Sanctions alter Serbian course Belgrade takes a softer stance on Bosnian Serbs

April 29, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

BELGRADE -- Stiffened U.N. sanctions against Serbia are already having a dramatic political and economic impact on the country designated as the chief aggressor in the Balkans.

The government here has disclosed emergency rationing measures at the same time as leaders of the rump Yugoslav state are suddenly trying to put some distance between themselves and Serb militias battling in Bosnia.

Government sources said further rationing would be imposed within weeks on food, fuel and other basic commodities in an effort to ensure social peace. Gasoline rations have already been halved, to 10 liters per passenger car per month. Economics Minister Tomisalav Simovic said the government would also take complete control over finances, including stringent wage-price controls.

The switch to a "command economy" was being prepared as leading supporters of the Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, put some rhetorical distance between themselves and the Bosnian Serb leaders. They are being criticized for refusing Mr. Milosevic's "categorical" request Monday to accept the Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia -- the move that led the United Nations to adopt the more stringent economic sanctions against Serbia itself.

For the first time it was publicly disclosed that Serbia is subsidizing the self-styled Bosnian Serb state, to the tune of about $5 billion annually. Some critics hinted that these subsidies may now be drastically reduced, because of the Bosnian Serbs' rejection of the Vance-Owen plan, which would divide Bosnia into 10 separate ethnic enclaves.

Diplomatic observers here noted that the government-controlled media have suddenly taken a highly critical attitude toward the Bosnian Serbs.

One prominent pro-Milosevic intellectual, Antonije Isakovic, formerly an advocate of a Greater Serbia, has made a complete about-face. By refusing Mr. Milosevic's request, Mr. Isakovic said, the Bosnian Serbs have cut themselves off not only from the world "but also from Yugoslavia itself."

While the government was engaged in round-the-clock sessions, reports reaching here indicated that the tightened embargo has placed an impregnable ring around Serbia and Montenegro, which make up the rump state of Yugoslavia. Only medicine and essential food will be allowed into the country.

Slightly less draconian sanctions have been in effect for almost a year, but enforcement was not all it should have been. This time the Western European Union has sent teams of experts, including customs officials, for patrols of the borders with Hungary, Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. A tight blockade has been imposed across the Danube, one of the main routes for sanction-busters.

The escalating media pressure here against the Bosnian Serbs has highlighted sharp divisions in Serbian politics. Belgrade television has completely ignored strong backing from the local Radical Party leader, Vojislav Seselj, for the Bosnian Serbs. Mr. Seselj's is the second-largest party in Parliament.

Analysts here believe that three factors would have forced Mr. Milosevic's apparent change of policy.

One was the outcome of the Russian referendum, which shattered Belgrade's hopes that Boris N. Yeltsin would be rejected by the voters. The second involves prospects of a NATO military intervention in Bosnia and the possibility that air attacks on Bosnian Serb targets might inflame popular opinion in Serbia and drag Mr. Milosevic directly into war. Indeed, Yugoslav civil defense officials have been issuing instructions over Belgrade radio about emergency evacuation of about 400,000 Belgrade residents in case of an air attack. They have also urged citizens to prepare their air raid shelters.

But the third factor is seen as the most decisive. Serbia's economy has already been brought to its knees by the earlier sanctions. Inflation is running at more than 200 percent a month. Sixty percent of the country's manufacturing apparatus has been idled. Unemployment is rampant. There are daily shortages of electricity.

The gravity of the situation has been obscured by the arrival of summer. There is plenty of fresh produce available now, and heating is not necessary.

But leading economists are warning that complete economic collapse would occur next winter.

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