Many Serbs see corruption as tool for survival

BELGRADE, Apr 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbs believe corruption has grown sharply under Slobodan Milosevic's rule and many now view it as a necessary tool for survival, an opinion survey showed on Tuesday.

"One in five people had found themselves in a situation where they were asked for a bribe," said sociologist Srecko Mihailovic, who led the team analyzing the results of detailed interviews with 1,619 people from a cross-section of society.

Presenting what it billed as the first such survey, the team said that even many supporters of Milosevic's ruling coalition thought there was a lot of corruption among top officials, a tolerance which explained the lack of detailed moves against it.

Senior officials topped the list of professions seen as most corrupt, although many people cited customs and the health service as the areas where most bribery went on.

"Three fifths of citizens think that we are currently all obliged to give bribes to realize our rights," Mihailovic said.

His fellow-sociologist Stjepan Gredelj went a step further, saying corruption was viewed by many as a way of easing hardship and overcoming social injustice. More than half those surveyed thought it was morally justified to resort to the black market.

"Unsolved social problems have been compensated for through the institution of bribery," Gredelj said.


Of those polled, 91 percent saw corruption as widespread now, compared with just 14 percent who felt the same way about their country 10 years ago, when Milosevic was rising to power.

Asked how they thought the country would look in 10 years time, 21 percent said corruption would still be widespread.

The sociologists said the results were depressing, but not hopeless, noting that just over half rejected bribetaking.

The survey also showed a divergence between the government and people. Only seven percent of those polled echoed Belgrade's stance that war and sanctions were to blame for corruption.

Most blamed the authorities or an individual official, the survey said. It did not name names, and said the fact that many of those surveyed had been reluctant to assess the extent of high level corruption seemed to point to a fear of retribution.

Psychologist Bora Kuzmanovic told Reuters the perception that corruption was widespread should logically help trigger political change, but that for some it increased apathy since they felt the opposition was either involved or helpless.

Milosevic's opponents have campaigned to oust him since NATO launched air strikes last year over his repression of Kosovo's Albanian majority, blaming him for years of conflict, isolation and economic crisis. But the public response has been weak.

"If a citizen feels institutions are incapable of carrying out changes, or he has no trust in them, than this sense of corruption leeds to depression, rather than to some kind of active approach to the matter," Kuzmanovic said.

Original article