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A prominent official within Serbia's Labor Ministry has proposed a hare-brained scheme to boost that country's flagging birthrate.

State Secretary Zeljko Vasilijevic said he wants a national institution to "import" up to 250,000 brides to Serbia. He went on to note the inherent "potential" in women from Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam. "They have a tradition of bearing children, and those girls are also good at agricultural work," he asserted. "There are 250,000 unmarried young men in Serbian villages who would like to get married but have no women to marry."

Vasilijevic insisted that a looming demographic "crisis" in Serbia demands radical solutions. "Every year in this country, deaths outstrip births by 30,000. It's clear that something must be done. In Serbia there are approximately 250,000 single men with full reproductive potential, living in villages or impoverished parts of the country; they represent our untapped reproductive reserves, and they just need to get married."

As if his hole weren't deep enough, Vasilijevic -- who in addition to his ministerial duties presides over the Serbian Veterans Movement and is a leader of the Tsar Lazar Guard, a paramilitary formation that threatened to wage war to prevent independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo -- kept digging.

"The only real option is the Far East," he said, for a number of reasons. "They're Buddhists, and that religion is the closest to our Christian Orthodox faith. They're also hard workers and have a cult of birth-giving. In five years, we could have 300,000 newborns."

When RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service asked Vasiljevic about the reaction to his comments, he wondered why "so much dust has been kicked up" over his modest little proposal. The government should back his scheme, he said, since the influx of foreign women would help fill an estimated 50,000 vacant jobs, primarily in agriculture.

Moreover, Vasilijevic said, his project doesn't require substantial investment. He even knows where to find "at least" 100,000 single women.

Labor Minister Rasim Ljajic apologized for the state secretary's comments. Ombudsman Milos Bogojevic expressed disbelief that a government official would seemingly promote violations of basic human rights and advocate for people trafficking. He said he believes Vasilijevic should not be allowed to retain his post.

-- Gordana Knezevic

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