By Karin Wegestal MP, on behalf of the Swedish Committee for Solidarity
with the Yugoslav People
During the last decade, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has received
more than 500 000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, and another 300,000
internally displaced persons, mainly from the province Kosovo and Metohia.
For a country with about ten million inhabitants, such an influx of homeless people is obviously a very heavy burden - even under peaceful
conditions. But in addition to that, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been the
subject to sanctions from the western powers for close to ten years and its
infrastructure was badly hurt through Nato's intense bombardment during 78
days in 1999. The result of all this is that Yugoslavia, once the most
developed industrial country in Eastern Europe, is today the poorest country in Europe. In Serbia excluding Kosovo, with about ten million
inhabitants and close to a million refugees and displaced persons, about 30
international aid organisations operate. This should be compared to the
Kosovo province, with about one million inhabitants, where no less than 400
aid organisations operate. There, one could talk about overheated aid activity. A delegation from the Swedish Committee in support of the
Yugoslav people, the Yugoslavia Committee, visited the country during one
week in January, on the invitation of the International Red Cross and Crescent Society. We saw with our own eyes the great relief efforts made
for suffering people. We visited refugee camps, soup kitchens and warehouses for humanitarian relief in Uzice, Pozega, Cacak, Novi Sad and
other places. We met representatives of the Roma people (gypsies) and saw
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Minister for refugees, displaced persons and humanitarian aid, Mrs Bratislava Morina.
This visit gave us a strong impression of the very difficult situation of
the Yugoslav people, but also of the great efforts done to relieve the
situation for the refugees and displaced persons and other people driven
into misery, and to repair the damage done by Nato's bombs.
All the refugees and displaced persons must be given lodging, food,
clothes, school and if possible also a new job. In the beginning, many
families opened up their homes for refugees. Through great personal
sacrifice, most could be taken care of in that way. But we also met
refugees who have lived for nine years in provisional refugee camps with
all their personal possessions squeezed into a few square metres. Many have
to suffice with food rations containing only 20 grams of meat a day.
The refugee situation is made worse by the country's stagnating economy. Many companies have been deprived, through the sanctions, of their
possibilities to import raw material, to re-invest and to export their
products. Therefore they have been forced to stop production or to continue working on a low level. The result is falling salaries and
excessive unemployment. 1.2 million people are totally jobless. The figures
have increased gradually, but took a great leap through the bombardment in
March-May 1999, when many factories were destroyed. Over two million people
- one out of five citizens - are under the line of poverty. Except for the
refugee problem, there are 300,000 social cases.
Many people who have volunteered to take care of refugees, have
themselves become dependent of social assistance. About one million people
get assistance through the Red Cross, which has a well functioning organisation with offices in 180 places - a fantastic structure and an
impressive work both from the employees and from many unpaid volunteers.
For those people who are lucky enough to have a job, the average salary is about 82 D-marks (equivalent to some 40 British pounds) a month. A
well-educated university graduate can have 150-300 D-marks (75-150 GBP),
which is regarded as a very good salary. Many young people - the best educated and most productive ones - leave the country to find jobs abroad
if given a chance.
The medical situation is all but catastrophic, with acute lack of medicine
and spare parts. The insulin was almost used up. At our visit at Bezanijska
Kosa Medical Center in Belgrade, we learnt that X-ray equipment stood idle
because X-ray tubes are regarded as "strategic spare parts" and therefore
cannot be imported - even with hard currency!
We can now see the paradoxical result of the Yugoslav wars during the 90s.
Several ethnically cleaned states and areas have been established and today receive extensive international assistance, while Serbia, the most
multinational society with 26 nationalities living peacefully together, are
exposed to the punishment of the western world.
The sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were not imposed by the United Nations but single-handedly by the USA and EU. Officially
they are not intended as a punishment against Yugoslavia or its population,
but as a pressure to make the government "co-operate with the world society" and "respect human rights for all citizens of the country".
In reality, however, they are a continuation of Nato's war of aggression.
Their intention is to achieve what Nato could not achieve at Rambouillet, i.e. total political, economic and military control of the whole
country. It is blatant big power aggression against a sovereign country and gross
interference in its internal affairs.
The sanctions hit hard against the people. They are obviously intended as one of several means to force the people to overthrow their government and
replace it with an administration which can be manipulated and dominated
from abroad. That is a travesty of democracy; in fact its very opposite.
What is now required is common action to force the EU countries to stop its hostilities. The sanctions and interference in Yugoslavia's internal
affairs must come to an end and normal inter-state relations be established. Relief assistance must be increased to alleviate the human
suffering. International assistance must be given unconditionally to help repair the
damages after Nato's bombing.
In Sweden, an appeal against the sanctions was published in connection with the anniversary of the start of Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia. It was
signed by representatives of various political parties, former government
members, bishops and priests, scholars and writers, athletics, and many
other well-known people representing a broad political and social opinion
among the Swedish people. The appeal was published in a number of papers,
including the dominating dailies Aftonbladet and Dagens Nyheter, and on
international web-pages including www.antiwar.com and www.transnational.org.. That appeal
shows that there is a broad support in the Swedish society for a
normalisation of relations.
It would be very useful if a similar initiative could be carried out in
all EU countries, to mobilise broad strata of the people. Such an appeal,
of course, must be supplemented with other forms of mobilisation of public
opinion and mass actions to increase the pressure on our governments to
stop their hostile actions and change their present hostile policy against
Karin Wegestal is a Member of the Swedish Parliament for the Social Democratic Party. She is a member of the Defense Committee and of the
Swedish Parliamentary Delegation of the OSCE. She is one of two spokespeople of the Committee for solidarity with the Yugoslav people,
which started in April 1999, as the Stop the bombings now! Committee.
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