On June 27 I became the first noncommunist president of Serbia. Almost four years after our democratic revolution of Oct. 5, 2000, when Slobodan Milosevic was peacefully overthrown, the citizens of Serbia have decisively chosen to vote their interests, not their resentments. Serbia still faces great difficulties, but we have a clear way forward.
Through most of the past century, Serbia has recognized that a strong partnership with the United States is a vital national interest. I came to Washington one week after my inauguration with a simple message: We are ready to retake our traditional place in the constellation of Western democracies.
Full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is in our national interest, as is a resolution of all outstanding issues concerning the wars of Yugoslav succession. Enough time has passed for guilty individuals from all sides to take responsibility for the crimes they committed. My victory has cemented the political consensus necessary to locate the indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic and other fugitives from justice. If Mladic is in Serbia, we will capture him.
Serbia will not fail in its international obligations. Serbia's friends in the U.S. administration and in Congress have made it clear that solving the Hague problem will open the door to Euro-Atlantic structures. Serbia seeks to regain its rightful place in the West to reaffirm our unequivocal commitment to the values we all share. Only together can we defeat our common enemies: terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, territorial aggression, ethnic and religious extremism, the illegal arms trade and trafficking in drugs and human beings. Elements of these common enemies of the West are present today in the Serbian province of Kosovo, administered by the international community since the end of the war in June 1999.
The March pogrom against the non-Albanian communities of Kosovo, especially against Kosovo's Serbs and their centuries-old holy sites, was planned and organized by Albanian extremists intent on imposing a maximalist solution -- independence through force of arms. In March, when I was minister of defense, I ensured that Serbia's military did not transform the crisis into a conflict. Instead I requested that my friend U.S. Adm. Gregory G. Johnson, the NATO Allied Forces commander for Southern Europe, order international security reinforcements to Kosovo to put an end to the pogrom. After Sept. 11, we cannot afford to politically reward orchestrated violence of any sort, whether it occurs in Manhattan, Madrid or the Serb enclaves of Kosovo and Metohija.
I have embraced the principles of the Belgrade Plan for decentralization in Kosovo as proposed and unanimously accepted by the Serbian parliament. This plan respects the "substantial self-government" for Kosovo called for in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 while introducing the "autonomy within autonomy" formula necessary for Kosovo's Serbs to preserve their way of life and their Christian faith.
Serbia is committed to a political solution to the Kosovo situation and will work constructively with the Contact Group and Kosovo's Albanians to bring a lasting and just peace to our southern province. But first, those who ordered the attacks on Serbs and their patrimony in Kosovo must be held responsible. Additionally, the more than 200,000 Kosovo Serb internally displaced persons must be allowed to return to their homes. Last, more than 150 churches and monasteries destroyed by Albanian extremists need to be rebuilt.
As a student dissident, I fought communism. As an opposition politician, I fought tyranny. As president of Serbia, I will fight for equality of opportunity for all citizens of Serbia, no matter their ethnic or religious background. This is made more difficult by Milosevic's legacy of corruption in the name of nationalism, by which crime was rewarded and hard work scorned. By the end of my five-year term, Serbia will be free of this scourge.
A cornerstone in my campaign was the idea that the future of Serbia is inseparable from the growth of its economy. Serbs' can-do spirit, and the commercial law reforms promulgated by a governing coalition of my democratic allies, are setting a firm foundation for economic prosperity and a strong middle class. Nevertheless, economic recovery will depend considerably on foreign investment. We have managed to attract some excellent Western companies. I am pleased that the United States is Serbia's largest foreign direct investor. Bilateral trade and our commitment to Euro-Atlantic values and institutions are the twin pillars of our emerging partnership. I came away from my visit to Washington confident I can rely on the friendship of the United States. Together, and in partnership with our European friends, we can conclusively end discord in a turbulent corner of Europe.
The writer is president of Serbia.