Socialist party officials boasts of averting collapse in Serbia after Nato air war

By Philippa Fletcher


BELGRADE (Rtr) - Serbia's ruling Socialist Party boasted yesterday that it had brought the country through the winter without food shortages or major power cuts despite NATO's air war last year.

"Winter has passed and brought only the spring (and not) a Siberian landscape with darkness and hunger ... intended for us by the largest world power with its military arsenal," Deputy Yugoslav Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic said.

"I recall that the flour that is used now comes from the sowing done under bombs, electricity comes from transformers that were destroyed by the largest world power," he said.

International aid organizations had expressed serious concern last year that Serbia would suffer during the winter because of the damage wrought by NATO's 78-day bombing campaign, launched to stop repression of Albanians in Kosovo.

The alliance attacked fuel dumps, refineries, factories, bridges, and roads as well as purely military targets in its bid to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from the province and let in NATO peacekeepers.

The West, which hardened its stance against Milosevic during the bombing and indicted him for war crimes in Kosovo, pledged to maintain economic sanctions and refused any reconstruction aid to Serbia, saying its leader would have to step down first.

A theory that circulated widely in diplomatic circles and among Milosevic's domestic opponents was that a difficult winter would speed his downfall by stirring popular discontent.

Opponents predicted hyperinflation as the government printed money to pay pensions and the army and to fund reconstruction.

But by keeping the economy under the tight, centralized control it had imposed during the air strikes and calling in favors from businessmen who had made fortunes in previous years, the government managed to avert a collapse.

A leading dissident economist said yesterday that hyperinflation did not threaten, despite the fact that the dinar currency has weakened sharply and that he estimates inflation is running at 5 percent to 10 percent a month.

"When people on the outside look at our economy they conclude that an economic collapse is inevitable. We who live here, however, see things a little differently," Miroljub Labus told independent Belgrade radio B-292.

Original article