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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Two Approaches to the Future of Serbia

Reconstruction - The Main Trump Card

Economists have estimated that, should it decide to rely on its own resources, Serbia will need half a century to bring its economy back to the level of the time before dissolution of former SFR of Yugoslavia, and that is why along with opposition parliamentary parties they believe that in the next few years Serbia will need foreign aid of 29 billion dollars. On the other hand, by hastily opening construction sites the regime is minimising the significance of foreign aid because it is conditioned by the change of the regime in Serbia.

AIM Podgorica, 9 July, 1999 (By AIM correspondent from Belgrade)

Faced with increasing difficulties in the past ten years the citizens of Serbia have acquired the mentality of apathetic porters for whom it is unimportant whether one suitcase more or less will be thrown on their backs. And while majority of the population can do nothing but manifest courage in despair, in political structures divisions are becopming increasingly evident anticipating struggle for power in the forthcoming elections. Immediately after interruption of bombing the regime and the opposition started heated arguments about the manner in which reconstruction of the demolished country should be approached. The initial estimates claim that Yugoslavia suffered damage which exceeds 30 billion dollars, and that for the very urgent interventions which would restore the destroyed infrastructure and reconstruct the most essential manufacturing facilities it needs about 5 billion dollars. It is estimated that at this moment Yugoslavia hardly has one thousandth part of the money necessary for urgent interventions.

This financial situation produced two opposite views of reconstruction of the country. On the one hand, the ruling parties are striving to convince the public that it is possible to carry out the most urgent interventions with domestic resources, while on the other hand the opposition thinks that the way out of the difficult situation is in requesting foreign aid. As foreign aid is conditioned by democratisation of Yugoslavia and removal of the current regime from power, it is understandable that the assessments of the authorities and the opposition about the way reconstruction of the country should be approached are quite the opposite. Just a few days after the end of bombing the authorities announced minor undertakings in reconstruction of the country by major manifestations. With great pomp they marked the beginning of repair of certain facilities such as not greatly damaged bridges, apartment buildings and similar, in order to show the public that it was possible to begin reconstruction with domestic forces.

Along with lifting of the state of war, the federal parliament passed a few laws in order to provide the money needed for reconstruction of military facilities by increasing taxes. The estimates show that for these purposes it is possible to collect about 20 million German marks. The efforts of the ruling structures are evident to preserve unity manifested during the 11-week long bombing. And while the regime is persuading the public to believe that it is possible to compensate for poverty by unity, the opposition and economic experts believe that reconstruction is impossible without aid from abroad.

According to the assessment of the economists gathered in Group G-17, it will be necessary to invest 29 billion dollars into economic reconstruction of Yugoslavia in the course of next five years, or almost six billion dollars a year.

Deputy prime minister of Serbia Dragan Tomic announced that in the coming days new economic policy for this year would be presented to the public in which the social product will be lower by 23 billion dollars because of bombing and demolished factories. Along with the announcement of amended economic policy continuation of privatisation was also suggested, and Tomic emphasised that talks with interested foreign partners were in the final phase. It remains to be seen which factories and under what conditions will be sold to foreign buyers, if indeed interest really exists to buy them. There are doubts, of course, about interestedness of foreigners because of the risk of investments, since Yugoslavia is among the lowest ranking countries concerning security of investments into its economy. Even before the bombing, economic circumstances were exceptionally unfavourable.

At the moment when it was expected that social disturbances would agitate the situation in the country, bombs silenced the demands of discontented workers and pensioners. As soon as the bombs were silenced, the pensioners demanded from the government of Serbia to raise pensions so that the lowest ones would amount to about one thousand dinars. This demand cannot be met from the budget of Serbia without money issue. The pensioners explain their demand by the fact that with the existing amounts and the rate of payments of pensions they cannot even pay for municipal services and cover the cost of even the bare necessities. No less than 105 thousand pensioners receive less than 407 dinars a month, and about one million of them get about one thousand dinars. At the same time municipal services in Belgrade warn that ony 20 per cent of the citizens meet their obligations to them.

That is why pensioners are asking the government to issue coupons with which they would pay for municipal services. The government cannot accept this because it would destroy the electric power industry and public utility enterprises which cannot buy fuel, equipment and raw materials with coupons, nor can they pay salaries to their employees. To this explanation, the pensioners reply that public utility enterprises are state owned so the state should provide the money needed for their operation. At the same time, at their latest protest, they reminded that while the pension fund was full their money was used by 1,126 companies with the approval of the authorities. The pensioners have so far been the most reliable voters of the regime in Serbia. According to the explanation of the pensioners themselves, this was the result of their belief in the election promises of those in power, as well as more frequent payments of pensions on the eve of elections. The latest experience teaches the pensioners to be more cautious.

It is generally believed that the forthcoming elections in Serbia, regardless of whether they will be early or regular, will change political circumstances in the country. Certain oppositon parties, such as Nova demokratija, believe that time does not work for the current authorities because severe consequences of the policy of the regime will very soon be manifested. This party advocates urgent opening to the world and meeting of the condition (democratisation of the country) the world set for Yugoslavia. Another parliamentary opposition party, Serb Revival Movement (SPO), adopted six demands at its main board meeting, opening to the world and establishment of transitional governments in Serbia and on the federal level inclusive, as well as the demand for profound political and economic reforms. On the other hand, among the ruling circles, intention to rely on domestic resources is expressed. Republican minister of science Branislav Ivkovic visited the Serbian Academy of Sciences and appealed on its members to give their contribution to reconstruction of the country stressing that the main orientation is preservation of independence, not only in the political, but also in the technological sense.

Such orientation undoubtedly leads to the conclusion that reconstruction of the country, or rather the approach to this enormous task, will be the central cause of political conflicts concerning which each of the opposed parties will try to use its views and orientation for winning over the electorate in order to win power. The electorate, however, with accumulated considerable amount of despair, does not manifest any signs of interest for either of the political options - that of the regime or that of the opposition.

Ratomir Petkovic

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