Lift the Sanctions and Bring More Aid to Yugoslavia

On from April 8, 2000

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T F F   P r e s s I n f o     # 9 0

L I F T   T H E   S A N C T I O N S   A N D   B R I N G

M O R E   A I D   T O   P E O P L E   I N   Y U G O S L A V I A

April 7, 2000

"Lift the sanctions and help people in Yugoslavia - or stop talking about
humanitarian politics and intervention," say TFF conflict-mitigation team
members Soren Sommelius and Jan Oberg upon returning from a fact-finding
mission to Serbia and Montenegro. "If journalists would provide people all
over Europé and the rest of the world an opportunity to see what we have
seen, only the heartless would continue the present policies. The sanctions
contribute to widespread social misery, they hit those who are already
poor, and demolish the middle class. In addition, the opposition which the
West officially supports also wants the sanctions lifted, knowing that they
undermine the socio-economic basis for any democratization process.

The international community's commitment to protect, help and repatriate
the Albanian refugees and displaced persons  is as noble as it is shameful
to not do the same when other - equally innocent - ethnic groups in the
same conflict region are in obvious need of humanitarian aid. There is only
one word for it: obscene. Sanctions are a mass-destructive weapon," say
Sommelius and Oberg who support the campaign, recently launched in Sweden,
to get the sanctions lifted.

The Situation

Here are some facts from UNHCR - and if you have not heard about them
numerous times already, you may ask what free media and democratic policies
are for:

Today's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) - Serbia and Montenegro -
hosts more than 500.000 refugees from the wars in Croatia (250.000 from
Krajina and some 50.000 from Eastern Slavonia) and Bosnia (some 200.000).
In addition,  there are 250.000 who have recently been forced to leave the
Kosovo province. Some of those from Croatia have been refugees since
1991-92 when the war raged in ex-Yugoslavia. This total of 750.000 to
800.000 creates Europe's largest refugee problem. Most are Serbs but there
are also Muslims, Albanians, Romas and others among them. Only 40.000 of
all these are in collective centres, the rest live with relatives or
friends. About 50.000 of all the refugees and displaced persons presently
live in  Montenegro, the population of which is estimated at 650,000, while
Serbia's population is 9-10 million.

Since 1995 only about 40.000 have been able to return to Croatia. UNHCR
believes that local integration is the lasting solution for the majority of
refugees currently in FRY.

As if this was not enough, Serbia's ever worsening economic conditions
force more and more citizens, older people and children in particular, to
queue up at soup kitchens. The FRY Red Cross and International Federation
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) assist, in one way or
another, 1,25 million people in FRY, i.e. about 500.000 social welfare
cases who are not refugees or displaced persons.

The Reasons Behind

Why are there so many suffering? There are many reasons:

1) FRY displays the same symptoms of human misery and class divisions as
other East European countries in transition towards market economy; the
widening socio-economic gaps and appropriation of social property by new
elites, including party bosses.

2) Economic policies have left much to be desired. Many citizens told us
that they think the Milosevic regime has robbed them by all kinds of
manipulation, the use of inflation,  and by siphoning off profits and
resources to their own accounts abroad.

3) The socio-economic crisis of the 1970s was a major reason why Yugoslavia
broke down and war broke out. The structural adjustment programs of the IMF
and the World Bank sent hundred of thousands into unemployment ten years
before the wars started. Due to the structural changes of world capitalism,
Yugoslavia's major industries - textile, shipbuilding, electronics,
machinery, sub-assembly and license production - were  'outsourced' to the
low-wage countries in South-East Asia. The consequences of this - and not
only the demise of Communism - are also seen today.

4) The leadership in Belgrade has been involved in no less than four wars
in former Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, most
recently, Kosovo. In the choice between 'guns and butter,'the former has
prevailed for a decade.

5) International sanctions were introduced in 1992. As usual, they hit
ordinary citizens, not the military, economic and political elites.

6) Sanctions produce a black market, an ever larger and richer mafia class
deeply intertwined with politics; it's the only segment which has
international relations. Furthermore, the sanctions have cost FRY's
neighbours and trade partners an estimated loss of some US $ 25 billion and
thus deprived these countries of vitally important income, i.e. caused
unnecessary human suffering there. None of these countries, e.g. Macedonia,
have received any compensation for their losses. They paid the price for
the West's sanctions because of Serbia's importance in their foreign trade,
while Serbia was a minor trade partner for everybody in the West.

7) NATO's war against FRY last year wrought physical destruction in the
country in the range of US $ 40 and 100 billion, the majority of targets
being not purely military but also civilian.

Two things should be taken into account: a) it is impossible to conclude
how much each factor contributes to today's humanitarian situation, and b)
it is irrelevant. The only thing that ought to count is that innocent
people are suffering, their numbers are constantly increasing suffer, and
that they have been driven away like their Albanian counterparts "not
because of what they have done, but because of who they are" to use
President Clinton's formulation. They have a right to aid, to a decent
life; they have a right to be assisted if they wish to return.

Some People We Met

During this, the 39th mission to former Yugoslavia, we visited a collective
centre in Obrenovac, a distribution centre and a soup kitchen in Rakovijca
in the outskirts of Belgrade. What were our experiences of the human

Living conditions in barracks are extremely poor, children are often
malnourished and many seem mentally handicapped. In Obrenovac one doctor
comes to see 300 refugees once every 15 days. There is no medicine
available. Children had not had milk for the last 6 months. In a soup
kitchen we met a teenage girl with diabetes; her family was unable to buy
the insulin she needs.

In another centre we met a crying woman whose husband had worked for many
years in the mining industry in Africa and had earned 400 Deutsch marks a
month; over the years they saved as much as they could on a foreign
currency account. She told us that that had been confiscated. For the last
three years, her husband has been sick in bed, unmovable. No medicine, no
money for an operation. Her daughter's family counted 7, sharing 18 square
meters. Everywhere we were told that medicine is either unavailable or else
so expensive in the private pharmacies that most can't afford it. Patients
must bring bed sheets, plastic gloves, injection needles, etc when they
turn to a hospital.

We met an old man from Bosnia with a wooden leg; he could not get his
pension in Bosnia from where he had been forced to leave and neither was he
entitled to pension in FRY. His wounds were festering and he needed a new
wooden leg, but the family - three generations living in the same room -
had no savings to make that dream come true.

The average old-age pension is 600-1200 dinars per month, equivalent to
26-52 Deutsch mark or US $ 15-30 - if paid every month. An old man showed
us his pension card: he had just (March) received the minimum of 387
dinars, but for January. Although the average price level is much lower
than in Western Europe, nobody can live on that but must be supported by
children and relatives. Those who aren't end up in the soup kitchens. This
is how the regime rewards those who built the old and the new Yugoslavia!
And this is the situation for which the international community is
co-responsible while pretending to care about human rights.

There Is a Will and a Pride

We met only hardworking, conscientious aid workers and centre leaders. The
aid DOES reach those in need; books, registration cards, entitlements etc
were kept rigorously everywhere we visited. Volunteer workers have made
themselves available to humanitarian organizations; there is a remarkable
solidarity throughout society.

The socially disadvantages and refugees we interviewed had retained their
human dignity and refused to lose hope. Most told us not to feel sorry
about the bombing but asked us to tell people back home how grateful they
were for the food, hygiene articles and other aid they had recently
received. We saw old people beginning to cultivate some land between their
barracks, lots of small building projects. The people of Serbia have not
turned into clients. They have learnt not to expect much good from abroad,"
say Sommelius and Oberg.

Remember Your Humanity

"In summary, the only right thing to do is to lift the sanctions. There can
be no stability in the region as long as they are there. Whenever Western
leaders defend their policies in the Balkans, they mention Western
standards, human rights and European values. But if Europe and the United
States let the situation for these 10 million Europeans deteriorate
further, it will remain a blatant contradiction of these very values and
rights. They say that the West was not - is not - at war with the people of
Yugoslavia. But we are. They say they think humanitarian intervention is
desirable and speak of human rights and moral foreign policy. All this
remains empty rhetoric until they cease to differentiate on ethnic and
political grounds, between people in extreme need of humanitarian aid and
assistance to return. The people in Kosovo needed it, the people in Serbia
need it. Why are we waiting?" - ask Sommelius and Oberg.

"We argued against the sanctions back in 1992. Those who believed they were
a good idea have had 8 years to learn how counterproductive they have been.
To use Milosevic as an excuse for not lifting the sanctions and doing much
more to help these 1,2 million victims is an active act of inhumanity.
Investing billions of military and civilian dollars in one side of an
ethnic conflict and letting millions of civilians suffer on the other, is
discrimination and militates against the basic norm that humanitarian
assistance shall be given only according to human needs.

To paraphrase Einstein: remember your humanity and forget the rest. If we
don't, we fail in moral leadership as well as humanism, and the EU as a
peace project and the Stability Pact for the Balkans will remain illusions.

© TFF 2000

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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia


Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)
Fax +46-46-144512
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