Serbian Opposition Fears It's Being Victimized |
By Michael Dobbs
KRAGUJEVAC, Yugoslavia, June 22 If anyone seems deserving of sympathy and assistance, it is Zvonko Zivanovic.
A 37-year-old foreman at the Yugo car assembly plant in this central Serbian town, Zivanovic is mild-mannered and hard-working. He detests Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and has voted against him whenever given the chance. He loves to travel abroad, cares little about Kosovo and devotes most of his energy to providing for his wife and two children. He dreams of the same kind of Yugoslavia that President Clinton says he has in mind: a free and democratic country, part of a united Europe, at peace with itself and its neighbors.
Zivanovic still likes America and Americans despite the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that sent his family scurrying to air raid shelters and destroyed the factory where he has worked for the past 10 years. But he is beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that America does not like him.
Before March 24, when the United States and its NATO allies launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia to force Milosevic to accept an international protectorate in the largely ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, Zivanovic could just about make ends meet. He earned about $800 a month, not much by Western standards but enough to pay for food and clothes for his children and heat for his apartment.
Now that his factory has been reduced to a pile of twisted metal, Zivanovic has to get by on a government stipend of about $180 month and occasional humanitarian handouts. With the unemployment rate in Kragujevac at around 50 percent, it is unlikely he will find another job soon. The chance that the Yugo plant will be rebuilt is equally bleak: The United States and other Western governments say they will not invest a penny in Yugoslavia except for humanitarian aid as long as Milosevic remains in power.
"Our factory was a hotbed of opposition to the regime," Zivanovic said. "Most of us did not support Milosevic in the last election, and we have no reason to feel guilty because of him, but now we are being made to pay for Milosevic."
Zivanovic's story could also be the story of Kragujevac, one of the oldest towns in Serbia Yugoslavia's dominant republic and one of the poorest. In the last municipal elections three years ago, Kragujevac voted for the opposition Together coalition, made up of the moderate Serbian Renewal Movement and the pro-Western Democratic Party. The two parties control 40 seats in the city assembly, compared with 21 held by Milosevic's Socialist Party and one by the extreme nationalist Serbian Radical Party.
Before the war, economic life in Kragujevac revolved around the Zastava Yugo factory, which employed 30,000 workers. A rickety tin can of a car, the Yugo was a joke abroad but a success story in Yugoslavia, at least at first. When the old Yugoslav federation fell apart in 1991, the Yugo's supply and marketing systems also disintegrated, and the factory gradually became an industrial dinosaur.
On April 9 and 12, NATO bombs destroyed it; NATO officials explained that it was hit because it also produced weaponry for the Yugoslav army. Zastava workers insist that weapons production was limited to pistols and hunting rifles. A tour of the factory area today suggested that most of the bombs hit civilian-related equipment, including the main Yugo assembly line, facilities for producing tools and sheet metal, and a power plant that provided heat for Kragujevac
The most urgent priority here now is to get the power plant working again, but that will cost about $4 million, money that Kragujevac does not have. Basic reconstruction of what is left of the factory will cost another $85 million, Zastava officials say.
"It will cost a lot of money just to clear up the rubble," said Milan Beko, chairman of the Zastava board and a former minister of privatization under Milosevic. "This is a question of survival now. Most of the people who worked here have crossed over the edge of poverty."
Beko concedes that the Yugo plant was outdated, and that its destruction by NATO bombs could represent an economic opportunity. If Yugoslavia were eligible for Western credits, a much more efficient factory could rise from the ashes. Before the war, negotiations were underway with Italian automaker Fiat on a joint venture, but those plans have been put on hold indefinitely.
At city hall, officials are preparing for an eventual showdown with Milosevic. Right now, however, they do not feel strong enough to urge their supporters to take to the streets in protest demonstrations that could easily be suppressed by the government.
"We need to get organized," said Deputy Mayor Vlatko Rajkovic, a member of the Democratic Party. "Nothing is likely to happen in the next few weeks. Discontent will be cumulative. It will burst out into the open for some relatively minor reason, just as we saw in 1996." That was when tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Kragujevac, Belgrade and other cities to protest an attempt at electoral fraud by the Milosevic government.
The opposition is pressing for early parliamentary elections, but cannot be sure of winning. An opinion poll published this week showed Milosevic retains the support of a hard core of about 20 percent of the Serbian electorate. That may seem low, but it is twice the level of support for his nearest rival.
In Kragujevac, as elsewhere, the opposition's biggest problem is internal division. Although the Together coalition has managed to hold together in Kragujevac in contrast to Belgrade its leaders are constantly squabbling. Rajkovic complains that he is barred from appearing on municipal television by the mayor, who is a member of the rival Serbian Renewal Movement.
Perhaps the wild card in Kragujevac, as in the rest of the country, is the Serbian refugees who have flooded out of Kosovo over the past two weeks for fear of revenge attacks by the province's ethnic Albanians. About 5,000 Serbs have ended up in Kragujevac; those without relatives in the area are being housed in local schools, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Like the rest of the population, they seem bewildered by the events of the past three months.
During the last national elections, in 1997, most Serbian residents of Kosovo voted for Milosevic, whom they saw as their protector against the province's ethnic Albanians, who outnumbered them 9 to 1. Today, they are confused and resentful. Some say that what happened in Kosovo is all the fault of NATO, which took the side of the "Albanian separatists." Others blame Milosevic.
"We trusted Milosevic, but he betrayed us," said Srecko Petrovic, a farmer who fled to Kragujevac last week from western Kosovo and says he is unlikely to go back. "Now we are left with nothing. I will never vote for him again."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company