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Vol 2, No 38
6 November 2000
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Have a Seat
Yugoslavia joins the UN
Brian Požun


Slovenia can be satisfied with this resolution, and all of our demands have been met.
—Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the United Nations, Ernest Petric

On Wednesday 1 November, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRJ) became the newest member of the United Nations (UN). Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica sent a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last Friday, formally requesting membership for Yugoslavia, and the international community—reportedly under pressure from US Permanent Representative Richard Holbrooke—jumped into action.

On Wednesday, just five days after the request, the Permanent Representative of France introduced a draft resolution concerning the formal application of Yugoslavia for membership, supported by all members of the Security Council, as well as the other successor states to the former Yugoslavia. The General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously without discussion. The flag of the former Yugoslavia, which had flown in front of UN Headquarters in New York since 1945, was lowered at the end of the General Assembly session and the flag of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was hoisted in its stead.

Yugoslavia and the United Nations

In 1945, the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) was a founding member of the United Nations. In 1992, after the fall of the joint state, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina (BiH) and Macedonia all joined the UN as new members, while Slobodan Milošević insisted that his Yugoslavia was the only legal successor to the old SFRJ and thus had no need to apply for a new membership.

In 1992, although the General Assembly decided that the FRJ was not able to maintain the seat of the SFRJ and had to submit a new application, Yugoslavia was permitted to continue to maintain representation at the UN and to receive and circulate documents. The FRJ Mission to the UN was, however, led by a Charge d'Affaires instead of a Permanent Representative, since a Permanent Representative would have to present credentials to the Secretary General, who would not have been able to accept them.

Koštunica's decision to seek a new membership also follows several letters to the General Assembly by Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia demanding that the FRJ be excluded from the United Nations until it submits a membership application. In recent months, United States Permanent Representative Richard Holbrooke echoed those demands.

Implications for the successor states

A new seat at the UN for the FRJ is of great importance for Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia, since it clearly shows Koštunica's Yugoslavia has backed down from the position that the FRJ is the sole legal successor to the former, pre-1991 Yugoslavia. This paves the way for resolutions to issues related to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia that have been deadlocked for a decade.

The five states should now be able to make progress in talks to divide the assets and debts of their former joint state. Talks had begun in Brussels in 1992, but the FRJ stance precluded any agreement. Slovenia recalled its representation to those negotiations six years into the process, in 1998, in frustration.

The assets of the SFRJ may amount to as much as USD 100 billion. This includes assets held by federal bodies, such as the National Bank, JAT national airlines and the People's Army, as well as embassies around the world and other international property. The gold and foreign currency reserves of the SFRJ would also be divided amongst the five countries. The SFRJ's debts only amount to some USD 17 billion. It was the decision of the Contact Group for the Former Yugoslavia that all five successor states would get a share of the assets (and debts) as they stood at the end of 1990; however, that may be revised given that the assets may have accrued more value in the interim.

Diplomatic relations after a decade?

Croatia established loose diplomatic relations with the FRJ in 1996, but like Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovenia has no diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This situation has made it impossible for Slovenia to collect tax monies owed to it, among other relatively minor problems, but it has also created a situation disturbing to the Slovene public: with no diplomatic relations, the Slovene government can do nothing to help Slovene citizens accused of crimes or imprisoned in Yugoslavia.

This was highlighted in early August, when two Slovene citizens were arrested in Montenegro. While one was released after three days, the other was held in custody for several days awaiting trial for photographing sensitive military objects. Fortunately, he received only a light sentence. Both returned to Slovenia about 20 days after the initial arrest.

Slovene Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle gave a press conference on Thursday where he said that he is pleased with Yugoslavia's new membership in the UN, but that this does not affect Slovenia's relations with Montenegro. In recent months, Slovenia has emerged as a staunch supporter of Podgorica in the face of Belgrade. Peterle also said, however, that the government of Slovenia has named a special representative to assist with humanitarian aid to Belgrade.

Bosnian Permanent Representative to the UN Mohamed Šačirbej addressed the UN General Assembly on Thursday and said that his country was one of the many co-sponsors of the draft resolution, even though the FRJ must co-operate fully with the International Tribunal at the Hague. BiH, howewer, believes that this should be a prerequisite for FRJ membership in the UN.

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The Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN, Ivan Simonovič, also addressed the General Assembly on Thursday, and reiterated Šačirbej's concerns about Yugoslav co-operation with the Tribunal.

Regardless of the concerns, Yugoslavia becoming a new member of the UN can only be seen as a huge step forward for regional stability. When the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe was created last year, it was understood that no real stability could be created in the Balkans withouth Yugoslavia. Now, with talk of the FRJ becoming a member of the Pact, it seems that, while real stability may be generations away, the first important steps are being made.

Real diplomatic relations among the successor states to the Former Yugoslavia are of tremendous importance to even the average citizen of those states, and the resolution of the open questions surrounding the collapse of the former federation would automatically create a significantly higher degree of stability in the Balkans.

Brian J Požun, 3 November 2000

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