are any connections at the moment, is there any business going on between Greece and Serbia, between Serbian politicians and present or former Greek politicians, between people who are now in power in both Greece and Serbia?

PAPANDREOU : Greece has been a country which has felt that sanctions have been unproductive for Yugoslavia to make the necessary steps for change, for a movement forward, for a different relationship with Europe. We have said this very often, we see that this is a consensus, not only with the government, but also with the opposition. That is a general statement and on the issue of sanctions, we are of course in the European Union, bound by the laws and the decisions we have made, on the issue of sanctions too. We do not have any specific knowledge of dealings, which are beyond the sanction regime. If there are some, they will be dealt with in such a way and they have been beyond the legality of our relationship and obligations with the European Union, so I have no specific information at this point.

RADIO B2-92 : Right now you are giving an interview to a radio station which does not exist. Do you have any problem with that? We have a colleague, Miroslav Filipovic, who has been sentenced to seven years for espionage and for spreading false information. Have you mentioned anything about that, and also about Ivan Stambolic?

PAPANDREOU : Yes I mentioned those issues, we want to have freedom of press and media. This is very important for any country, and certainly for Yugoslavia, for European Yugoslavia. I can only tell you that in 1985 I was in the forefront of the leading movement in Greece for a free radio. At that time, we only had state owned radio and television, I throw back to our years of dictatorship, state radio during the Metaxa dictatorship in the forties, with the state television and the Junta in sixties and seventies. I was in the forefront and many were reluctant about opening up. Now we have over a thousand radio stations and many television stations and I am glad that that movement went out. It is basic for democracy to have free and open press.

RADIO B2-92 : One of the Greek representatives was offered a confederation by Milosevic some time ago. Is there anything similar going on at present?

PAPANDREOU : No, we did not discuss that issue. I think what we need to do is to make a total integration of the Balkans into European institutions. Historically the Balkan people have again and again come up with a vision, of a Balkan federation, Balkan constitution, two hundred years ago, Rigas Fereos came up with a democratic constitution of a multi-cultural Balkans where we could work together, based on the principles of democracy, multiculturalism, respect of human rights, respect of different religions with no racial, ethnic or religious discrimination. Now we have an opportunity, which is Europe. Europe, which has been developed after a terrible war, the Second World War, has embedded these principles in its way of thinking and working. We have an opportunity to slowly integrate with Europe, but amongst ourselves too, so that we can have a Balkan voice, as there is a Baltic voice, a Benelux voice. We should not miss it and we should be able to get beyond our hatreds. I am not talking only about Greek and Yugoslav, but other hatreds that are there, they are stereotypes. We are now trying to break down stereotypes with Turkey; we are trying to make a dialogue. It is still difficult and we have not solved that. But in Europe, this is the only way and Greece is a member of Europe and is in the Balkans so we can be seen as a model, and we can show that we can be both Balkan and European. In that sense I feel that all the peoples in this region can be both Balkans and Europeans, and we are proud of being Balkans as well as Europeans.

RADIO B2-92 : Please give short message to our listeners. This is a radio station which does not exist.

PAPANDREOU : A message to a free radio. I have always been a proponent of free radio and I very much hope that free media establish themselves in a way they are respected and protected. Second, there is hope. Europe and Balkans want to see a change and the whole region wants to see Yugoslavia get out of the isolation, to stop the sanctions and to see economic development. To be free, to be able to travel around. Europe certainly has a responsibility and it should be ready to take this responsibility as soon as Yugoslavia itself says it is ready take its responsibility too.

Miodrag Vidic

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