BELGRADE: It is widely believed that if only Slobodan Milosevic were removed from power, Serbia would be set on a path of renewal. But reality here is more complex and more troubling. If Serbia is to avoid a humanitarian disaster this winter, all of its politicians must put ambition aside so that the country can begin to rebuild.
Even before the disaster of Kosovo, Serbia was an economic basket case. Key economic reforms that transformed much of postcommunist Europe -- macro-economic stabilization, freeing prices and foreign trade, privatization -- were scorned in order to sustain an authoritarian regime. Instead of integrating Serbia into the international community and stopping the rot in the country's living standards, the regime opted to cow its people into submission through high inflation, a brutal black market economy, and tolerance of massive corruption.
NATO's bombing was the coup de grace for an economy dying on its feet. So stark are conditions now that the very survival of the nation is at stake. Bomb damage has been estimated at $30 billion, triple this year's GDP. Industrial production will drop this year to one fifth of its value in 1989, while GDP per capita will be only $975, a third of its value ten years ago. One out of every two people in Serbia are unemployed. Without international help, and if our country "relies on our own resources" to rebuild, which is the stated policy of the regime, it will take between 40 and 80 years for Serbia to return to the economic level it enjoyed when President Milosevic first took power a decade ago.
Serbia's people recognize that without reintegration into the world community reconstruction is impossible. Continued isolation will mean generations of misery. The truth is that the regime knows this, too, but seems to want the nation to go down with it.
Although the government realizes that there is no money for reconstruction at home and that its accounts abroad are frozen, it tries to buy time by declaring its intention to reform and cooperate with the world, and by using pathetic marketing ploys such as glamorous opening ceremonies for pontoon bridges (one was washed away the next day), ferry-ports, and other quick-fix rebuilding jobs. Of course, everyone is aware that the incumbent government could not, even if it wished, cooperate with the world since not a single member of it can obtain a visa to travel. All that the politicians indicted by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal may now do is run a prison economy, which is what they are doing.
Discontent is mounting. Protests and rallies increase in size and frequency. Serbia could witness one of two scenarios before year's end: (1) a spontaneous, large scale revolt whose outcome and consequences (think of the bloodshed in Bucharest in December, 1989 or the Tien An Mien massacre) are uncertain or (2) the peaceful demise of the Milosevic regime.
The second scenario envisions change through democratic elections. But fair elections in Serbia are currently impossible, not only because the regime holds all the media cards and controls the election process, but because the country is in such ruin that no party program could realistically be disseminated. In any case, elections could not be organized in time to avoid a humanitarian disaster this winter.
That is why Group 17 – an organization of leading economists and social scientists who aim to create in Serbia a market economy and open and democratic society under the rule of law – is proposing a "Serbian Stability Pact" as a peaceful and fast solution to end the crisis. The "Serbian Stability Pact" is based on the judgement that all Serbia's political protagonists must take responsibility in the current crisis. Thus, the plan, calls for the following:
* A constitutional means to remove Mr. Milosevic from power, with the ruling party renouncing its executive power for a period of one year;
* All opposition parties will renounce their aspirations to power for the same period and their leaders will refrain from joining transitional forms of government;
* A transitional government of technocrats will be formed (the most serious candidate to head this government is Dragoslav Avramovic, who enjoys wide popular support), its members pledging not to run in the elections to follow their one-year term, nor will this transitional government support any single political party that might run;
* Radical economic reform.
Since its creation on July 18th, the "Serbian Stability Pact" has gained the backing of opposition parties and groups, previously divided -- among them Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Party and Zoran Djinjic of the Allliance for Change -- as well as the strong support of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the only institution in Serbia with its credibility intact, it having condemned the crimes committed in Kosovo, the patriarch having called for the resignation of President Milosovic. Like the Roman Catholic Church in the years of Solidarity's struggle in the 1980s, the Serbian Orthodox Church is widely seen as a surrogate for our lost national identity. Its participation in the Stability Pact provides additional legitimacy and a guarantee for a peaceful transition.
On August 19th, many thousands of Serbs will gather in front of the Federal Parliament in Belgrade to demonstrate their determination to effect political change peacefully. All the leading opposition parties, whose coming together seemed unlikely only a few weeks ago, will participate.
By rallying behind this domestic "Stability Pact" Serbia can proclaim its intention to make itself a viable candidate for partnership in implementing the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe that the leaders of the world community initiated in Sarajevo a few weeks ago. In an incredibly short period of time the Serbian Stability Pact has united more political protagonists than any previous democratic movement in Serbia since the break-up of Yugoslavia. Our hope must be that, beginning on August 19th, the voice of reason will begin to prevail in Serbia, and that a transitional government can begin to rebuild the country in genuine freedom and democracy.