The Damage From Defiance

Estimates of the cost of the destruction inflicted by the NATO bombing on the Serbian economy extends to billions of dollars.

The Damage From Defiance

Estimates of the cost of the destruction inflicted by the NATO bombing on the Serbian economy extends to billions of dollars.

With no end to NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia in sight, it is impossible to estimate with any accuracy the final cost of the destruction. But it will amount to many billion of dollars.

After 50 days of bombing, most Serbian economists believe that more than $100 billion of damage has already been inflicted, a figure six times greater than Yugoslavia's annual gross domestic product.

According to Nebojsa Vujovic, spokesman for the Yugoslav foreign minister, the destruction already totalled $100 billion by April 18--that is, after 25 days of bombing. By extrapolation, that would suggest more than $200 billion of damage after 50 days of bombing, since the attacks have intensified in the meantime.

However, Vujevic's assessment, as he himself specified, factored in "violation of human integrity" and "violation of freedom and honour"--that is, damage that is not directly economic in nature. It is also possible that his figure included losses suffered by the Yugoslav Army, which remain confidential.

After one month of NATO bombing, the Yugoslav federal government, through then-Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, estimated that direct economic damage at that point amounted to some $40 billion.

In an interview with the Belgrade television station Studio B, Draskovic said: "Even if we had the cash now, and the bombing stopped, we would need five years to rebuild everything that has been destroyed. The destruction of one month's bombing has been greater than that inflicted throughout the Second World War in Serbia."

Then-Federal Minister of Information Milan Komnenic announced that in the first month of the bombing 13 major bridges, 12 railway stations, and 40 industrial companies had been destroyed and 6 motorways had been cut. (He resigned on April 25.)

Nearly two months into the NATO campaign, government officials say that as many as 50 bridges and 5 airports have been destroyed, while all forms of communication--roads, railways and river crossings--have been severed. Some 100 business and residential buildings have been devastated, and reserves of oil and oil derivatives have been wiped out.

Vojvodina President Bosko Perosevic estimates that destruction in his province amounts to 6 billion German Marks ($3.3 billion). Included in this calculation are the following: seven bridges across the Danube (three in Novi Sad alone); one airport (near Sombor); oil refineries in Novi Sad and Pancevo with the production capacity of close to 10 million tonnes of crude oil per annum; Pancevo's petro-chemical complex; Pancevo's nitrogen fertiliser factory; Pancevo's Utva aircraft factory; and a dozen public buildings.

Perosevic's assessment may be conservative, since civil engineers have estimated that 2 billion German Marks will be required simply to reconstruct the seven bridges across the Danube, some of which had main spans longer than 150 metres.

Miodrag Janic, chairman of the Commission for Assessing War Damage, in Belgrade, reported at the end of April that between $15 billion and $20 billion worth of destruction had been inflicted on the Serbian capital--this before major destruction occurred at the beginning of May.

In Belgrade, in addition to the factories 21 May, Jugostroj, Rekord, and Grmec, many public buildings have been destroyed, including the headquarters of Radio-Television Serbia with its landmark 200 metre broadcast tower and network of transmitters throughout Serbia.

The cost to rebuild the burnt-out Usce business complex, which had 20,000 square metres of usable surface and used to house the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, is estimated at close to $50 million.

In his calculation, Janjic included the value of destroyed buildings of the federal and the Serbian Ministries of Interior, the air force building in Zemun, and the airports in Batajnica and Surcin. In the wake of May's bombing, the list ought now to be extended to include the destruction of one of Slobodan Milosevic's official palaces, the headquarters of the chief-of-staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese Embassy, the Yugoslavia Hotel, municipal police stations, and much more.

Serbia's second largest industrial centre, Nis, has also been a repeated target for NATO. The DIN tobacco factory, the EI electrical utility, the MIN machine-tool factory, the petroleum depot, the airport and motorway junction have all been severely damaged. And most other towns in Serbia have shared a similar fate.

It is difficult to assess the damage inflicted on Kosovo's economy, since few details have been made public. It is, however, surely immense, because it has not been spared a single night of bombing. Pristina airport and post-office have been targeted on several occasions, as has the iron-nickel complex in Glogovac, in which close to $1 billion had been invested.

The Serbian government's first war-time economic and social programme, which was adopted on May 7, is indicative of the scale and spread of the destruction. It earmarks emergency assistance for nine large companies which have been the most severely damaged, namely Zastava in Kragujevac, Krusik in Valjevo, 14 October in Kursevac, the MI machine-tool factory in Nis, Sloboda in Cacak, the Nitrogen Plant and Utva in Pancevo, Milan Blagojevic in Cacak, and Prva Iskra in Baric. There is also special assistance for Serbia's oil refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad.

The programme also ensures payment of reduced salaries for 60,000 workers who have been effectively left jobless due to the destruction of these factories. And it includes financial incentives for industrial workers with land in villages to resume earning their living from agriculture.

Many workers of smaller companies now find themselves unemployed following the destruction of their work places. Tomislav Banovic, chairman of the Alliance of Independent Unions, estimates that more than 100,000 people no longer have any way of earning a living.

Dimitrije Boarov, an economist based in Novi Sad, writes for the Belgrade newsweekly Vreme.

Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists