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NATO's Unintended Victim

SOFIA: Life in Bulgaria is now divided into before and after the war over Kosovo. Before, Prime Minister Kostov and his government could boast of successes in undoing the ruinous policies of the previous socialist government. Now, a projected budget surplus has been blown apart by collapsing tourism and trade as surely as the bridges over the Danube. Moreover, the monetary stabilisation brought about by the country's adoption of a Currency Board is also in danger as hard currency reserves are depleted.

With all bridges over the Danube blasted, Bulgarians can now ship to and from Europe only through the Bosporus. What used to be a handy 1000-mile road, rail, and river link through Yugoslavia to Germany - Bulgaria biggest trading partner - now requires a long sea journey from the Black Sea though The Sea of Marmora, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic to the North Sea and the Baltic. No surprise, then, that exports to Europe have collapsed.

Broken bridges on the Danube, however, are not the biggest economic harm. For, actually, there is one bridge left on the lower Danube, at the Bulgarian port city of Rousse - once a buzzing transportation hub but silent in recent years. This is the bridge on the road to Moscow, and activity there is picking up.

Bulgarians have struggled for a decade to keep off that road, both in trade and in foreign policy. Time and again, the country has looked West, time and again, this time violently, the doors to Europe have been slammed in Bulgarian faces. So the lure of Russia begins to be appealing, particularly as, yet again, a painful economic squeeze is approaching through no fault of the people here, and Bulgarians are resentful. A recent IMF/World Bank report predicts that in all countries surrounding Yugoslavia, bar Hungary and possibly Romania, the conflict will cause a 5% decline in annual GDP. Bulgarians fear even worse.