As Sanctions Bite in Yugoslavia, Humiliation Breeds Anger Toward West
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The shadow of a cold and hard winter is inching toward Yugoslavia, once a federation of six republics but now consisting only of a reviled Serbia and little Montenegro.
People still lounge in sidewalk cafes in Belgrade, shop in well-stocked stores, fish in the Danube River.
But the veneer covering their inner tensions is wearing thinner as the days grow shorter and U.N. economic sanctions imposed on May 30 begin to bite.
Even a first-time visitor cannot help but notice the signs of crisis - gas lines that stretch for miles, sparse traffic on the capital’s broad boulevards, bus stops so crowded the sidewalks are blocked.
The humiliation felt in a society now regarded by much of the world as a pariah translates into scorn and contempt for the West and anyone perceived as representing it.
Many believe the sanctions are unjust because the country’s leaders - those blamed by the world for the warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina and earlier in Croatia - will not be hurt personally.
Belgrade businessman Vojin Nikolic complains, ″It is the executing of political force, against me, for example, and I have nothing to do with it.″ ″Sanctions are inhumane, since they are affecting ordinary people - the people of Serbia - who are not guilty,″ says taxi driver Jovan Djordjevic.
The United Nations imposed the sanctions to punish Yugoslavia for fomenting warfare in neighboring Bosnia.
Diplomats and economic experts say they could wreck the economy.
Although evidence exists of some sanction violations, whatever trickles across the borders is nowhere near enough to offset the hyperinflation and economic devastation set off by a war that has torn Yugoslavia apart.
One day recently, only three filling stations were open in all of Belgrade, a city of 2 million people.
Newspapers carry warnings that even ambulances may soon be short of fuel, and that the government may ban the sale of fuel for private cars altogether.
An article in the Politika daily described Sunday how a baby was rented out so people could jump the queue for next month’s gasoline ration coupons. It captured an uncomfortable sense of loathing that has gripped many.
″Nobody smiled at the baby, and it was obvious they hated it. They hated the young man (who carried it), too, and they hated their hatred, which made them hard and numb,″ the article said.
Many joke humorlessly that the sanctions do them a favor, forcing them to get exercise walking or riding bicycles instead of driving.
But there is growing suspicion of Western reporters, and reluctance to talk about the embargo’s effects. Many wave off questions with dismissive gestures or ask why they should give the West a chance to delight in their suffering.
Not everyone feels unfairly persecuted.
″These sanctions are justifed,″ said Aleksandra Simic, heading home with her shopping. She said people ″are afraid of Belgrade being bombarded″ if the West resorts to military force.
″They don’t realize this is war already. ... I’m ashamed to be a Serb.″
In a country largely self-sufficient in food, supermarkets remain well- stocked. No serious shortage of consumer goods is apparent, although it is hard to find some imported items like Italian cosmetics, Hungarian salami, French cheese, German beer.
The fuel shortage and the ban on exports, mainly raw materials and semi- finished goods, are likely to hurt the economy most.
Exports plummeted more than 35 percent in the first seven months of this year compared to 1991. In July, they were down 75 percent from July 1991.
Factories are becoming disabled without raw materials or spare parts. Workers are being layed off or sent on unscheduled holidays.
Production plunged nearly 30 percent in July from June, the first full month under sanctions.
″The sanctions are ruining Serbia,″ said Vladeta Jankovic, spokesman of the opposition coalition DEPOS. ″It’s like running a car that’s leaking oil. You can go for a few miles, but the car will be ruined.
″That’s what’s happening to us. Even when the sanctions are over, we will need decades to recover.″