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Milosevic Legacy Endures - 2001-09-17


It's been nearly one year since Slobodan Milosevic was removed from power and placed under house arrest, five months since he was put in a Belgrade jail (April 1), and less than three months since he was extradited to The Hague to await trial on war crimes charges (June 28). The former Serbian, then Yugoslav, president may be gone, but the legacy of his years in power is still very much in evidence.

Yugoslav central bank chief Mladan Dinkic has spent 11 months trying to recover cash he believes Mr. Milosevic plundered from the national treasury. But the search has been frustrating, and Mr. Dinkic concedes he will be lucky if he gets back ten percent of the $450 million he has traced to Mr. Milosevic.

"The money was driven through Cyprus," said Mr. Dinkic, "and then after that, transferred to other countries. We found that some 54 countries were involved in this money laundering and process from the previous regime. In the end, we were a little bit disappointed that we cannot do the whole job alone."

But it is not just plundered money. The corruption runs right through Serbian society. Many corrupt enterprise managers are still on the job. The judiciary remains largely unrestructured. And even the Yugoslav army boss is a Milosevic appointee.

Vlatko Sekulovic, a Social Democratic member of the Serbian Parliament, describes the Milosevic years as akin to Hitler's national socialism in Germany. "In my belief, the period between 1991 and 2000 wasn't a period of communism in Serbia," he argued. "It was a period of pure national socialism. Nothing else. Madness. Let's say it was a period of nationalist fundamentalism."

Many analysts say that even the democratic procedures of post-Milosevic Serbia are contaminated by his totalitarian approach to decision-making. Milko Stimac is an economist and chief executive officer at the G-17 Plus research service.

"We have a parliament. We have a multi-party political system," said Mr. Stimac. "But major decisions are informal, and made in a body called the presidium of DOS, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. I mean, why do they need this presidium? They have a two-thirds majority in parliament."

But while it may take years to overcome the Milosevic legacy, Serbia already is a very different place. There has been a parliamentary election, and another is expected within 12 months. There is a vigorous free press, and relations with the international community have been repaired. Economic and political sanctions have been lifted. And Serbs are busy, at last, building democracy and a market economy.