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Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - 4:10am

Serbia Still Suffers From Deep Ethnic Divisions

Ten years ago this month, peoples' power ousted Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Expectations were very high. But now, disappointment is widespread. Many Milosevic cronies are still in power, the economy is in shambles and a new young generation grew up in isolation.

On October 5, 2000, hundreds of thousands of Serbs were out on the streets cheering the end of Milosevic and the decade-long bloody break-up of Yugoslavia he orchestrated.

They yelled "gotov je" -- he is finished -- and Serbia began to shed its pariah status.

But ten years later, the ghost of Milosevic still hangs over Serbia.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a commentator for the weekly Vreme, says "It turned out that removing Milosevic was easy part."

Removing the structures he left behind, political, economic interests and his ideology, he adds, "was a much harder thing to do."

Anastasijevic says most state-owned companies have been privatized. But promises of economic development have not been fulfilled. Many companies are in the hands of tycoons once part of Milosevic's inner circle.

"Some were involved in sanctions-busting, in smuggling of oil and cigarettes and other goods," Ananstasijevic says. "This is how they got their first millions, and after Oct. 5, they switched sides and laundered their money and their biographies but they still wield, I would say, an indecent amount of power."

Serbia was hit hard by the global recession. The economy shrunk 3 percent last year and unemployment jumped to 25 percent.

Ivan Vejvoda, director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy says, "there is no internal economic power to kick-start the economy, we are dependent on foreign investments."

But foreign investments have fallen sharply, due to the recession, red tape and mounting corruption.

Pollster Srdjan Bogosavljevic says corruption -- once limited to members of the Milosevic regime -- has trickled down to the entire society.

"In these 10 years, we had complete democratization of corruption," he says. "Everybody can be corrupted in each position in local government opportunities increased to a lot of people."

Surveys show that two-thirds of Serbs are disappointed. And trust in the pillars of democracy -- the judiciary, parliament and government -- are at an all-time low. Not more than 10 percent.

Of all the peoples of former Yugoslavia, Serbs are the only ones who lost territory, while the others gained nation states.

With loss of identity, the only revered national institution is the Orthodox Church.

Bogosavljevic says the younger generation has grown up in post-war isolation and with a sense of defeat. "They are nationalistic, they don't understanding anything, they never traveled, they never experienced any other nation except Serbia and they knew that all our neighbors are against us."

At Belgrade University, students are milling around. Most refuse to speak to foreign journalists, except for 22-year-old law student Mrko Stefanovic.

He's wary of Europe. He says the war crimes tribunal in The Hague is anti-Serb and he resents the European Union's insistence that Serbia accept the independence of Kosovo.

"This is our land," he says, "this is part of our territory."

But joining Europe and trying to fulfill its demands is the pro-western government's major goal.

Nine members of the paramilitary known as the Jackals were indicted for killing 43 Kosovo Albanians and parliament passed a resolution last year acknowledging Serbian crimes against humanity at Srebrenica against Bosnian Muslims.

The government recently bowed to EU pressure and agreed to hold talks with Kosovo on several issues, including the missing from the 1999 war.

But some western governments are demanding more -- that Serbs acknowledge collective responsibility for the wars of the 90s.

Commentator Anastasijevic says that will take time: "When we are talking about facing past and responsibility, it cannot be done in a very short time. It cannot be pushed from above, (or) done by decree. It is a social process that takes a generation or two." [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]

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