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Serbia: Reshuffle May Contribute To Economic Freeze--An Analysis

By Zoran Jelicic

Belgrade, 29 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The major reshuffle at the top of the ruling Serbian Socialist Party has important implications for Serbia's economic progress.

In the reshuffle last week, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic replaced three of the party's four deputy presidents, as well as 10 of the 22 members of the executive committee.

The most notable appointment as a vice president was that of Milorad Vucelic, the former director general of state television and a veteran associate of Milosevic in war and peace. Vucelic has long had a reputation as a hardliner and Serb nationalist, and the other top appointees are seen as being generally of similar complexion.

The moves can be viewed as part of the ongoing process of marshalling Socialist Party forces ahead of the coming parliamentary and presidential election battle sometime before the end of the year. The Socialists know that beating the Zajedno opposition coalition will not be easy, in the wake of the opposition's triumph in gaining reinstatement of its municipal election victories.

An RFE/RL economic analyst in Belgrade sees the latest appointments as a clear signal that the Socialists' door still is open only to those who oppose serious change in Serbia. In economic terms, he notes that none of the new vice presidents is in touch with the global economy, or even with the comprehensive reform program set by the party itself for this year. The appointments therefore call into question Milosevic's commitment to reform, and the seriousness of the government's intentions.

Our correspondent says the first and most important test of where the government stands is the proposed privatisation law. That is now in the so-called "public forum" stage, in which the measure is subjected to open comment. He says that if the government finds the forum "fruitful" but then goes on to ignore all the criticism which would change the core of the proposed concept, then it will be the usual old-style abuse of the public consultation mechanism.

He says the privatisation measure can be said to have received a "fail grade" during the forum in key areas of its economic and legal framework. For instance prominent Serbian economists, including those active in the private sector as well as managers of state-run enterprises, say that the measure as it stands will not help national economic recovery. That's because it does not make the privatisation process obligatory, nor does it set concrete time frames.

Critics of the measure's legal provisions arrive at the same conclusion by noting that it would basically still allow the state to maintain control over the entire national economic situation. They say no sophisticated businesses in the world will cooperate with Serbian companies because in the final analysis all their business decisions would be controlled by the government.

Our correspondent says that as a result of all this, there's a widespread feeling that if the government stricks to its present concept for privatisation, it will be to the serious detriment of economic development in Serbia.