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What's happening in Serbia - the Other Side
An Interview with Bane Ivkovic

www.tenc.net
[Emperor's Clothes]

We interviewed Mr. Ivkovic at the end of October and again in early November. This is the first interview. The interviewer is Jared Israel, editor of www.tenc.net

Israel: I understand you were in charge of reconstruction after the bombing.

Ivkovic: Yes. For four years I had been Serbian Minister of Construction and then starting in 1998 I was Minister for Science and Technology. During the bombing I organized a special group to help the 130,000 workers left jobless by NATO bombing their factories. We wanted to do more than just rebuild; we tried at the same time to restructure our economy, to increase the number of small and medium enterprises. We were able to set up 1050 such businesses. This created 33,000 new jobs.

Israel: Private or public sector?

Ivkovic: Mainly private. The Ministry developed relations between the [scientific and technical] Institutes and these displaced workers. We collected 2900 plans for small and medium businesses, programs to produce goods using Serbian resources instead of importing these products. To finance these new businesses, after the bombing we collected money by asking everyone with a job to give one or two day's pay and using this as well as money from the Serbian government we offered the displaced workers five year loans at excellent rates so they could set up their own production facilities.

Israel: So these businesses were privately owned by groups of employees?

Ivkovic: Yes. Up until then we had relatively few small and medium enterprises. We wanted to strengthen the small business sector, especially in the villages. It's our opinion that these small, profitable businesses are the way to stop the flow of young people to the towns.

Israel: Just to get clear, these enterprises were privately owned by the people who worked there?

Ivkovic: Yes.

Israel: Not just by one man?

Ivkovic: No no no by the people. Each unemployed worker could take a loan for himself, but several workers could get a collective loan and apply it to one business. 50 of them could get 50 times more money.

Israel: So they could start something of some size.

Ivkovic: Yes, but it would be their own. Their own factory. Their own enterprise.

Israel: You know the Western propaganda says Yugoslavia was run so that a few people made a lot of money and everybody else got nothing.

Ivkovic: It's not true. You must understand a couple of things here. First of all, there is private business in Serbia, and this is nothing new. After 1945 we had people who owned land in the villages, people who owned private enterprises. Not so much in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. But in the 1970s and 1980s this became far more common. A lot of these people established their own small offices, markets, enterprises and factories and now I think 50% of our economic life is in the private sector and it's a very profitable private sector. These owners are people of varying political viewpoints.

The second thing is, we have been under a United States imposed embargo for 8 years and during that embargo some people who had previously been criminals went into business exporting or importing goods which were under embargo, and they made a lot of money. Those people are not the socialist party. We are a party of over 500 000 people, mainly ordinary working people. Of course whenever a party is in power it attracts some opportunists, some who are there for reasons other than principle; but those people have left us or are leaving us now and as for the ones who remain, what possible gain is there in it for them?

Foreign investment

Ivkovic: When I was Serbian Minister for Construction I proposed a Federal Law On Foreign investment. On the [Serbian] Republican level we have a concession law and a law for ownership transformation. But then came the embargo and we couldn't do as much as we wanted at that time.

Israel: So you want foreign investment?

Ivkovic: Yes, why not? In the past I was involved in negotiations with several very powerful groups of foreign investors about concessions in road construction and electric power production. Unfortunately everything that happened with Kosovo and Metohija put a halt to those negotiations. [Kosovo and Metohija is the Serbian name for what the West calls 'Kosovo.']

Israel: I don't know if you read the piece that Chossudovsky and I wrote about the IMF and the World Bank and their harmful effects.

Ivkovic: Yes.

Israel: We argued that when the IMF and the World Bank enter a country it is subjected to piracy - you know, basically stripped.

Ivkovic: It's a problem for me to express myself in English. The IMF and the World Bank have some special propositions which, how shall I say, cover a country with a very strong hand. This can put a country in a very bad position. I prefer that foreign investors come here with their own money. If we were covered by the World Bank we would be in chains.

Israel: They're sharks.

Ivkovic: Yes. That is true. That is true. You see Bulgaria and Romania are now in a worse position than Yugoslavia. We had sanctions and we were bombed yet we are in a better position than Bulgaria and Romania because they have been put into IMF chains and now, in addition to being worse off, they will also have to repay loans for the next 20 or 30 years. Repay with interest.

[The interview continued with the addition of a translator.]

Israel: Is it your opinion that the IMF and World Bank should be kept out of Yugoslavia?

Ivkovic: Yes. We've been living through hard times. Eight years of sanctions plus last year's bombardment made our lives very harsh. The level of production in our country is 40% of 1990. We're certainly in a need of a fresh injection of money. To help this situation we passed a Federal law on foreign investments and a law covering ownership transformation. And on the Republican level, the Republic of Serbia passed a law on foreign concessions. There are some related laws regarding taxes and customs regulations. These laws are designed to allow foreign investments but at the same time to make sure the profit drawn from such investments are reinvested in the country.

Israel: So it can't be taken out?

Ivkovic: Right. We are by current law [i.e., laws passed before the October 5th coup] open to foreign investments. We have developed a very extensive and detailed plan for utilizing our resources such as energy, roads, highways, railways and waterways and also agricultural land for industrial-agricultural exploitation. We had all these plans in place but the sanctions and last year's bombing and destruction hindered our ability to go ahead.

Speaking as a citizen, I am inclined to accept capital or investment coming from corporations rather than from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It is my opinion that both the IMF and the World Bank set up stringent rules that bring a country close to colonial status.

Israel: Perhaps that's why they don't like you.

Ivkovic: At this time in particular it would be extremely dangerous for these two banks to enter our country. But corporations and other financial groups would be more welcome. We and they both would benefit.

We are still a very rich and resourceful country despite all our difficulties and ordeals. We have a huge amount of state and public assets that have not been privatized. In 1966 we sold Italian and Greek partners 49% of our telecommunications industry. That brought in one billion 750 million Deutschmark. About 800 million dollars.

Israel: Isn't that a little low for half your telecommunications industry?

Ivkovic: Well I would say we did better than the Hungarians who sold similar facilities for a much larger portion of ownership and got less.

The electrical energy system and the ownership of electrical energy assets, meaning production and distribution, has not been privatized. For example consider the thermoelectric power plant called Kolubara. The state invested 500 000,000 dollars in this plant. It's run on coal. There is room for another three hundred million dollars investment, open to foreign capital as well.

Israel: Would you keep the majority of ownership?

Ivkovic: Look, Jared, this is an interesting deal. The investment would be OK if the foreign investors got 100% providing there was a time limit on foreign control. It could be five years; it could be ten years. It depends on the mutually accepted conditions. So the foreign investors could be given the biggest chunk providing their period of control was limited by mutual agreement.

Regarding the oil industry, in our country, privatization hasn't touched it but it's a huge prospect for investments. The same goes for the exploitation of railroad traffic. Regarding the development of highway communications there is great potential for foreign investment considering our geostrategic and commercial position in the Balkans, as a connection to the Middle East.

We developed a privatization law regarding large state run facilities like the machine facility in Trstenik which used to manufacture hydraulic equipment for Boeing. There are so many such valuable assets intact in Serbia, untouched by privatization, free for very lucrative investments. We had that all worked out before the sanctions and aerial destruction stopped further progress.

We developed detailed plans that could apportion part of the profit from these foreign investments into pension and other social funds so it would be just. At the same time our plans involve reinvestment of profit within the country.

Yugoslavia has a very rich pool, a highly educated working class and technical class, ready to get to work, to produce.

Israel: If foreigners invest in Yugoslavia, and if in return they get a facility which previously was socially owned, doesn't the country become a colony?

Ivkovic: We have legal restraints to prevent accepting conditions that would make us a colony. Foreign investors have to agree to abide by our laws as part of any deal.

Our country has around 2 billion dollars frozen in foreign banks as a result of the sanctions imposed on us and we would like to get this returned with interest accrued. We expect the international community to show understanding for our plight and to relieve us from credit and debts to some extent and give us some priority in that regard.

Israel: Are you saying you expect that or that in a just situation it would happen?

Ivkovic: That has been our request. We would request these concessions but I'm personally pretty pessimistic about them doing it.

Israel: When you say you're going to request these concessions, or when you say that you have these laws, you beg the question of the political situation, this semi-coup d'etat.

Let me spell out my own view.

I see President Kostunica as a fundamentally illegal figure who is and could only be in power because of international intrigue which created a subversive apparatus that committed crimes against people and property. People in government and business have been intimidated and forced to sign documents under pressure, turning state or private property over to what amounts to thugs and gangsters, and this has been glorified by the Western media which has suddenly discovered that it loves popular revolutions. In the present situation to give this interview is an act of heroism. Therefore you are not talking about carrying out these measures in the present tense. You are talking about what the legal government had planned. A plan you would like to return to. Is that correct?

Ivkovic: Let us say that in the present circumstances of instability and turmoil foreign investors may not be much attracted to our country.

Israel: Sharks will be attracted. Sharks like turmoil. It justifies an iron hand and you can steal a lot in the midst of confusion.

.Ivkovic: In regard to what you say, the Bulgarian and Romanian examples are very educational for our future. I agree that the coup d'etat was well organized and conducted with the participation of certain parts of the so-called international community.

Israel: Isn't 'international community' a great euphemism? The United States, Germany, Britain and a few hangers-on = the international community. In 'Der Spiegel' magazine they had this article which reported all of them boasting and competing over how much money they gave the 'Yugoslav democratic process.' Nothing like a well-financed democratic process. Of course the article said the U.S. government gave, but then it quoted the Germans saying, 'We gave too!' and then Norway piped in: "Us too, us too!" This was the Oct. 7 'Der Spiegel'. The article also said that Kostunica was actually picked to run for President by U.S. Secretary of State Albright and German Foreign Minister Fischer at a meeting, I believe it was in December.

You know, Yugoslavia is a beautiful fish and all the sharks want a chunk. So even though it politically hurts their various proxies in DOS [the pro-Western parties that now control the Yugoslav government] and the civil society groups and the independent media, even though having these foreign powers boast that they funded these guys hurts them, the foreign powers have to boast because they all want to stake their claim.

So the sharks say, "We did it!" and meanwhile their local quislings say "No no, we're independent! We resent your help!" And then the sharks say "Yes! You're right! You're independent! We don't even like you because you are extremely nationalistic!" You see?

Ivkovic: [Laughs] I see everything. Each is striving each to get a head of the others. They made such a grave mistake. They boasted that they planned the details of this coup d'etat five or six months before it took place which means of course that the coup had nothing to do with the outcome of the Presidential elections.

Factors Leading up to the Coup

Ivkovic: Unfortunately, the proper authorities did not counter this vicious plan. We know that Mr. Montgomery, the US envoy in Budapest, provided an immense pool of money for the coup. Money flowed in like water. But these illegal activities were not properly dealt with.

There are two more things I must say. The Socialist Party made some mistakes in the election campaign. Apart from that and the unprecedented external interference, the economic sanctions and the NATO bombardment had a big effect. They caused the standard of living to drop considerably and at the same time, because of the bombardment we had to apportion much of the budget, which otherwise would have gone for salaries for teachers, professors and other social employees, into rebuilding bridges, roads and infrastructure which the bombing destroyed, as well as building housing and setting up businesses. This created a lot of dissatisfaction. The diversion of resources, amidst harsh circumstances, was cunningly exploited by the DOS people leading up to and during the election, providing a social basis for carrying out the coup d'etat.

Political Situation Since the Coup

Ivkovic: The elections were Federal [Yugoslav] but the coup d'etat affected the Republican structure as well.

Israel: How?

Ivkovic: The opposition commandos forced their way into offices and production facilities or government facilities in a systematic way, kicked out the tenants or official employees and replaced them with their own. And the Interior Ministry authorities did not interfere..

Israel: Is that terror still going on?

Ivkovic: Because of all these circumstances we had to compromise our position and accept DOS as a part of the administration. They filled up some departments they'd never been in before. But we insisted that they agree to return all the kicked-out officials to their positions again, to restore the condition of legality and order we had before.

Israel: Has that happened?

Ivkovic: This is on the promise level now.

Israel: Who made the promise and what did the Socialist Party give in exchange?

Ivkovic: The agreement was signed by Kostunica for DOS, by the President of the Republic of Serbia, Milutinovic, from the Socialist Party and by the Serbian Renewal Party. The Socialists let DOS into Serbian government positions and in exchange DOS promised to restore order and return all those who had been kicked out to their positions.

Israel: Have they been returned?

Ivkovic: Well there have been no returns but they did stop some of the harassment. It's amazing how they persecute. They have developed an atmosphere of suspicion, spying, investigation. Everybody is suspicious, everyone is investigating everyone else.

Effects on the Press

The most critical problem is the media outlets. It's much worse than what they claimed when the Socialist Party was in power. I think many journalists will be kicked out and left jobless.

In the past we could buy Politika and Politika Ekspres, two major Belgrade papers pulling to the Left. At the same time we could purchase Glas, which means Voice, and Blic, both on the Right, and we used to buy Novosti, 'Evening News' in the Center. So everybody had a chance to find the truth. Now journalists will be jobless because we have just one paper: all papers publish the same stories, written the same. You can switch 20 TV channels and you just see DOS.

I watch only TV ANEM and listen to radio B2-92. It used to be the most fierce opposition voice; to be honest they are still in opposition; they are the only station I can go and talk on. Also the other radio, student radio, called INDEX.

Israel: That's wacky. B2-92 is funded by the U.S.

Ivkovic: That's right. But now they are the only outlet for the truth.

Israel: Unbelievable.

Ivkovic: On the TV station ANEM the journalists seem somewhat independent.

Israel: But that was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Ivkovic: Yes yes yes. Jared, imagine what the other TV outlets are like when these two are considered the most open to different views.

Israel: Sounds like the U.S.

Ivkovic: [Laughs.]

Jared: Here's my concern. In terms of this agreement that Milutinovic has signed, this DOS promise to restore law and order, I am afraid that DOS' masters, the US and Germany, want the job finished. The big problem the pro-U.S. and pro-German forces have is they didn't succeed in turning the army. Now they want to get into a position where they can take more extreme action.

Ivkovic: Yes that's also my major concern: how the army will position itself. In our country an open market is the place where all the politics are loudly and openly expressed but now the market is silent - no whisper - people are very depressed - they move from one channel on the radio and TV to another and they see the same exact news presented in the same way and now it is dawning on them where they have arrived.

We have agreed to elections for the Serbian Parliament, for December 23rd.

Israel: Won't those elections take place in a situation where the parties opposed to Kostunica have no media?

Ivkovic: That is quite correct. And these elections were initiated under heavy pressure. We have no media access. Holding these elections a year earlier than required was agreed to under pressure. Following the coup d'etat pressure was brought to bear on the Republican level regarding Parliament and the Serbian government.

Israel: So all the anti-DOS parties, the Socialist Party, the nationalists, the Radical Party and others - all their media is gone?

Ivkovic: They are allowed one hour a day. DOS seized all TV and radio outlets with armed units. There are only a few left untouched, a few newspapers, a few TV and radio stations in the interior.

Israel: But they haven't seized control of the Army by force. Is that correct?

Ivkovic: There have been no changes in the Army ranks so far.

Israel: Aren't there laws in Yugoslavia that make it illegal for foreign agents like Djindjic to take money from foreign countries and distribute it to over-throw the government?

Ivkovic: Of course. It's all punishable under the law.

Israel: In other words since the so-called civil society groups like the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, the G-17 so called economists, the Women in Black, you know Vesna Pesic and the others, the Civic Union gang, this Mayor Ilic from Cacak - on the internet a researcher found news articles where he is described as meeting with U.S. Special Balkans Envoy Robert Gelbard seven times - when you have all these groups funded and organized and trained by the U.S. and Germany with massive foreign bribes, why were these foreign agents permitted to operate? Is there any country in the world where such people would not have been jailed?

Ivkovic: Jared, I agree this is a very strange situation. Why some people in the Ministry of the Interior did not do the job, as required by the law, remains to be investigated.

***

Further reading

Concerning the terror directed against socialists and nationalists since the Oct. 5 coup, please see:

* 'On the list, they had me marked as a nationalist' at http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/onthelist.htm
Interview conducted the day before the Oct. 5 coup.

* 'These Djindjic people are brown shirts' at http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/djindjic.htm
An interview conducted after the Oct. 5 coup.

* 'Reign of Terror in Serbia', at http://emperors-clothes.com/news/attack.htm
Statement of Serbian Socialist Party on nationwide attack on their offices.

or more on the general situation in Yugoslavia now, see:

Concerning the U.S. creation of a subversive apparatus in Yugoslavia, see 'U.S. Arrogance and Yugoslav Elections' at http://emperors-clothes.com/engl.htm

or more on what's been happening in Yugoslavia now, see:

* 'Djindjic Calls for Complete Yugoslav Submission to U.S.' at http://emperors-clothes.com/news/submit.htm
Discusses the consequences of turning Yugoslavia into a U.S. protectorate

* 'The International Monetary Fund And The Yugoslav Elections' at http://emperors-clothes.com/analysis/1.htm
On the G-17 group of economists and what they have planned for Yugoslavia.

* 'Kostunica Coalition Drives Up Prices & Blames...Milosevic' at http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/chuss/triples.htm

***

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