Some other Serbia: group G17+

The opposition cannot do without us

Misa Brkic

WED, 28 JUN 2000

Mladjan Dinkic: "Four years ago opposition parties ignored us when we offered them a "Programme of Radical Economic Reforms" boasting that each of them had its own economic programme. Today, that same opposition accepts and signs our programme of the economic reconstruction of Serbia in the post-Milosevic period".

Belgrade - The last time all leaders of the democratic opposition in Serbia have signed a joint document was on January 10, when they informed the public on their plan to act jointly in the future. No one before that, but neither later, managed to make presidents of all opposition parties sign a document. A non-governmental organisation called Group 17 Plus (G17+) succeeded in doing that on June 5, and the document they signed was called "Proposal to the Stability Pact for South-East Europe for Donors' Conference for the Reconstruction of Serbia in the Period After Milosevic". In actual fact, it should be said that only one opposition leader did not sign the mentioned document - President of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), Vuk Draskovic, who didn't think it necessary to even respond to the invitation of G17 Plus to come to talks about that problem.

After months of being challenged, doubted, ignored and bypassed a non-governmental organisation in Serbia managed to impose itself to the political opposition, which mostly rhetorically advocated cooperation with the civil sector. G17 Plus is an expert organisation which rallies independent economists, lawyers, political scientists, writers and artists. Its expert team has prepared an extensive project of the reconstruction of Serbia from practically the first day of victory of democratic opposition at all future elections in Serbia.

To spare the future Serbian Government beating its brains out what to rectify first from all the things that Milosevic's regime has destroyed, experts of G17 Plus have prepared three projects which they are offering to foreign donors. These projects proceed from the confirmed assumption that the international community has earmarked US 4 billion for the reconstruction of Serbia - US 2.3 billion were promised by the European Union and US 1.7 billion by non-European countries (primarily USA).

The first project is planned for the support of macro-economic reforms which implies funds for the macro-economic stabilisation, which includes the covering of deficit in health and education, but also for pension and social welfare systems. The second project concerns reconstruction and modernisation of infrastructure of national importance (international road and railway network, bridges, power generation and distribution industry, gas and oil pipelines), and the third relates to the financial assistance for ecological protection and local and regional infrastructure. Collecting signatures of opposition leaders for this document, the architect and practical realiser of the Group 17 Plus, Mladjan Dinkic (now with the function of Executive Director) had every reason to be satisfied.

On the one hand, he managed to secure political legitimacy for a non-governmental organisation, and on the other, to prove in practice that the Serbian opposition did not have any economic programme until now, while on the third, to impose himself as an unavoidable factor in shaping the post-Milosevic Serbia. If last August (when on the Day of Transfiguration he organised a rally in front of the Federal Assembly and attracted 150 thousand people) anyone chided him for wanting to be a new Serbian Prime Minister, Dinkic secured much more for himself with this move - a position of an independent reviser who will have almost unlimited right of interfering in economic reforms and their implementation when the time comes. Before the group of independent economists G17 Plus appeared on the Serbia's social stage, Dinkic had already had a group of independent economists - G17 which became famous for its proposed Programme of Radical Economic Reforms.

About this project, Dinkic told us that Group 17 came into being during civil protests of 1996/1997 organised because of Milosevic's theft at the local elections: "It was then, that we decided to gather around a group of economists who would prepare a serious programme of reforms. And we made it for the coalition "Together" and presented it to the public. Unfortunately, later on the coalition 'Together" fell apart, but G17 continued its work on reform projects. After the "Programme of Radical Economic Reforms" we did various reform projects for the Governments of Montenegro and the Republic of Srpska. At present the Group includes 25 economist and was named because there were 17 of us in the beginning". And, while four years ago the opposition rejected every offered economic reform, today its representatives are travelling together with the Group G17 to Thessaloniki for a meeting of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe in order to ask for a donors' conference and financial assistance for the project of the reconstruction of Serbia, which was prepared by G17. This change in the opposition's opinion Dinkic explains by its weakening: "...after ten years on the political scene the opposition has lost some of its credibility. Now it needs the support of independent expert teams. This time we have approached it form a different angle - we first talked to them and then publicised what we have agreed on".

"Opposition parties had no programme of work for the local level when they assumed power in towns and that is why some of them disintegrated. Now, the opposition knows that it is not enough to criticise the ruling regime for them to win the elections. It knows full well that the majority of citizens are against the regime, but would like to know what these parties stand for. And the opposition parties did not explain that sufficiently. That is why I think that it is extremely important to maintain a link between an expert non-governmental organisation such as ours and the opposition. For example, the project for the Thessaloniki meeting of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe, is very detailed. The citizens of Serbia will exactly know, e.g. what their salaries will be in the year after the current opposition assumes power".

In the last few months, the expert group literally travelled all over Serbia. We asked our collocutor whether the citizens were aware of the fact that they will have to participate at the next elections as taxpayers, and not members of the "supernal people"? "Yes. After a series of unsuccessful national projects and NATO bombing, we have finally realised that it is not enough to propose economic projects, but to more actively push forward political reforms. We have seen that talking about the economy is not enough for animating citizens, but that projects for reforms in other fields should also be prepared. G17 Plus has rallied around experts from all these fields and not only from Belgrade, but also all major towns in Serbia. The idea being to have people from all over the country exert influence on and help opposition win the elections. Our second aim was, once the economic reforms start, to have experts capable of implementing them in each town. In other words, it is not enough to have only the reform government, but also reform-oriented citizens".

Experts of G17 Plus introduced the local public to important projects "Energy for Democracy", "Asphalt for Democracy", "Schools for Democracy" trying to unite opposition activity of citizens through these projects. In his interview for AIM, Mladjan Dinkic cited the example of Kraljevo: "In the beginning, the Serbian Renewal Movement passively followed our efforts in that town, but later on joined these projects very successfully. These three projects could play the key role in helping the voters choose side at the next elections".

As non-governmental organisation, G17 Plus successfully cooperates with other factors of the Serbian civil society. Firstly, with the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, Centre for the Promotion of Legal Studies, popular movement "Resistance".

In view of the fact that it includes experts of various professions, could G17 Plus prepare projects for the reform of political, legal, educational and information systems? "We are working on that. Together with a group of experts, our member, former justice of the Constitutional Court of Serbia, Slobodan Vucetic, is coordinating and drafting some ten, so to say, political laws which should be adopted in the first 100 days of new government - on elections, local government, judiciary, police, public prosecutor's offices, etc. We shall also have bills on university and information".

Original article