Ante Markovic is Gone
PREMIER OF THE LAST HOPE
By Dimitrije Boarov
Unusually at first glance but the news that Ante Markovic, the last
premier of the SFRY who had resigned on December 20, 1991 incapable of preventing an
upcoming war found the strongest echo in Serbia.
Such large publicity given to reminiscences of "Ante's era"
two decades after his resignation - no matter how popular that Yugoslav Premier had been
and how successful businessman before - was not exactly something one would have logically
expected in Serbia.
But a careful analysis shows clearly why was it that of all places
Belgrade - wherefrom Milosevic had launched a fierce campaign against Markovic's brief
premiership and his vision of "an open Yugoslavia" - grieved so much over
Markovic. (True, neither had political centers in Zagreb and Ljubljana been supportive,
let alone lenient when it came to Markovic.) First and foremost because many people have
realized since that Markovic was "the premier of the last hope" for Yugoslavia's
survival and success in the "new era" and that Milosevic could have not possibly
figured as a leader of such South-Yugoslav community. A community as such, they realized,
could not have rested on outdated ideologies and constitutional provisions at the time of
the fall of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of Eastern Bloc's socialism, let alone on
the power of the "majority nation" imbued with nationalism and populism and
raving about "a greater Serbia."
A decade after Tito's death - the decade of economic and systemic
stagnation and growing nationalistic tensions between republics - citizens of Yugoslavia
sensed that the newly installed Premier's "new socialism" was actually a screen
for "a big transition" towards a more open state oriented towards the West and
Europe, and based on individual initiative and entrepreneurship. And this is what Markovic
accomplished through an almost unimaginable deregulation: in just a couple of months he
simply removed all barriers to private businesses and circulation of domestic and foreign
A years-long manager of the giant engineering company "Rade
Koncar" this electrical engineer by vocation breathed self-confidence, rationalism
and pragmatism into Yugoslav politics. But he was also aware that ordinary people and
enterprises had to be true owners of their "own wallets" rather than perpetually
manipulated self-managers never entitled in practice to "control the products of
To start with, Markovic removed the barrier between domestic and foreign
currencies and, in his famous "Anti-inflation program" launched in 1990, linked
dinar to German mark (7:1) and thus made it convertible. All of a sudden, Yugoslavs were
able to buy imported drinks and cigarettes in famous "free shops" and pay for
them from their dinar salaries. They could go to banks to convert their dinars into
foreign exchange and then spend their money all over the world. The black market exchange
rate vanished into thin air overnight. In one year only Yugoslavia's foreign exchange
reserves registered a 6-billion-dollar growth, while foreign, cheaper commodities such as
household appliances overflowed the domestic market. So everyone was under the impression
that he lived more freely and in the manner he wished. To this very day many ordinary
people, particularly in Serbia, claim that "Ante's era" was the golden age.
True, ex-Yugoslav elites in all republics contributed to this
impression. To gain in popularity among common folks they "unfroze" salaries
contrary to Markovic's plan for the safeguard of a fixed exchange rate encouraging to the
state's credit capacity. The race in "bribing people" started by national elites
soon undermined Markovic's program. His request that all Yugoslav republics federatively
pay off accumulated domestic debts and end the inflationary financing of the huge trade
misbalance with the then Soviet Union raised a hue and cry in all republican centers, most
of all in Belgrade. (At the time the biggest middlemen in dealings with Moscow were
located in Belgrade.)
When counteracting Markovic Milosevic promised "a Swedish standard
of living" for all Serbs and claimed that Serbia was being "exploited"
through disparities of prices of agricultural products and raw materials on the one hand
and manufacturing products on the other, the campaign against Markovic turned almost into
hysteria. Milosevic went so far as to break into the common monetary system by
"printing" imaginary money to be spent on his apparatus and at the expense of
the others (allegedly, other republics did the same but not to such extent). After this
intrusion that cost the country some two billion dollars it became clear to all that
Markovic's plan was being actually - not only politically - sabotaged and that Yugoslavia
and its common economic policy were labors of Sisyphus.
When the League of Communists of Yugoslavia disintegrated Markovic tried
to legitimize his "Yugoslav policy of hope and smile" through a party of his own
- the Alliance of Reformist Forces of Yugoslavia. Before that he passed the first
"privatization law" ever in the socialist world. The law provided that all
workers shall be entitled to buy off with benefits 60 percent of "social"
capital of the enterprises they work for. He was actually after killing two birds with one
stone - reducing unsupported spending one the one hand, and making it possible for workers
to realize that they were actual owners of their enterprises. And that was supposed to
secure plebiscitary support to his policy. The problem is that throughout history no
economically rational program managed to prevail over nationalistic hysteria and the
beating of war drums.
So it happened that, expect in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Markovic's Reformist
Alliance lost in the first multiparty elections in all ex-Yugoslav republics. It even
failed to win sufficient number of votes in federal elections. Finally, his shares
spiraled down at the market of international politics, which used to make more promises
than provide support to "the only man with a smile on his face in the Balkans."
The door to the war was wide open. Markovic retired from the contest. And it was only
after people experienced the hardships of war and transition that Markovic, particularly
in Serbia, became a legend, a memory of a better life and of Yugoslavia's lost chance.