Skip to main content
March 2, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 480
The Destiny of Reforms

Why is the Government Sitting on the Fence

by Misa Brkic

Vice-president of the Serbian Government for Economy was almost kidnapped by Albanian extremists in the village of Lucane, while he was trying to solve an inter-ethnic problem in the Presevo valley… Minister of Religions in the Republic Government recently said that religious studies would soon be inaugurated in schools… Ministers of Justice and Police are running round the streets of Belgrade in order to arrest the remaining armed members of the previous regime… And the most pricey player brought from the (financial) champion league – Louis Figo of Djindjic’s team – Bozidar Djelic was sent to ‘Bozdarevac’ to explain the amateurs – post office workers, teachers, nurses and cleaners – that the stars are false and that he had no money to cover their financial needs…

Whoever observes what members of Djindjic’s team are currently doing, he can easily conceive a map of an antireform lobby, which is likely to be detrimental to the process of transition in the following days, the process that was regarded, at least rhetorically, as vital by the new political establishment in Serbia. Albanian extremists in Kosovo and around the municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac, orthodox fundamentalists, the mafia, the remaining socialist staff in state-run firms and the orthodox working class, etc. – there is another explosive bunch of bombs and cannon shots, which can easily cause serious incidents and impede the announced derby between Serbia and the Market. Djindjic, as the chief manager, in charge of conducting the process of Serbian transition, has little time left to make use of exclusively reform rhetoric. Experts of the Deutsche Bank, which is an important player in the circles of international investments, already warns Djindjic’s team that the clock is ticking very fast and that it is a high time to start implementing the promised economic reforms. Each serious government, which built its pre-election campaign upon the foundations of the market, privatisation and a liberal concept of economic organisation of the country, would have to pose a question – how is it that managers of big foreign companies have not yet made reservations of apartments in Belgrade hotels, and why haven’t all those powerful world investing companies already bought attractive business premises in the centre of Belgrade? The unstable political milieu, referring to the crisis in the south of Serbia and the unbalanced relations between Serbia and Montenegro, is a bad excuse for such hesitation of the Serbian Government to put an end to the decomposed socialist model of governing the economy. It cannot be said that this government’s ministers, particularly those in charge of economy, are lacking intelligence or experience. Why is it that the economic reforms and new laws are so behind schedule?

Back in 1997, i.e. at the time of Milosevic’s reign, a group of independent economic experts founded a non-governmental organisation – Group 17, advocating a ‘Program of radical economic reforms’. A few of the most influential individuals from that group now occupy the posts in the state administration or, at least, indirectly influence the creation of the official politics. In autumn 1997, they already drew attention to several impediments that are likely to occur and slow down the stable economic growth, which is supposed to be the result of radical economic reforms. In the first place, they mentioned manipulation of the publicity, the aim of which is to create a false lack of consensus on a necessity of fast and integrating economic measures. Their second argument was the retaining of rents in a relatively closed economy, which facilitates a fast amassing of wealth by the (new) political establishment. The third remark referred to the third impediment – the intentional projecting of the perspective of social insecurity of the citizens. And, finally, the postponement of the reforms is recognisable despite the not very fast development of the market of capital.

Only the unsighted party devotees would not notice that the radical critique of the economic reality of Milosevic’s regime from 1997, does not, at least partially, correspond to the short practice of the new authorities. The independent observers, who had a chance to approach the DOS (the Democratic Opposition of Serbia) officials and observe them from close up, could notice the artificially caused lack of consensus within the ruling nomenclature, the retaining of profitable businesses, as well as the division of new ‘deals’ among the lower echelons within ‘my’ party. And, finally, there are those who walk around Serbia and frighten the people by prophesying even more terrifying social explosions. What to comment on the development of the capital? If that were the only thing to be taken into account, Serbia would then be in the same company with Turkmenistan.

The time is passing by so quickly. When Djindjic’s Government brings all thieves and war criminal before the face of justice, when its ministers convince Albanian extremists and Americans to respect the territorial integrity of Serbia and the FRY, and when they show their teeth to the so-called working class – it may be too late and the government may turn out to be defensive. In a year’s time, the citizens will be confronted with the same amount of money in their wallets, and they will start reminding this regime of their pre-election promises.

Prime Minister Djindjic and his closest associates have the greatest parliamentary majority and power to enforce almost everything they promised and conceived so far – thanks to what they were actually given a chance by the citizens to enjoy their mandates and conduct those changes. They are no longer loaded by the burden of the past, since they are now sovereign rulers of both political and economic scenes in Serbia. That implies the implementation of urgent laws, which are supposed to create such economic conditions that exist in the countries of the European Union. The performance of ‘short-term measures’ in economy and the idea of subsidising the huge state business systems ‘until they are stable so that we can sell them at a better price’ is a sign of definitive dominance of an anti-reformist lobby. If Djindjic really wants to put those reforms in practice, then he should not send his ‘golden boy’ Djelic to mumble before the disappointed post-office employees, teachers and nurses (who have until recently kept their heads properly bent before Milosevic’s violent manipulators), explaining them that the state has no money for their (by the way, unearned) salaries.  Minister of Finances, Bozidar Djelic, is here to wipe out the remaining dirt of the ‘socialists in the human form’. His task is to come out and say – who is not ready to work for the salary as it is, and wants to strike instead, must have in mind that he will lose the job. There are hundreds of thousands of young and capable people registered in the employment bureau, and they cannot wait to be given a job to prove their capabilities. That’s what both Djindjic and Djelic must say, avoiding to be labelled as the ‘working mothers’ or accusing the working class of impeding the realisation of economic reforms in Serbia.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.