Since my election more than 15 months ago, I have devoted considerable resources reforging a strategic partnership based on common democratic and market principles and interests among Serbia, the United States and Europe.
Yet the months ahead will test the strength of our combined efforts, as we enter talks on the future status of Serbia's southern province of Kosovo and Metohija, under U.N. administration since June 1999. Success will cement the region's democratic revolutions; failure could plunge southeastern Europe back into the violence and instability of the recent past.
As president, it is my duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, which the international community unambiguously recognizes as encompassing Kosovo and Metohija. What is equally certain is that the process can move forward successfully only when states begin to coordinate among themselves to find ways of accommodating one another's interests.
The challenge of finding a negotiated, mutually acceptable solution must be seen in its proper context. Indeed, during the lost decade of the 1990s, the violent ultranationalism of opportunistic postcommunist strongmen brought great misery to millions of people.
Southeastern Europe today presents a different picture. There is widespread recognition that our joint future lies in full European and trans-Atlantic integration -- a guarantor of democratic prosperity to all who have reaped the benefits of membership. For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the region looks to a hopeful, reconciled, secure and prosperous future. Certainly, obstacles remain, but the road ahead lies clearly before us.
But all this tangible progress could be derailed if we do not properly handle the talks on the future status of Kosovo, slated to begin in the months ahead. It is imperative that stakeholders in its future come together to build a principled peace with justice by doing the things that a lasting settlement requires.
Regrettably, for some the temptation is either to resolve things by foreign fiat or to succumb to the blackmail of those who argue that violence will follow if their demands are not met.
Yet the unmistakable key to securing the region's liberty is to rid it of the nightmare nationalist ideologies of the past where ethnic cleansing, organized church burnings and drive-by shootings are accepted tools of politics. Instead we must embark on a journey that leads to a strategic solution, not an expedient one that takes up the cause of special interests. Thus it would be unreasonable to allow the process to gallop toward a premature solution based on abstract promises, ignoring concrete results already achieved on the ground.
In this light, I see Serbia's proactive role in Kosovo's future status talks as an opportunity, not a liability, precisely because the stakes are so high: the future of our democracy, and the future of the region as a whole.
We must all act responsibly in this time of opportunity, and this means that all of us must together formulate the rules that define the approach to a solution. And should Serbia's strategic partners fail to take seriously my country's legitimate interests, such a path would in the end secure no one's liberty.
For our part, we have already acknowledged that the future status of Kosovo will not resemble that of the 1990s. And in the near future, we intend to put forward concrete proposals on such issues as moving the process of decentralization forward and demilitarizing Kosovo; fighting ethnic- and religious-based terrorism; the sustainable return of the more than 200,000 cleansed Serbs, Roma, Turks and others to Kosovo; genuine promotion of democracy; protection of human rights; and safeguarding of religious freedom.
The demands of diplomacy in regions with consolidating democracies such as my own require moving forward honestly. First and foremost, Serbs and Albanians must speak honestly among themselves and directly with each other.
Perhaps more importantly, the dictates of honesty make demands of Serbia's strategic partners as well. Double standards may work in dictatorships, but they are fundamentally inappropriate in democracies. Diplomacy must adapt to the democratic requirements and not the expedients to which one had become accustomed when tyrants prevailed in southeastern Europe.
The United States and Europe must come to terms with the fact the situation in Kosovo is much worse than any of us would like it to be. The worst sort of tyranny of the majority reigns over this land. Kosovo's Serbs, Roma, Turks and other non-Albanians live in conditions worse than those in which Kosovo's Albanians lived during the era of Slobodan Milosevic. In fact, they live in the most abysmal conditions of anyone in Europe.
To gloss over this tragic reality as we approach Kosovo's future status talks is to enter into the process recklessly. This would be of great detriment to the success of our common endeavor, and would blind us to the historic opportunity before us to bring prosperous, democratic stability to the entire region for good.
So let us take up the challenge and do what needs to be done to conquer the past and build a better future for southeastern Europe: a future with no winners or losers, a future of cooperation and integration, a future free of fear, suspicion and mistrust.
Mr. Tadic is the president of Serbia.