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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 31 DEC 1995 14:39:51 GMT

    Poverty in Serbia


    In the middle of 1995, almost half of the families with children in Serbia did not have enough money to buy the standard monthly basket of food and drink. The income of 78 per cent of these families was below 350 German marks. Three per cent of families at the most is rich even according to European standards, but little is known about them, because like the authorities, they are beyond the law

    AIM Belgrade, December 24, 1995

    It is not known whether, on the eve of Christmas and New Year, the public in Serbia will be informed about the just completed, comprehensive and expert investigation of poverty in Serbia. But, sooner or later, it will be revealed that Serbia nowadays is not even on the level of the beginning of the century, in the sense of its rebellious spirit. Namely, in explaining the motives for the First Serb Uprising at that time, the national poet noted that Serb princes were not "willing to stir up trouble, nor were the voracious Turks, but the impoverished people were", because they could not pay any more taxes to ones and the others. Nowadays there are no rebellions, except sporadic and easily bribed strikes - so evidence is piling up that sociologists are right when they claim that there is no bottom to the social crisis, contrary to the economists who expect a general uprising due to the decline of the standard of living for ten or twenty per cent.

    The Committee for Population Investigation of the Serb Academy of Sciences and Arts ordered an investigation of the standard of living of families with at least one child (like anywhere else in the world, nazism reveals itself in its care for children and birth rate, having previously done everything to disgust people with the very idea of a future, especially for their children). The job was impartially and expertly completed by the Belgrade Institute of Economic Sciences.

    One of the main findings of the investigation, as scientific associate of the mentioned Institute, Aleksandra Posarac, who was the head of the project, says for AIM, is verification of the already expected increase of poverty.

    - Poverty increased in Serbia in 1994 too, despite the growth of social product and real income of the population at the time, because the present poverty - Aleksandra Posarac explains - is not a result of a temporary crisis, but it is of a permanent nature. Poverty would have been even greater if the population had not been able to satisfy a part of its needs by its own manufacturing. This provided a temporary alleviation of poverty, but at the same time, an introduction into an even greater poverty, because this is a matter of a long forgotten way of satisfying human needs. In the developed world - Aleksandra Posarac says - people pay for goods and services of others by their earnings. And this is one of the key motive powers of economic prosperity. Village households in Serbia satisfy more than half of their needs by their own manufacturing. Since such survival is becoming dominant, it is only logical to presume that an increase of poverty lies ahead - Aleksandra Posarac concludes. - If the authorities do not change their policy.

    Changes in the poverty of Serb families with children were also investigated in reference to 1990. Two criteria were applied as a point of reference of poverty: a more lenient one - whether the family income is sufficient for purchasing three quarters of the standard consumer basket of food and drink, and a stricter one - for the whole basket. According to the first criterion, the number of poor families in Serbia has increased from approximately 750 thousand to almost 2.3 million; according to the latter, last year, 44 per cent of Serb families with children could not buy the type and quantity of food and drink considered to be a civilization standard. Whether and how housing costs, clothing and other things were paid was not investigated, nor whether people have given that up, but there is no doubt that few things from the European basket of food and drink is reaching the Serb dining-room table.

    This picture of poverty is supplemented with data from the middle of 1995: the income of 78 per cent of families with children did not exceed 350 Germn marks. For those who are not well informed about Serb economic circumstances, this sum of money is approximately necessary to pay for a thousand kilograms of ordinary bread; for about 300 litres of milk - or 15 dues for leaving the country. The latter comparison is merely rhetoric, because who would even think about leaving this state of justice, equality, as persistently described by Mrs. Mirjana Markovic, leader of Yugoslav Associated Leftists and the wife of the head of the Serbs state, fifteen times a year?

    This is truly a state of equality, but equality in poverty: three per cent of the total population at the most form a stratum of the rich. All the others are deeply poverty-stricken or on the verge of destitution in comparison with the way they lived five years ago. At that time, less than one per cent of the social product was sufficient to eliminate poverty, while 8.5 per cent would be needed now - or approximately as much as the Yugoslav Army spends. Again, for those not well informed, it should be noted that the Army is not prosperous: the Serb state spends three times more than the Army or than what would be needed to beat poverty. That same state has promised its pensioners, who are not the worst-off, that it would "do everything possible" to pay them the first part of their November pensions before the New Year's holidays - and the foreign currency savers robbed of their savings (more than five billion German marks) did not get even this promise, which is usually said to stir up "hope in fools only".

    Results of the investigation of poverty in Serbia are unintentionally more favourable than the actual situation. Namely, the population of Kosovo refused to participate in the poll, so only Montenegrin families were polled and they are in a less miserable position than those in Kosovo.

    (AIM) Zoran Jelicic



    - In the course of five years, the entire social structure moved downwards, and at least 40 per cent experienced a terrible decline of the standard of living and sank to privation. Unfortunately, there is no poll in the world which would include the richest strata of society. Here, many would not be willing to declare their income, because a good deal of them have grown rich thanks to illegal channels of making a profit in the past years. All the others are approximately equally poor. This means, among other, that there are no stimuli to raise productivity, nor any space for pursuing an efficient social policy. Namely, this is not a matter of poverty caused by a temporary crisis any more, at least ten per cent of the population are permanently impoverished - Aleksandra Posarac says.

    AIM: Who is responsible for such a narrowed down manoeuvring space for social policy?

    - Responsibility for the deep economic and social crisis lies on the ruling structure, considering that they reached all the decisions on their own and that they held all the levers of power were in their hands alone. The authorities have allowed unorganized reallocation which neither financially nor status-wise affected them, and they are doing nothing to move things from a standstill. Progress in the economy cannot be achieved without a incentive. Changes are necessary, complete transition is necessary. Anyone who has good intentions could see that in examples of former socialist states. Transition hurts, but it is much worse if there is no transition. We can feel it on our own skin: those who have consistently set out into changes, from much worse positions than ours some seven or eight years ago, are already beginning to collect fruit. Social cost of the delay is enormous, the longer the delay, the greater the cost. In current Serb circumstances, it is important to say that transition implies responsible people in power. None of them was given the mandate to act contrary to the interests of the voters. In fact, they were elected and paid to work in general interest.

    AIM: What do you expect will be happening in the next few years?

    - It is very unrewarding to seriously forecast anything, because the main parametre is quite unpredictable. On the one hand, the state of national economy is quite clear, and therefore, it is also quite clear what should be done in order to at least initiate a change for the better. At the same time, it is also quite clear that everything depends on the exiting political will.

    (AIM) Zoran Jelicic