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Friday Marks One Year Since Yugoslav Uprising - 2001-10-04


Friday is the first anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. People had high expectations with his removal, and the new pro-Western government anticipated billions of dollars in foreign aid. People will mark the first anniversary with mixed emotions.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Belgrade a year ago, shouting slogans against President Slobodan Milosevic, who had lost four Balkan wars, impoverished his nation, and manipulated election results to stay in power.

Angry protesters set fire to the federal Parliament building as well as to a complex belonging to the state run television.

To many observers, the destruction seemed minor compared to the damage caused by a NATO bombing campaign in 1999. That action was in response to the refusal by Mr. Milosevic to end the Serb-led crack down against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

A year ago, Serbs armed with little more than flags and bravery shouted for change, believing that a change of leadership could lead to prosperity and the re-integration of the country into Europe.

Analysts say the pro-Western reformers who took control of Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia and the federal government, reflected popular opinion. But a year after the popular revolt, many people say their expectations have not yet been met.

Recently, Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic complained that, although his government extradited former President Milosevic to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Western donor countries have given little of the promised aid. Mr. Milosevic is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

Yugoslavia received pledges of nearly $1.3 billion in foreign aid and loans at a donors' conference in late June this year. However, financial experts say much of the promised foreign assistance has not been delivered quickly enough and has not been well targeted. People on the streets seem to agree.

Although the reformers of Yugoslavia's main republic Serbia claim that wages increased by about 10 percent since the ouster of Mr. Milosevic, salespeople in Belgrade's market say they have failed to notice the changes in their wallets.

43-year-old Radica Stevanovic sells apples to support her two teenage children through the coming winter. "I am selling the apples of my father-in-law, who is a peasant. Because my salary is about 50 German Marks (about $23 US) - and you saw probably the prices around," she said. "So that is just not possible to live from and maintain a family. So we are living from these agricultural products, which we are selling in the market."

During the Cold War Yugoslavia was seen as a symbol of relative economic prosperity among Communist countries. Government figures say monthly salaries often topped $710 in the late 1980's. Now, most people say they are happy when they make about $60 a month.

These realities have also highlighted the tough challenges facing Serbia's authorities in reforming the economy. Analysts say that unlike, for example, neighboring Hungary and nearby Poland, there are still many in Serbia who believe problems can be solved with more government money rather than making structural changes to the economy.

However, officials from international lending institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, say that changes must include the closing of inefficient government-supported industries.

That is why many observers say people in Serbia, Yugoslavia's largest republic, will remember the uprising against Mr. Milosevic a year ago with mixed emotions and now seem increasingly impatient for better times.

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