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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional... > Helsinki Charter No. 157-158 > Text



Ante Markovic is Gone


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 A community as such, they realized, could not have rested on outdated ideologies and constitutional provisions at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of Eastern Bloc's socialism, let alone on the power of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 currencies.

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 their work."

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.



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