Social situation in Serbia and its influence on political situation in the country

By Jelena Santic
Group 484 coordinator
In Backa Palanka,
December 3, 1999

Keyword on the round table in Backa Palanka, held on December 4th and 5th 1999 - "NGOs and politics - how to get to changes"

I have the unpleasant obligation to make you acquainted with the social situation of the citizens in Serbia, but it is not such a difficult task. Firstly, the data are accessible from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Red Cross of Serbia, UNHCR, OCHA, UNESCO and NGOs from our country. By crossing of data bases, we got the relevant facts. Secondly, we know the real state because we live in Serbia and we feel that burden. The special problem is that the situation is becoming worse every day and that the known data has to be changed with the new one. It only shows the quick fall of standard of the citizens, among who are refugees in Serbia, too, and therefore we can speak about the real decline of one country which takes everything with itself like in a whirlpool. The parameters of the level of minimum of the existence, poverty and beggary are not same in our country and in the developed countries or in the countries in the transition. For example, it is thought that in normal conditions, on food goes 15-20% of persons salary, and above it the standard is very endangered. The poverty takes place when on food goes 40% of a salary. In Serbia, where the average salary is 1000 dinars (50 DM, newest black market course), for a family with four members, for food and basic hygienic material, it is needed approximately 1800 dinars (~ 100 DM). It means without meet, rent, electricity, medicines, school material, transport etc. But still, in our country, socially endangered is the one who has no salary, property and who is registered to Centers for social work. In such a way, the criteria for beggary are reduced and the real state is being hidden. Of course, the real facts are completely different. UNESCO officially stated that FR of Yugoslavia is on the last place in Europe by personal wages and expenditures.

In Serbia (8 million residents without Kosovo), there is 1.927.000 employed with average salary around 1000 dinars. Unemployed, officially, is 1.500.000 workers, on forced holiday is more than a million. The minimal salary is 230 dinars (11 DM). Socially endangered, by stated official criteria, are 300.000 people, and on soup kitchen are 120.000 endangered. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent and Red Cross of Serbia asked for aid to 3.000.000 residents. Special problem are the pensioners which number 1.335.000, with average pension of 1.100 dinars. Minimal pension for minimum of length of service for 105.000 pensioners is 250 dinars. Minimal pension for maximal STAZ is 500 dinars. It is well known the cheats with giving 3 pensions in coupons for electricity, because the pensions are late for more than 6 months.

For the past 10 years of war in former Yugoslavia, in Serbia and Montenegro found refuge approximately 1.000.000 people. But a large number of them could not register themselves because they feared possible mobilization, and that is the reason why the official data differs - they say that there are 700-800.000 refugees and displaced. Their status is still unsolved, and therefore there are still people in collective centers from 1991, to the newest in 1999. There is almost no humanitarian aid for old refugees - only for children and for people older than 65. There is no jobs for local popularity, and refugees who work in private companies are often cheated and their work is often not paid. They have no one to comply to. Many people, both local and refugee population, don't have money for essential needs: rent, electricity, phone bills, medicaments which is almost impossible to find on the market. All kinds of state benefits (for children, invalids, pregnant women) are minimal - 200 to 400 dinars, and they are late for more than a year. It is known that they are very endangered categories. The lack of energy substances: petrol, oil, gas, crude oil, then basic food supplies: milk, food oil, sugar, etc., and those things harden already endangered residents.

To all this must be added in what condition are institutions which serve to citizens. Health services is in critical condition. Hospitals do not have food that is prescribed nor basic needs for operations, laboratories, therapy, etc. The medicaments are deficient, and majority of popularity do not have the money to buy them in private chemistries. Doctors and other medical personnel have very low salaries - 1000 to 2000 dinars. Schools do not have the money to buy neither old nor new materials for learning or experimental subjects. Professors have minimal salaries - 1200-1600 dinars.

The University is very big problem in our society. Because of the war and University Act, a large number of excellent experts left their jobs or were expelled from their Faculty. Many of them continued their career abroad. There are no means for work in faculties, and therefore there are no means essential for progress of the society. Communication with Universities abroad is not working. University professors with low salaries are totally morally degraded . There are many cases of university professors in pension who starve.

The culture is becoming closed and full of provincialism. The intellectual elite is definitely humiliated as the rest of the population.

It is known that very few factories worked before NATO bombing, and that problem increased after the bombing. Black market is ruling before NATO bombing, and it rules still. There are no normal flows of money, and therefore the black market course at street dealers is only worth. Nonexistent economic strategy of the regime for this social situation in Serbia, is excellent base for long lasting repression, corruption, racquet and illegal getting wealthy on the back of ordinary citizens. The example is statement of Mr. Mihalj Kertes, director of Federal customs, who was born in this town (Backa Palanka), that "selling petrol in the streets is totally legal job". It is possible only in Serbia like this.

There are always some new taxes and burdens for which is not known where are spent.

Rich Vojvodina is robbed by centralized Belgrade.

FR of Yugoslavia has very expensive administration: federal, republic and province (Vojvodina and Kosovo in exile). In Serbian Parliament is impossible to put on the agenda for the meeting any burning problem for which ruling coalition do not want to vote for. There has never been a discussion on social condition in the country. When all these fact which I stated are seen, which I wanted to give only in short, it has to have very deep political consequences. I must remind you that residents of Serbia are for 10 years faced with the black mails of war politic of the regime, which is personified in Slobodan Milosevic and dr Mirjana Markovic. With their life endangered, blinded by nationalistic propaganda, citizens had gave up step by step of their normal needs. People started to sink in their hopelessness not noticing that they are on the brim of poverty. The war surroundings had taken people's power to look over their life.

Only a small group of NGO activists and independent media pointed at it on time, what are the consequences of war and what is really happening in the country. I will remind you that we, from Center for Antiwar Action, in 1991 carried the transparent on the demonstration: big bread-small tank, big tank-small bread. We were not taken serious.

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia brought great confusion in heads of the people. Endangered from all sides, from the inside by the regime, from the outside by the aggression, large number of people started to withdraw and to take the burden of poverty by themselves. How to talk about democracy when people are hungry, when it is cold and when they expect even worse struggle for existence. People lost their trust both in the regime and in the opposition. There are still some brave individuals and groups who do not want to accept constant blackmail of the regime. Many political parties, NGOs, student organization, newly organized Civic Parliament in Serbia, want that if the regime can't solve accumulated problems in which our country is, to let the others try to solve them. Fair elections are the only right way. Still, as till now, there is no other answer than increased police repression, trials to those who think differently and the everyday fall of standard.

If beggary is socially pathological process of the poverty which is ongoing, the possibility of the great riots. That process is already seen as unstoppable and can be very dangerous and fatal for any other rational solution. Social conditions in Serbia are before collapse. The regime pushed people into hopelessness by itself this time. What is the salvation, we will all now very soon. Therefore we have to be active in seeking for legal changes for the benefit of citizens and the society.

Biography of Jelena Santic

From the very beginning of war in former Yugoslavia, she has been actively involved in peace activities in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and throughout the world. In July 1991, Jelena was one of the founders of the Centre for Antiwar Action. She actively took part in all the antiwar demonstrations and protests in Belgrade and organized a panel discussion for the Antiwar Marathon. She is also a founding member of the Belgrade Circle of Independent Intellectuals, European Movement, Civil Resistance Movement, to name just few.

From 1993 until May 1995 she was the coordinator of the project 'Pakrac' which was implemented in cooperation with the Antiwar Campaign Croatia. Pakrac is a town (120 km from Zagreb) which, after the war in 1991, was divided between Serbian and Croatian sides. The programme was aimed at helping people in the region of Western Slavonia to overcome the effects of war trauma and at assisting them to work and rebuild the trust between both sides, under these new conditions. The last phase of this work was aimed at reconciliation. Both international and local volunteers from both sides worked on this project. On the 1st of May the Croatian Army took all of Western Slavonia. A wave of refugees headed toward Serbia, Bosnia and Eastern Slavonia. From that time on, Jelena and her associates involved in the Pakrac Project deal with the problem of displaced persons and re-connect families in Serbia and Croatia.

After August 1995, when 200,000 people sought refuge from Krajina, Jelena included some of these 'new' refugees in a new project. The programme called Group 484 provides social and economic support for 484 displaced families (1626 individuals), psycho-social workshops and legal protection for refugees. An information network has been created between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Eastern Slavonia.

At the same time, Jelena is the coordinator of one more programme -- Renewal of Trust in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem. This project is being carried out in coordination with Croatian peace groups and with UNTAES. It is aimed at establishing civil initiatives toward non-violent conflict resolution. At the moment three groups of volunteers work in the field under the control of the transitional authorities.

Jelena's writings under the titles of 'Parallel Worlds' and 'Balkan Barbarogenius' were published in two Belgrade Circle books. She was a member of the editorial board of peace magazine 'Pacific' and also wrote occasionally for the bi-weekly 'Republic'. Her articles advocating civil society and against racism and nationalism have appeared in many local and foreign media.

During her peace activities she was also a guest of many peace groups in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Norway and Russia. She also attended seminars on non-violent conflict resolutions sponsored by Amnesty International and International Alert.


PERSONAL: Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Prima ballerina in the National Theatre, Belgrade, the choreographer and teacher of dance. In 1963, started her professional career as dancer in the National Theatre in Belgrade and from then on played a wide repertoire of roles both in classical and modern ballet. During 25 years of her career worked with a number of teachers and choreographers including O. Lepeshinskaya, O. Jordan, P. Darell, A. Kuminisnikoff, A. Seh, B. Shaw, M. Atanasiou. Danced in all major cities of Europe, including Paris, Copenhagen, Lausanne, Moscow, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Dresden, Budapest, as well as in Teheran and Quebec. From 1985 on, contributes studies and articles on the history of dance and ballet problems to various scientific institutions and major newspapers and magazines in Yugoslavia and abroad ('Theatron', 'Orchestra', Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, UNESCO/CIDD, International Centre for Slavic Studies, etc.)

EDUCATION: Classical Ballet School in Belgrade. Specialization in Monte Carlo (prof. Marika Bezobraznova); in Cannes (The International School of Rosella Hightower); in Nice (with famous Serge Lifar). In 1972/73 and 1973/74 studies in Moscow (pedagogue Marina Semionova). In 1984 studies modern aspects of dance on a journey to the USA. In 1985 graduates choreography at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, Belgrade. In 1992, through the USA government programme of specialists exchange, visits all important dance companies, theatres and schools in the States.

PROFESSIONAL: Major roles include -- Giselle and Myrta (Giselle), Odilia (Swan Lake), Juiliette (Les Contes d'Hoffmann), Ossa (Peer Gynt). Also leading parts in Sleeping Beauty, Les Silfides, Las Passiones, Makar Tchoudra, Don Quixote, In the Gardens of Granada, Copelia, Nut-Cracker, etc. In the title role of drama performance 'Nastasya Filipovna' after Dostoievsky, took part at international festivals in Hungary, Canada and Russia.

Choreographies include -- 'Oresteia' after Aeschilus, 'Sangsaut' after Artaud, 'Baal' after Brecht, 'The Dutchess of Malfi' by Webster, 'The Dybbuk' by An-Sky, 'The Balkanians' after Euripides, 'The Silence of Nuns' and 'From the Lives of Rain Worms' by Snajder. She is the complete author (libretto and choreography) of 'Isadora Duncan', presented at the Belgrade International Theatre Festival (BITEF). Also made choreographies for feature films such as 'Deja Vu' and 'Tito and I'.

PEDAGOGICAL WORK: The author of the educational TV broadcast on the history of Russian Ballet in 1986 (Television Belgrade). Until the war a part- time and guest teacher in Belgrade Classical Ballet School. >From 1994 on, head of the team for the reform of the ballet education in Yugoslavia (for the first time introducing modern dance in the regular curriculum). At the moment she presides a team for the foundation of a Higher and High School for Ballet Dancers in Belgrade and is also founding the Ballet and Dance Institute. MEMBERSHIPS: UNESCO Conseil International de Danse (CIDD -- an organizer-in-chief of the International Colloquium on Dance, Belgrade, 1990), European Ligue Institutes of Arts (ELIA), World Society for Research in Ballet History.

AWARDS: For the performances of 'Nastasya Filipovna', 'In the Gardens of Granada', 'Isadora Duncan'.

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