Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Deference, Apathy Keep Many in Serbia Away from Protests

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Deference, Apathy Keep Many in Serbia Away from Protests

Article excerpt

Steaming bowls of traditional Serbian bean stew are ladled out at a Red Cross kitchen in Serbia's capital, Belgrade. An elderly woman named Katarina waits patiently in line. Her meager state pension can't buy even basic necessities - and anyway it hasn't been paid for months.

Katarina's dire financial situation reflects that of many of the 100,000 Belgrade residents who've taken to the streets to criticize socialist President Slobodan Milosevic. But unlike them, she refuses to protest. And in this city of 2 million, she is in the majority.

Milosevic's waiting game It is the unwillingness to protest that frustrates the opposition and bolsters Mr. Milosevic as he tries to quietly wait out the storm that has raged for the past three weeks. "I don't blame our president," Katarina says. "There were sanctions. Things have been difficult for a long time." Like others dependent on charities like this Red Cross kitchen, she voted for Milosevic's socialist party in local elections, which the opposition says it won. The results were annulled by authorities, sparking the protests. About 30,000 people in Serbia and the southern province of Montenegro get their only warm meals from soup kitchens, says a study for International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Yugoslav Red Cross. "At least 75,000 people would be using soup kitchens if they could admit their own poverty," the Dnevni Telegraf newspaper reported recently, quoting the study. The report estimates that some 3 million people - a third of the population - live in poverty in Serbia. Annual earnings were $3,000 in 1990, but are now estimated at $1,500. Unemployment is at least 50 percent, annual inflation is 100 percent. But ordinary Serbs do not blame the governing socialists. It is the international community, the opposition - anyone but Milosevic. The socialists' support holds up nationwide, while opposition successes in the local elections have been confined to the cities, where young, educated, and middle class people vote for them. The opposition has tried, and failed, to get organized labor to join the mass demonstrations. …

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