Articoli di Mihailo Antović

Sud Serbia: una fragile pace

31/05/2002 -  Mihailo Antović

Ad un anno dalla crisi al Sud della Serbia, nella valle di Presevo, Medvedja e Bujanovac come stanno andando le cose? Ne fa il punto un testo in inglese del nostro corrispondente dalla Serbia Mihailo Antovic. (Testo in inglese)

L'Università della Serbia faticosamente verso l'Europa

24/04/2002 -  Mihailo Antović

Durante il regime di Milosevic ogni protesta studentesca era segnata dall'adozione di una legge sempre più repressiva nei confronti dell'autonomia universitaria. Ora la coalizione DOS procede con lentezza per riformare un sistema allo sbando.

Serbia: in Parlamento la proposta di legge sulla riforma dell'Università

22/04/2002 -  Mihailo AntovićDavide Sighele

In Serbia l'Università opera ancora sulla base di una legge liberticida approvata nel 1998 dal regime di Milosevic. E' iniziato però in questi giorni l'iter parlamentare per l'approvazione di una nuova legge.

Chi governa in Serbia? Il caso dell'arresto del generale Perisic

18/03/2002 -  Mihailo Antović

Giovedì scorso è stato arrestato assieme ad un diplomatico statunitense il vicepremier Momcilo Perisic, ex generale dell'esercito jugoslavo. Con l'accusa di spionaggio. Autori dell'arresto i servizi segreti dell'esercito.

Servizio civile e militare: situazione in cambiamento in Serbia

18/02/2002 -  Ada SoštarićMihailo Antović Belgrado e Nis

Un rapido sguardo ad una delle questioni più controverse nonché tema di dibattito in Serbia in questi giorni: servizio civile e servizio militare. A cura di Ada Sostaric e Mihailo Antovic.
Nella Repubblica Federale di Jugoslavia (FRJ) svolgere il servizio civile è possibile, ma impraticabile in realtà. La FRJ, e soprattutto la Serbia, è sempre stata una società piuttosto patriarcale, in parte a causa della sua peculiare collocazione geografica e delle circostanze storiche che spesso l'hanno condotta a guerre e conflitti. Quindi, tradizionalmente il servizio militare era considerato un atto di onore, raramente messo in discussione o evitato, ad eccezione di un'esigua minoranza di intellettuali e attivisti per i diritti umani. Dagli anni Novanta tuttavia, con la guerra e la distruzione della ex-Jugoslavia, la percezione sta lentamente cambiando.
La recente eredità della guerra costituisce oggi per l' esercito jugoslavo un problema a più livelli.
A livello 'micro' i giovani uomini coscritti oggi sono poco entusiasti di dare un anno della propria vita alla 'patria' e cercano di evitarlo, lasciando la Serbia per l'estero o simulando malattie e invalidità. Per sfuggire al reclutamento i più istruiti scelgono di svolgere all'estero i propri studi post-laurea, poiché in caso di ritorno in patria fino ai 35 anni sarebbero reclutabili (il limite ordinario è invece di 27 anni). Ciò implica anche un problema di 'fuga di cervelli' dalla Serbia. Effettivamente, le condizioni in cui si svolge il servizio militare sono pessime: si è lontani da casa, i compiti sono piuttosto duri, il cibo scarseggia e, non ultimo, si è costretti a sorbire le lezioni degli ufficiali più vecchi, convinti di vivere ancora nel pieno dell'era comunista.
A livello 'macro', l'esercito è in grosse difficoltà economiche, nonostante il 70% del budget delle Federazione Jugoslava venga destinato alle spese militari. L'equipaggiamento è antiquato, il cibo spesso è scarso o di pessima qualità. L'ultima generazione di soldati di leva (da giugno ad oggi) ha ricevuto continue licenze per l'impossibilità dell'esercito di garantire condizioni di vita decorose. Politicamente, l'esercito sembra ricevere pressioni dall'esterno e dall'interno: da un lato si rendono necessari adeguamenti strutturali agli standard europei per inserirsi nel contesto internazionale (timidamente cominciati due settimane fa, con il pensionamento forzato di un terzo dei generali), come la riduzione della durata del servizio civile e la parziale professionalizzazione dell'esercito; dall'altro molti politici (ad esempio, Djindjic) considerano un retaggio del tempo passato l'esistenza di un esercito di grandi dimensioni, che richiede ingenti e ingiustificabili risorse economche.
Infine, gruppi di attivisti per i diritti umani fanno pressione affinchè la sfera militare venga posta sotto il controllo di istituzioni civili, la durata del servizio militare sia ridotta e la possibilità di svolgere il servizio civile sia offerta ai giovani maschi.
Una grossa copertura mediatica è stata data alla recente proposta di cambiamento della legge federale sull'esercito jugoslavo, presentata dallo YUCOM, il Comitato di giuristi yugoslavi per i diritti umani. Nel decennio precedente il servizio militare durava 12 mesi (in guerra spesso prolungati a 14-15, se si era così fortunati da sopravvivere), laddove lo pseudo servizio civile durava 24 mesi. 'Pseudo' perché la definizione era quella di "servizio senz'armi", svolto all'interno e sotto la giurisdizione delle istituzioni militari. Questa opzione era fortemente osteggiata dai militari e quei pochi ai quali veniva garantita, in base a motivi religiosi o morali, erano mandati per due anni nei luoghi montani più remoti. Da qui nasce la richiesta di riforma dello YUCOM, supportata da 30.000 firme di cittadini, raccolte in 14 città serbe, presentata nel dicembre 2001. Il nucleo della rivendicazione riguardava il riconoscimento dell'obiezione di coscienza come diritto umano fondamentale, l'equiparazione a 7 mesi di durata per il servizio civile e militare, lo svolgimento del servizio civile nel luogo di residenza e, soprattutto, presso istituzioni civili e sociali (organizzazioni non governative e umanitarie) anziché come servizio militare senz'armi. La proposta è stata rifiutata dal parlamento e dal governo jugoslavo.
Ma data la pressione dell'opinione pubblica, e nonostante le resistenze dell'apparato militare, sempre in dicembre, è stata approvata la riduzione della durata del servizio militare da 12 a 9 mesi. Il servizio civile avrebbe dovuto essere portato da 24 a 18 mesi, ma, grazie alla continua pressione di gruppi di attivisti serbi e stranieri (a questo proposito, ricordiamo che nel settembre 2001 l'EBCO, European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, ha organizzato proprio a Belgrado un seminario sull'obiezione di coscienza nei Balcani, al fine di supportare le istanze della società civile pacifista locale), è stato ridotto a 13. Nessun altro cambiamento è stato legiferato, a causa dei diversi punti di vista all'interno della coalizione al governo. Non è stato reso pubblico su quali questioni vi siano divergenze.
Presumibilmente, il servizio civile sarà consentito a chi si dichiara obiettore di coscienza per ragioni morali e sarà svolto al di fuori delle istituzioni militari (fonte: Radio B92, Dicembre 2001). La possibilità di pagare per evitare di prestare servizio di leva, più volte menzionata negli ultimi mesi, è stata rifiutata come 'incostituzionale'. Alcune fonti riportano poi che il limite d'età per essere reclutati sarà elevato dagli attuali 27 a 30 anni di età, ma l'attendibilità di questa informazione sarà verificata quando la proposta di legge tornerà in Parlamento, nella prima metà del 2002.
In questo quadro, non bisogna però dimenticare gli esiti di un opinion poll condotto dall'Agency Strategic Marketing, effettuato intervistando 1537 cittadini serbi adulti, secondo cui, da dicembre 2000 a dicembre 2001, la percentuale di coloro i quali pensano che la Serbia debba proteggere i propri interessi entrando nella Nato è scesa dal 14 al 7 %, mentre il 26%, contro il 17% di un anno prima, ritiene importante che la Serbia abbia un forte esercito.
In apparenza non molto sembra cambiato nell'esercito jugoslavo, che rimane l'istituzione più chiusa e riottosa al cambiamento in Serbia. Ma la sua apertura e trasformazione sembra inevitabile nei mesi e negli anni a venire. La nuova legge, in attesa di esame quest'anno, farà chiarezza su molte cose.

Vedi anche:

Esercito Jugoslavo

www.yucom.org.yu

EBCO

Radio B92

Le ONG locali nel Sud della Serbia

22/11/2001 -  Mihailo Antović Nis

Il nostro corrispondente da Nis (Serbia meridionale) ci offre un quadro esplicativo sulle organizzazioni non governative locali.

I media in Serbia

21/11/2001 -  Mihailo Antović

Mihailo Antovic ripercorre la storia dei media in Serbia nell'ultimo decennio, evidenziando difficoltà che i mezzi di informazione hanno riscontrato nel dire la verità all'opinione pubblica. Testo in inglese.

L'ambiente in Serbia

07/11/2001 -  Mihailo Antović

Un'interessante panoramica sulla situazione ambientale in Serbia, con particolare riguardo ai disastri ambientali provocati dai bombardamenti della NATO nel 1999. Testo in lingua inglese.

American Tragedy - Impact on Serbia

18/09/2001 -  Mihailo Antović Nis

The horrendous terrorist attacks in the USA have made their impact on the situation in Serbia, as well.
- There has been no information so far on any panic among American citizens or overt fear for the American objects on the Serbian territory. There was a meeting of the highest Yugoslav officials Tuesday evening local time, after which Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic stated Yugoslav authorities were on a state of alert, and additional security forces would start protecting the American Embassy and all the American officials in Yugoslavia immediately. Precaution measures included private objects of American citizens currently in Yugoslavia, and embassies of other Western countries, as well. In Kosovo, too, American citizens and especially soldiers have been warned of possible terrorist attacks, and most have been ordered to return to secure locations, including bases such as Bondsteel. Yugoslav Deputy Ambassador to the US, Ivan Zivkovic, stated that, according to his information, no Yugoslav citizens or officials currently in the US had been hurt in the attacks. He also said the Embassy issued an official warning to Yugoslav citizens to avoid any federal buildings in the American capital for fear of new attacks. Zivkovic confirmed many Yugoslavs from the United States had called the Embassy to express their disgust at the event.

The local reactions are, however, mixed. Politicians, including president Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Djindjic were unanimous in condemning the act of violence and offering words of comfort to the American people. Premier Djindjic also warned of the "alarming globalization of conflicts, in which events in distant countries, such as the Middle East, can bring about disaster practically in any part of the world in no time." Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic cut short his visit to Tunisia to return to Belgrade and meet President Kostunica. He warned the Serbian population to "try to calm their emotions and share the sorrow with the American nation and the entire world today." The hint was at the 'it-serves-them-right' or 'let-them-have-some-of-their-own-medicine' attitude to America, still present in many locals. The virus did not miss some opposition officials, either. Milosevic's Socialist Party representatives condemned the act, adding, however, "this was partly a consequence of America's turning a blind eye to terrorism all over the world, and sometimes its open support to terrorists, including places such as Kosovo and Macedonia". Hardline Serbian Radicals gave no official reactions, apart from their leader's occasional hints on the local Nis TV Belle Amie last night that 'America is the one to really blame, due to its constant policy of bullying around all over the world.'

The reactions on the street were similar, at least in the beginning. At first, although many people felt pangs of consciousness, knowing that those who got killed were nothing more but innocent civilians, not in the least responsible for America's global policies, many felt this was necessary to bring America back to earth, and to show its citizens "what it is like to see the symbols of your country being torn down by madmen." The common comparison was the one with the TV tower on the Avala mountain, on the outskirts of Belgrade, once the prime symbol of the Serbian capital, destroyed by NATO bombs in 1999. Some claimed no one expected America would be humiliated as much as Serbia was just two years ago. However, after the initial urge for retaliation, Serbs calmed down (as usual). The images of innocent people killed or hurt downtown New York, with the stories of people jumping out through the windows in panic, made them really sympathize with ordinary Americans this time, although there is still no love lost of official American policy.
Any analyses offered so far aimed at global consequences. Possible American reactions have been examined, and there have also been hints this would be 'a landmark in international relations unseen in the last 100 years.' As for Yugoslavia's position, the only reaction was given by Serbian Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic, who claimed this would open up a way to a "visible recession" in the United States, which would then influence US's partners, including Europe, and therefore even we here might feel some economic consequences of this act. Other politicians, however, only gave general anti-terrorism statements, rarely failing to remind the public of the problems with Albanian terrorism in Serbia.

Ricerca del G17+: per i serbi la condizione economica peggiora

13/09/2001 -  Mihailo Antović

A quasi un anno dal nuovo governo in Serbia, i sentimenti della popolazione locale sono di un peggioramento delle proprie condizioni di vita anziché di un miglioramento. E ciò non è poi così paradossale, se pensiamo alla gestione politica dei posti di lavoro avuta dal regime di Milosevic, ai prezzi politici dei beni di prima necessità, etc... Oggi la popolazione serba valuta la propria situazione economica, in un scala da 1 a 5, a malapena di 2.27, per cui il 58 % del campione selezionato considera la propria posizione difficile o addirittura molto difficile. La ricerca è stata fatta da NGO G17+ (del quale alcuni rappresentanti sono membri del governo Federale e Serbo) e ha preso in considerazione il territorio della Serbia, della Voivodina e la città di Belgrado (il campione comprendeva 2006 famiglie). I politici dovrebbero essere preoccupati, Branko Milanovic, esperto della Banca Mondiale e uno dei promotori della ricerca, ha detto:"il 40% della popolazione pensa che la loro condizione si sia deteriorata negli ultimi sei mesi, mentre il 50% pensa che la situazione è la stessa che esisteva durante il regime precedente." Finora il 25% crede che il precedente regime fosse esattamente lo stesso da incolpare per la situazione attuale, ma il numero di quelli che ugualmente incolpano il presente governo è del 40% e sta aumentando. Quando si chiede quanto dovrebbero essere pagati mensilmente per il loro lavoro, il 50% risponde due volte di più e il 29% persino tre volte di più del loro attuale salario. La paura della privatizzazione è ancora forte in più del 90% dei soggetti. Più del 60% dei partecipanti, comunque, crede che il governo dovrebbe procedere a qualsiasi costo nella realizzazione delle riforme, in modo tale da garantire abbastanza presto benefici reali a tutta la popolazione.

Serbia: la povertà non è un brutto ricordo

05/09/2001 -  Mihailo Antović Nis

Dopo qualche tempo di inattività per mancanze di fondi, la mensa per poveri della Croce Rossa di Nis riaprirà i battenti. In passato questa mensa preparava pasti per 2000 cittadini in situazioni di estrema, ma con la nuova apertura - prevista per il 1° ottobre prossimo - si aggiungerà alla lista un altro migliaio di persone. "Inizialmente, tutte le spese verranno coperte dalla Croce Rossa" ha dichiarato Stojan Prokopovic - portavoce dell'organizzazione - "ma nel frattempo cercheremo il supporto di altri donatori, che siano disposti a coprire una parte delle spese fisse - soprattutto i costi di energia elettrica - e l'acquisto di alcuni generi alimentari di base necessari alla preparazione dei pasti". Prokopovic ha anche annunciato che in futuro la Croce Rossa vorrebbe anche avviare un servizio di mensa dietro pagamento di prezzi popolari rivolto a tutti i cittadini di Nis, in modo da assicurare il servizio gratuito a coloro che non alcuna possibilità economica.
La situazione allarmante, emerge anche dai dati resi ufficiali dagli esperti del Gruppo G17+ - tra i quali vi sono anche personaggi che fanno parte del Governo Serbo e Federale - relativi ad una ricerca effettuata a Belgrado e in aree della Serbia e della Vojvodina, su di un campione di circa 2000 famiglie.Come ha sottolineato Branko Milanovic - esperto delle Banca Mondiale e promotore della ricerca - i politici dovrebbero seriamente preoccuparsi dei dati emersi, considerato che "il 40% delle famiglie ha dichiarato che negli ultimi sei mesi le proprie condizioni di vita sono peggiorate, mentre il 50% ha la sensazione che non sia cambiato nulla rispetto alla situazione in cui vivevano nel precedente regime". Inoltre solo il 25% degli intervistati ritiene che la responsabilità della situazione attuale è del precedente regime mentre ben il 40% ne addossa la colpa al governo attuale, ma è emerge un alto livello di insoddisfazione anche dalle risposte date rispetto agli aumenti salariali considerati "minimi". Il 50% ha risposto che per vivere avrebbe la necessità di vedere il proprio salario mensile aumentato del doppio, e il 29% di almeno tre volte l'attuale mensilità percepita. (Glas Javnosti, 1 settembre).

Summar time in Serbia and Montenegro - 1° parte

15/08/2001 -  Mihailo Antović

Global warming seems to have had a double impact on Serbia in the recent years. On one hand temperatures have literally risen in the previous five years so much that the assumption is that the until-now moderate climate throughout Serbia is to become Mediterranean in a couple of years. Additionally, the heated political climate, filled with wars, political instability and poverty has made life around here almost unbearable for most of the population. Vacation - a rather normal, and throughout the year much anticipated event in any stable part of the world - only brings about more nightmares to many Serbs.

Roma people in south Serbia

24/07/2001 -  Mihailo Antović Nis

It is today three years since Mr. Sait Balic, known as 'baro manush', which in Romany means 'a great man', died. Mr. Balic was the most famous Roma person in Nis, the man who fought for the rights of Roma people for almost 3 decades, and he was also the President of World Roma Congress. In the seventies and eighties, Nis (which hosts one of the largest Roma populations in the entire former Yugoslavia, about 30,000 people altogether), became a centre of Roma life: it hosted the first (and unique) manifestation known as 'The Meetings of Roma of Serbia" (still active), and it organized the first Roma professional organization known as "Pride". Thanks to Mr. Balic's efforts, in the eighties the first Roma kindergarten was also founded in Nis. But during the life of this great man, the rights of Roma were largely neglected, partly because of the lack of care of Serbian population, and partly because of the attitude of Roma themselves.
Nowadays, at least officially, the situation is slightly better. Romany technically have the same rights as the rest of the population. They are educated in the same schools as the others. They have their political parties, NGOs and regular participation in the media. Until recently, there was a TV show on the local Nis Television every Sunday known as 'Akaja Rat Si Romani', sponsored by the Fund for Open Society and devoted to Roma people exclusively. In the last six months, a radio station in Romany language has been active in Nis. Mr. Balic's son, Osman, has followed his father's footsteps: he is today probably the most active Roma politician in Serbia, currently at the position of Assistant to the Republic Minister of National Minorities, probably the first time in the Serbian history that a Roma person occupies a relatively important political position.

It is the ordinary man on the street and his attitudes, however, that are ultimately relevant when assessing Roma position. Apart from minority militant groups, such as skinheads (virtually nonexistent in Nis, but pretty active in Belgrade and Vojvodina), who often attack Roma people in the streets, excessive physical violence against the Roma is rare. But, there is a general undertone among the Serbs which shows that nobody takes the Roma very seriously. They are seen as petty thieves and smugglers, average musicians or simple labour force, and this conception is enhanced by the fact that in reality they seldom take any upper positions in the society. Misconceptions are sometimes all-present. For example, popular Roma jokes often describe them as 'dirty', which is not only racist but also physically untrue, since their worldview implies the cult of purity, both spiritual and physical, unknown to most Serbs. Needless to say, any mix between the two populations is rare, which is shown by a recent poll where the percentage of Serbs willing to marry a Roma was 0 (strangely, knowing the situation, even Albanians were more suitable prospective marital partners, although that figure was also very low).
The Roma, on the other hand, do not generally do much to improve their position. Many seem to be satisfied with living in semi-ghettos (residential areas known as 'Gypsy-Towns'), sometimes in very harsh conditions. Their education often stops after primary schools, they usually get married early and have a lot of children, whom they cannot fully support, so they are themselves married young, and so on. Crime rates among the Roma are very high, although their offences are usually minor. Their political life, apart from some NGO activity in the recent years, is very modest. In the middle of the 'cast your vote, participate in the elections' campaign last autumn, a large part of which was aimed at the Roma, posters put up in Roma-town in Nis contained an additional inscription: "Whoever tears the posters, let his mother die soon!" - which aimed at the traditional superstition of the Roma, and seemed to be the only way for the posters to stay in one piece and communicate their message. In Vranjska Banja, a spa near Vranje, south Serbia, almost exclusively inhabited by Roma people, almost the entire population of age has joined the currently ruling Democratic Party of prime minister Djindjic. The explanation to this sudden interest in political life came after a local party official, also a Roma person, boasted in front of the foreign journalists that "the Roma are always with those in power, which today means Democratic Party, and that everybody will join. Those who do not, will be 'located'". Someone might call this a new reading of democracy.

However, the funny stories of the local Roma people and their clumsiness when they are to somehow integrate into society are replaced by very grim stories of Roma IDPs from Kosovo. While ethnic Serb IDPs had somewhere to go to, or at least were given some attention, the Roma were left to wander on their own. No one was willing to accept them (in Nis there was one (only one!) family ready to accept Roma population). There was virtually no organized care for the Roma once they crossed the administrative Kosovo border. On the other hand, it would be fair to notice that Roma NGOs, in spite of such a neglect of their compatriots, always make programmes which help all IDPs, irrespective of their ethnicity.

The Roma from Kosovo were put up in some camps where conditions were generally worse than those camps hosting Serbs. There is a large camp known as Salvatore in Bujanovac. From June 1999 to June 2000 the Roma there were put up in tents. Only last summer were they allowed containers donated by the Japanese government. The most terrible story was the one from Kursumlija, in the southwest, were a number of families settled downtown, in the open air, under the bridge. Some had to survive through the winter in unfinished buildings with no windows, no heating, and bad roofs - such as the Cultural Centre building in Kursumlija. In Kragujevac, their situation was slightly better - they were allowed to enter small bungalows with joint kitchen and toilet, shared by eight families. There are some situations where the Roma are settled within Kosovo, also as IDPs: such is the case in the camp in Plementina, a virtual ghetto a few miles from home, where there are about 700 IDPs (mostly Roma, with some Kosovo Serbs and a couple of Serbian families earlier settled from Krajina, Croatia). They are taken care of by the Kosovo branch of ICS.
It is rather difficult to work with Roma population and most NGOs avoid this activity. Repatriation programs still do not exist, and integration is almost impossible. The social habits of many are extremely low, so they are usually taught the most basic things by NGO activists: literacy, basic hygiene (for which they often get small packages with soap and toiletry weekly) etc. Some are trained in workshops, where they choose activity according to their wishes: they are taught some English, music, rap, folklore, even karate - virtually anything to get them socialized as much as possible. ECHO and ICS have started up the project "Evropako Rom" (European Roma), which consists of making the Roma population, especially the youth, active in preparing their own magazine. It is published every two months, and it covers the topics in Roma legends, history, culture, but it also offers some news and interviews.

The overall situation of the Roma, however, remains grim. Generally treated with disrespect, not well organized and not determined to fight, they have remained on the fringes of society for centuries. Among them, those displaced from Kosovo have probably generally been through the most humiliation and neglect of all ethnic groups since the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Privatisation - The Major Stumbling Block So Far

03/07/2001 -  Mihailo Antović Nis

The sudden rush about extraditing the former president Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal seems to have given another tumult to the political situation in Serbia. Its political, rhetorical, historical and (pseudo) patriotic consequences have unfortunately out-powered the real reason for the last-minute act: we need (a lot of) money, and we need it badly.
The present economic situation in the country is, speaking in terms of European standards, catastrophic. The first thing a foreign visitor would notice upon entering Serbia are the vehicles on the road - the average age of a Serbian car is 15 years. Scarce new Audis and BMWs are there just to remind us we are actually not in the eighties, and that there is a small minority who did quite well during the former regime. Black-market clothing, toiletries with fake labels, unreasonably cheap food and electricity and pirated property (software, movies, music etc.) have kept the population from bursting out in anger for years. However, in the changed conditions after October 2000, the intention to join the European integration processes means we will be forced to accept two principles: the rule of law and market economy. As for the first principle, courts are regaining their authority pretty slowly, although there is substantial consent within the population that they should pay taxes, respect regulations and cease with any illegal or semi-legal activities which helped them survive during the former period. Market economy, however, begins with privatisation.

Privatisation law is currently being discussed in the parliament. It looks like a compromise between what is called here "shock therapy" (meaning - fire everybody you have to, sell state property quickly and then think what to do once you have the money) and status quo from the Milosevic era, known as "buddy privatisation" (meaning - restricted for the 'buddies', i.e. the chosen loyal businessmen who would split up all the property and snatch the profit). As all the Milosevic trademarks, "buddy privatisation" was accompanied by a seductive cover story: no factories would become majority owned by foreigners, which means 51% (or more) would become the property of the workers, since they would all get the initial equal share of the stocks once the privatisation process began. Many ill-informed workers, and even some trade unions, bought this story, which reminded them of the nostalgic years of the former Yugoslavia when the property was 'common' (as they believed, theirs). Of course, the story was just a fairy tale: in reality, most companies were not privatised at all, since Milosevic's cronies were waiting for them to deteriorate as much as possible so that they could be bought off at ridiculous prices in the end. Those that got privatised were in most cases bought by their former state-appointed executives and their next of kin. True, many workers were given stocks - but hardly any of them knew what those pieces of paper actually meant, and they were often willing to sell them to their 'kind' executives at the prices which to them seemed gigantic (a couple of grand) at the time their monthly salaries equalled 20 DEM or even less. Now it is too late to ask for the stocks back.
The new Government has therefore decided to stop this process and initiate a new type of privatisation - tender-based sell-out to foreign companies (up to 70% of the firms privatised). Their main argument is, paradoxically, historical: since Serbia is ten years late compared with the rest of the transition countries, it can at least take advantage of the historical perspective and not repeat the mistakes associated with some of those countries. One of the mistakes, as claimed by the Cabinet, is giving out free stocks to the workers.
Since the opposition has been using this fact to accuse the government of unfairness and even open brutality to the workers' rights, finance minister Djelic and privatisation minister Vlahovic have been at pains lately to explain to Serbian workers that it would be much better for them to become ordinary, but well-paid labour force in foreign-owned stable factories than 'owners' of non-existent property or, even worse, shareholders of factories up to their ears in debt. But the rhetoric of the opposition in the parliament seems to have alarmed the workers of their rights, and many trade unions are unwilling to comply with the total sell-out of the factories to foreign investors.
There is yet another problem behind the grain. Foreign businessmen care about profit, and profit only, regardless of their mild rhetoric assuring the workers they will all be taken care of. This means many will have to be fired. Large industrial complexes, based mostly in Nis (Electronic and Machine Industries, with smaller factories almost 40,000 workers altogether - with their families almost a half of the city population) and in Kragujevac (with Zastava automobile plant, hosting 11,500 workers). With no investment over the last 10 years, with no former Yugoslav or Soviet markets, these plants have been decaying for years. Their workers have got used to the minimal wages, amounting to 10-30 DEM a month, fictitious job positions (since they don't really work at all) and spending most of their spare time either selling smuggled clothing garments at the local flea market or ploughing their village estate and selling food in town. Their official salaries are indeed humiliating, but they believe they are at least socially secure, since they are officially employed, so no one can deny them their pension. Those who work hardly do what they are qualified for - the horrid reality has made the Machine Industry in Nis use one of its formerly most distinguished facilities for growing mushrooms! Similar stories are heard all over the country.

The Government has been trying to convince the workers that "reducing the labour force" does not mean that they are all automatically fired, but that there would be pre-qualification programmes and guaranteed social aid for the expenses. But the figures are unforgiving: out of 11,500 people, only 4,500 will be kept in the Zastava automobile plant. The rest will not be officially fired, but "pre-qualified" - though no one really knows how frightening this word sounds to a 55-year-old worker who has been assembling cars for the last 35 years. No wonder the trade unions of the factory yesterday (25 june) announced a new strike, although they seemed to have reached an agreement with the Government only five days before. On the other hand, the Government is rushing to extradite Milosevic and others, hoping it would get about $1 billion at the Donor's Conference Friday, and use the money obtained primarily for stifling expected social blows during the autumn.

Finally, some blows have come already. Although "shock therapy" is too tough a phrase, the Government has already carried out some unpopular decisions, such as allowing the prices of food, petrol and electricity to go up. The remaining unpleasant pill to be swallowed is the price of stable and mobile telephony, which was to rise for 60%, but the figure allowed by the Government yesterday stopped at 35%. Finance minister Djelic said earlier this was an important step for many reasons: first, this convinced the IMF that we were serious about the reform, including its less popular sides, such as allowing reasonable prices of basic articles and services; second, these prices have reached their limit for this year, and they cannot go any higher, whereas salaries are expected to continue (?) growing throughout the year, which means truly better standard of the population.
But the population is anxious. Along with these, other prices are also going up, and average monthly salaries of 150 DEM, even though twice higher than those of the previous year, are simply too low to cover even the most basic expenses.
The Serbian Government is therefore in a very delicate position. The latest polls have shown about 50% of the population still firmly in favour of the reform and the new cabinet. But the underlying message was: "do something that will make us feel at least small benefits of what you are doing, and do it quickly, or else..." Premiere Djindjic and his staff know this, and this is why they are rushing towards the Donor's Conference in Brussels and privatisation law.