A Year Later, Kosovo Wounds Still Fester

By Anne Swardson, Washington Post, Friday 24 March 2000; A01

BELGRADE, March 23—Anyone who wants to know why Yugoslavia has not collapsed a year after NATO launched its intensive bombing campaign need only walk down Boulevard of the Revolution here in the capital.

For more than two miles, street vendors peddle underwear, French perfume, sweaters, lipstick, sunglasses, toilet paper, flowers, sneakers, software, diapers, toys and more. The goods are laid out on tables or the hoods of cars that are covered with dingy sheets.

Customers swarm to buy the items, not because they are good, but because they are cheap. And the sellers come not because they can prosper, but because they can survive. One vendor has sold children's socks off a auto hood for seven years—a far cry from his days as a professor of Serbian literature, but a living. If you work, you can get by, he said.

Yugoslavia, too, is getting by. When the bombing ended June 10 after 78 days, imminent demise was widely predicted in the West. Punished by international economic sanctions, the economy would implode; discredited as a national leader, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would be forced from power.

Neither of those things has happened. In fact, many say the bombing has changed little here and that the war was simply a tragic diversion from what has been going on for a decade—the steady deterioration of living standards, basic freedoms and belief in government since the old six-republic Yugoslav federation began to break up and Milosevic asserted his power over Serbia, the dominant republic in the present Yugoslavia.

The war was an interruption in something that was a natural social evolution, said Snjezana Milivojevic, a professor of communications who recently lost her job at a university because of her anti-government views.

Yugoslavia has been under various economic sanctions for the last eight years, orchestrated primarily by the United States and Western Europe, but they have had little impact on everyday life. Despite an oil embargo, for instance, gasoline is not only plentiful but relatively inexpensive at about $1.10 a gallon. Businesses have found ways to obtain the supplies they require; a gray market serves consumers' subsistence needs.

Milosevic, meanwhile, appears little nearer to being dislodged than he was before the bombing. As the political opposition has remained weak and divided, he has shored up his power through his control over much of Yugoslavia's military and police forces, communications, finance and infrastructure.

After the war, there was a tendency to believe that Milosevic was in a desperate situation and heavy pressure would force him out. This was not the case, said a European diplomat.

If anything, people here say, the bombing of Yugoslavia and the West's united stance against Milosevic gave him a renewed hold.

As long as the Americans attack Milosevic, he can stay in power, said fruit vendor Rode Petkovic, who said he makes more money selling apples at 25 cents a pound than he did as an economist for a major retail company. The population doesn't like being told whom to be for. If the Americans supported Milosevic, he would be thrown out of power.

On Friday, the anniversary of the day the first NATO bombs fell, tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on Belgrade's central square to cheer what Milosevic today called the nation's unbeatable military. Churches will hold services to memorialize the 3,000 Yugoslav soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict.

Many of the demonstrators will come in on free buses and trains, pushed to attend by their unions or employers. Schools will be closed to allow children to attend. Despite the official encouragement, the rally will serve as a reminder that even Milosevic's most ardent opponents were against the bombing.

A year later, it's obvious the intervention was a mistake; it only strengthened the regime, said Ognjen Pribicevic, a political adviser to opposition leader Vuc Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement.

Milosevic, 59, who has rarely been seen in public in the past year, ventured out today to lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier on Mount Avala. Everlasting glory to the heroes of the fatherland who died in the defense of the freedom and dignity of the people and the state against the new fascism, Milosevic wrote in the memorial book, according to the state news agency Tanjug.

In recent weeks, Milosevic's government has cracked down on local media, particularly on television and radio stations affiliated with municipal governments opposed to him. The transmission equipment of some of these has been confiscated, purportedly for nonpayment of fees and taxes; others have been fined for allegedly objectionable content. Some here think Milosevic is testing his authority six months in advance of elections; others think he is acting out of paranoia.

But other than the media crackdown, the public knows little about what Milosevic does. He no longer resides in his palatial official residence, which has been repaired since it was bombed last year, and it is unclear where he lives. Some here call him and his circle of advisers the black box; one person who met recently with some members of the group calls them very tough, very arrogant, frightened.

Still, Milosevic appears determined to stay in power and out of custody. Indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, confined within his own borders, his country subject to sanctions, he is immune to outside pressure.

Milosevic is not fighting a political battle, he is fighting for his life, for his sheer survival. No international pressure can change this, said Lila Radonjic, editor in chief of TVNet, an independent producer. Today, there is no a single threat that can be used against him. They have all been deployed.

No one here can envision what could spark Milosevic's departure, either through public dissatisfaction or political action. The opposition managed this week to agree to stage a mass rally April 14, but the three major parties still cannot decide whether to offer a unified slate in the next elections.

Even as they squabble, Milosevic's opponents worry that the longer he remains in power and the more people become accustomed to living on the gray market, the harder it will be remake the nation's institutions and restore a normal economy when Milosevic eventually is gone.

The average wage here has fallen from $300 a month 10 years ago to $80 today. Industrialization has been reversed; the share of agriculture in the economy has doubled. People are losing skills and hope, while the gray market allows those with influence or weapons to grab a stake in the chaos that they will be reluctant to give up.

People in the hidden economy are getting stronger, and they know that when the transition comes they will have to go back to work in the factories, said Goran Pitic, head of economic research for the Economics Institute.

In an interview today, Information Secretary Goran Matic said Yugoslavia has what it takes to put its economy back together. I think the economic effects of the bombing can be overcome, he said. We have resources—energy, food, transport. In the economic sense, we are going to overcome all our problems.

For now, the economy continues to drag along. People are devoting more time and energy to survival, but those who wait in line for milk or bread can still buy it. Others can pay on the gray market.

People are used to suffering. Greater suffering does not necessarily spell greater rebellion, said Ivan Vejvoda, executive director of the George Soros-financed Fund for an Open Society Yugoslavia. Capacity for endurance is infinite here, and that's not good for political change.

The War and Its Aftermath

A year ago, NATO launched an air war against Yugoslavia to pressure Belgrade into ending the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in separatist Kosovo. During the next 78 days, thousands of ethnic Albanians died at the hands of Serb-led forces while NATO planes inflicted serious damage on Kosovo and Serbia proper.

Brief history of the air war:

March 24: NATO campaign begins, involving the United States and13 other NATO nations.

June 9: Yugoslav and Western generals sign pact providing for end of bombing, withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, return of ethnic Albanian refugees to Kosovo and deployment of 40,000 NATO-led international peacekeepers.

June 10: NATO bombings end.

June 11: Peacekeepers move into Kosovo.

The air campaign:

The United States and its allies flew more than 38,000 combat sorties.

NATO aircraft dropped more than 6,300 tons of munitions, 29 percent of which were smart bombs.

A total of 900 targets were hit, 400 of which were fixed, such as buildings, airfields and power plants; 500 were mobile, including military forces, mobile air defences and armored vehicles.

The damage:

Bridges/roads: Dozens of bridges were destroyed or damaged. Danube River traffic remains blocked, but Yugoslav press reports in January said that 28 road bridges and four rail bridges had been rebuilt.

Electricity Grid: 70 percent of Serbia's electricity grid was neutralized, but electricity service has been restored since.

Oil supplies: All of Yugoslavia's oil refining capability was destroyed, as well as 50 percent of storage capacity.

Civilian Deaths: A total of 500 Yugoslav civilians died, including 32 in Kosovo, in accidental bombings, according to Human Rights Watch reports. Yugoslavia claims between 1,200 and 5,000 civilians were killed.

Military casualties: NATO estimates at least 5,000; Yugoslavia says about 575. There were no Allied combat fatalities.

Military equipment: NATO says Yugoslavia lost at least 93 tanks, 153 armored vehicles, 339 trucks, and 389 artillery and mortar pieces in the air war. But these numbers have been challenged based on the amount of equipment government forces pulled out of Kosovo as they withdrew. Aircraft losses are not known; 11 undamaged MiG fighters emerged from hiding after the war.