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STATEMENT BY ROBIN COOK TO THE SERB PEOPLE ON VID'S DAY (28/06/99)

TEXT OF STATEMENT TO THE SERB PEOPLE BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, ROBIN COOK, ON VID'S DAY, 28 JUNE 1999

(The summer solstice on 28 June is celebrated in Serbia as Vid's day. Vid is a pre-Christian Slavic sun and war god. He grew to prominence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and has since acquired the status of patron of the nation. The date has considerable resonance in the Serb calendar. It was the date of Serbia’s defeat by the Turks at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. In his speech at Kosovo Polje in 1989 Slobodan Milosevic marked the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo by threatening for the first time the use of military force to reshape Yugoslavia.)

Ten years ago today, Slobodan Milosevic, then a senior official of the Serbian Communist Party, visited Kosovo Polje. It was the site of Serbia's famous defeat by the Turks in 1389. Elsewhere in Europe at that time, the great debate was about Glasnost and Perestroika and the end of one-party rule.

But Milosevic used this important anniversary not to give a message of hope and reform. Instead, he threatened force to deal with Yugoslavia's internal political difficulties. Doing so thereby launched his personal agenda of power and ethnic hatred under the cloak of nationalism. All the peoples of the region have suffered grievously ever since.

It has brought ruin to the Serb nation. He set in motion the chain of events which led to the Serbs from the Krajina region of Croatia fleeing their homes; to tens of thousands of Serbs from Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina being forced to move in pitiful circumstances; and now to thousands of Serbs leaving Kosovo itself. First, Milosevic tried to perpetuate the Former Yugoslavia, not through democratic legitimacy but by force, then he tried to use force to establish a so-called 'Greater Serbia'. But instead of helping the Serb people, his policies have led to them losing their homes. Thousands of Serbs are living in wretched conditions as refugees or displaced persons. All these refugees have a right to return. It is a right Milosevic has jeopardised, but which we fully support.

And what is the result of such confrontation? The Yugoslav economy is in ruins. Milosevic's friends and family have stolen or appropriated millions of dollars for their own selfish purposes. The Serb people entered this century with a proud reputation for struggling for liberal values. They leave it with an international reputation for defying liberal values, betrayed by their leadership. Milosevic is the first sitting national leader in history to be indicted for crimes against humanity. Another war crimes indictee, Arkan, remains prominent in Belgrade. What a record of sustained, unrelenting failure!

The human cost of this appalling decade can scarcely be calculated. Last week in Kosovo, I saw for myself evidence of war crimes committed by units under Milosevic's command against his fellow citizens, simply because they belonged to a different community and tradition. It was a harrowing experience. I also met Bishop Artemije, who remains in Kosovo. He wants to help the Serb population achieve reconciliation with their Albanian friends and neighbours. It is his values, not Milosevic's, that could return Serbia to the prosperity and standing of its past.

The good news is that Milosevic must know he is nearing the end of the road. The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia has indicted Milosevic and his key cronies for crimes against humanity. A line has been crossed - there is no way back which avoids the call of justice in The Hague.

When he goes, the Serb people will once again have their chance to take their rightful place in modern Europe. We want for the Serb people only what we want for ourselves: decent government, fair courts, honest police forces. In short, all the benefits of the modern Europe which underpin successful, dynamic economies and peaceful, inclusive societies.

We must prepare for the day when once again the Serb people are seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. We stand ready to work with all parts of Serb society who want to work with us. We want to set an agenda for renewal and reform, so that the Serb people too can start to benefit fast from all the changes which the modern Europe has to offer.

Many Serbs tell us that they always thought that the British were among the Serbs' best friends, and that they cannot understand why we have turned against them. The answer to that is that we have never turned against them. It is their Government that turned against our values of decency. We extend the hand of friendship to the Serb people as we have always done. But a true friend sometimes has to deliver some painful messages.

The international community was not prepared to stand by and watch as hundreds of thousands of people were being driven from their homes in Kosovo under Milosevic's orders. At that moment, Serbia finally reached the end of the historic cul-de-sac which Milosevic entered ten years ago today. Now the Serb people must decide how quickly they emerge from this dismal dead-end and rejoin the European high road to peace and prosperity. This will involve facing up to the truth of what Milosevic and his regime have done across former Yugoslavia.

This will be a long and difficult undertaking. But it has to happen sooner or later if the Serb people are to join the European family. We are ready to help. But first, they must help themselves.

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