Belgrade wonders what will happen after the war ends

Resolution in Balkans may center on economics and contemporary politics

May 26, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Anyone want to invest in a bombed out, economically ravaged European pariah state?

That's what friends and foes of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are starting to ask even as NATO continues to pummel Serbia's cracked and increasingly demolished infrastructure.

What will happen in Yugoslavia after the war ends is emerging as a topic of conversation among government insiders and business leaders.

While the crisis over the Serbian province of Kosovo is rooted in history, religion and ethnic animosities, its resolution is the stuff of contemporary politics and economics.

Milosevic, the great Balkan survivor, could lose a war, win a peace and remain in power if he can dole out whatever scraps are left in the economy, local analysts claim.

Meanwhile, leading political players appear to be quietly positioning themselves for whatever may come during the postwar era in an increasingly fractured country.

Relations remain volatile between Yugoslavia's two republics, Serbia and Montenegro, which is remaining neutral during the war. Coup threats against Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic appear to have receded in recent weeks. Opposition parties in Serbia are angling for advantage.

But Yugoslavia's fate could be determined by its economy. The country's richest resource remains its people, many of whom are well-educated and well-trained, even though the rate of unemployment is over 70 percent.

After seeing its factories, oil refineries and transportation links smashed, Yugoslavia is looking to be rebuilt -- by the Western allies that comprise NATO. Some estimates have put the cost in the billions of dollars.

"They cannot run away from their responsibility, including the responsibility to reconstruct the infrastructure they damaged," said Nebojsa Vujovic, Yugoslavia's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Western leaders have broached the idea of creating an economic revival plan for the Balkan region, although it is unclear what type of aid might be made available to Yugoslavia. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has said the plan should not be "held hostage" by one man's fate. While people here remain hopeful that the West will rebuild what it destroyed, some are pessimistic about the chances of receiving aid so long as the Milosevic regime remains.

"No one will give us fresh money with Milosevic in power," said analyst Bratislav Grubacic, publisher of the VIP Daily News Report, a Belgrade-based newsletter.

But starving Yugoslavia of assistance would be a mistake, said Predrag Markovic, a local historian. Without financial aid, he fears, the country would be plunged into a rudimentary economy in which the riches are carved up by criminal elements.

"The issue is to stabilize the region," Markovic said. "Is it possible to do that if an ink spot remains in the middle of the region, with no contact to Europe and the rest of the world? Everyone hopes there will not be isolation."

Among those trying to re-establish Yugoslavia's ties with Europe, is Serbian government minister and leading businessman Bogoljub Karic.

Before the war, Karic headed the effort to privatize the country's 75 state-owned firms, from breweries to electrical facilities. NATO has flattened 16 companies, including the state's leading refining giant, Jugopetrol, and only auto manufacturer, Zastava.

Karic remains hopeful that the sell-off can start after the war and that the country can be totally privatized and "open to the world" by the millennium.

"We businessmen have to compete with the politicians," he said. "The difference is, we build bridges and overcome borders; they destroy bridges and erect borders. Maybe there is a medium."

Karic said in an interview last week that aid must be an integral part of rebuilding Yugoslavia.

"We expect the United States and European Union to give a package of aid to Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries," he said. "In that way, they would permanently solve Balkan problems. No one can live happily if he is rich and he has a poor neighbor. That is why the Balkans should be developed technically and economically. In that way, we could create a community of the Balkan countries that would be integrated into Europe."

But as long as the political base remains unstable, the region's economy also will be shaky, analysts say.

Balkan-style politics are rarely dull, and the weeks after the war could prove compelling.

An alliance of sorts has been created between Montenegro's president, Djukanovic, and Democratic Party chief Zoran Djindjic, an opposition politician in Serbia. The leaders recently traveled to Western capitals and appeared to present themselves as potential peacemakers and deal-makers. That must have upset some in Belgrade, though, because Democratic Party headquarters was attacked last week by 80 unidentified street toughs who tossed raw eggs and rocks, and branded Djindjic a "traitor."

But another voice also is trying to be heard above the din of wartime politics. Vuk Draskovic, who was ousted last month as deputy prime minister, said yesterday that Yugoslavia needs "urgent reforms of the political and economic system."

He added that the country would soon face a political choice. He says his Serbian Renewal Movement wants to open the country to the West, while the party headed by Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj is trying to keep the country looking inward.

"The day after the stopping of aggression, we are faced with a political clash," Draskovic said.

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