Last month the citizens of Montenegro voted for independence and an end to its union with Serbia. Thus a new state will be created in the Balkans. I hope it will be welcomed into the family of nations as soon as possible. As president of Serbia, successor to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, I look forward to going to New York to hoist Serbia's flag at the United Nations.
Immediately after the announcement of the results by the referendum commission, I called on my fellow Serbian citizens to accept the Montenegrins' decision and to extend to them a hand of friendship. I traveled to Montenegro to convey these sentiments in person.
Now Serbia and Montenegro are negotiating the details of separation. Too often in our region this has been a sad and messy affair. Serbs believe that we have an opportunity to demonstrate that it can be reversed and to show how, in this separation, we can maintain the historical good relations between us. Too many of our citizens will live in each other's states to allow pettiness to prevail.
Serbia now needs to focus on the real challenges. We need to enhance our standard of living, finalize the outstanding issues that hamper our standing in the international community, and do what we must to pave the way for our integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures.
This is a strategically vital year for Serbia -- and by extension for the European Union and NATO. We hope that responsible political leadership from Serbia will be reciprocated by these institutions. Our political leadership faces choices of a kind that have rarely confronted a country that is both democratic and at peace.
With the decision on Montenegro behind us, we must ensure that our obligation to the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague is met. Serbia seeks intensified cooperation with international actors so that our efforts can be independently verified. This, rather than the punitive isolation of a democratic Serbia, is what is likely to get us all to the desired outcome. Those in Serbia who are complicit in the protection of Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is charged with war crimes in Bosnia, are the least patriotic of Serbs. They are part of that political culture that hijacked Serbia and its history some 15 years ago, using patriotism to camouflage their nefarious actions. In two world wars in the past century, Serbia aligned itself with the forces of freedom. We want to restore this great Serbian tradition. We believe we are very close to doing so.
The democratic leadership of Serbia has recently taken the initiative to restore momentum to the talks on Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia has asked for full talks on the future status of Kosovo to begin at the earliest possible date. The purpose is to offer proposals that will help establish a climate of greater confidence. The exceptionally perilous circumstances of Serbs in Kosovo require exceptional provisions for their protection if the international community does not wish to preside over their mass exodus. Anything short of this is tantamount to an international endorsement of vindictive actions against the citizens of Serbia. It is not reasonable to ask Serbia to believe in vague promises. A negotiated outcome on the future status of Kosovo is the only possible and feasible solution, and we all -- Serbs, Albanians and the entire region -- share the same interest in achieving such an outcome. But it requires building confidence, which needs to be done now.
There is a strong belief that the political forces that brought democracy to Serbia in the dramatic events of October 2000 must rise to the challenge posed by the immediate future, uniting their forces to complete the unfinished business on which they embarked more than five years ago. Such unity of purpose would, we hope, prompt a shift from conditionality to reciprocity between the international community and Serbia. This spirit and practice of reciprocity is the key to meeting the other tests democratic Serbia faces in coming months. Success must be complete and collective.
The writer is president of the Republic of Serbia.