Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic Company Directors Purged

Politicians who overthrew Slobodan Milosevic are now purging state companies of his followers.
By Sinisa Stanimirovic

Shock waves from the uprising that overthrew President Slobodan


Milosevic are still reverberating through Serbian commerce and industry


with victorious political activists gleefully hounding Milosevic


loyalists from lucrative jobs at the head of key companies.


Former directors have resigned or been chased out by "crisis


committees" set up by angry workers. The upheaval threatened a slide


into anarchy, especially in the absence of action by police who were


themselves in disarray.


The situation alarmed Yugoslav new President Vojislav Kostunica, the leading member of


the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, which surged to power


in October. He suspected that much of the company takeovers were


masterminded by Zoran Djindjic - his main rival inside the coalition - who is thought to have been appointing his close associates to leading positions within the crisis committees.


In negotiations to establish a united DOS front in Serbia's


parliamentary elections on December 23, Kostunica agreed that Djindjic would be appointed prime minister of the next government on condition that he relinquishes his influence over the crisis committees.


One of the first groups to kick out management were the journalists who


took over state media. Then DOS activists placed the National Bank of


Yugoslavia under their control. Next came the Federal Customs Office


where a businessman, Dusan Zabunovic, took over for a while from the Milosevic loyalist Mihalj


Kertes but was soon himself replaced by three DOS men.


An informal group of doctors declared itself the crisis committee in


charge of the Serbian Health Ministry. Other crisis committees seized


the headquarters of big medical centres.


Some company bosses tried to avert a takeover by pretending they were


themselves a crisis committee. This happened at the Belgrade


agricultural company PKB. The employees soon saw through this and


chased the old management out, only to discover the former bosses had


absconded with about one million German marks. DOS headquarters in


Belgrade sent activists a stern warning to be on guard against "theft


and abuse by the old management".


Some of the new leaders viewed these events with unease. They recalled


that Milosevic's agents had done much the same thing to companies when


he came to power in the late eighties, with subsequent dire results for


the economy.


One DOS leader, Zarko Korac, warned against anarchy. But by that time,


Serbia was awash with crisis committees followed by a wave of strikes.


Most of the main companies had been taken over.


Managements loyal to Milosevic survived for a while in a handful of enterprises, notably a company called Progress, headed


by long-standing prime minister Mirko Marjanovic, and in the


powerful Oil Industry of Serbia, run by Dragan


Tomic. But they too were eventually swept away by protesters.


While there was no firm proof that all those taking over enterprises were DOS members, it was widely assumed that most of the people


suddenly appearing in top management positions were in fact appointed


by coalition activists.


There were plenty of examples such as the case of a DOS deputy in the


Sabac local assembly who became director of the town's medical centre


after his predecessor resigned.


Not all employees were happy with the changes. Many felt there were some


managers who did not deserve dismissal. In several places workers split


up into feuding camps over who should be thrown out and who should stay.


This happened in a shoe factory in Vranje, south Serbia.


One medical technician at the Institute of Oncology and Radiology of


Serbia who wished to remain anonymous said, "I understand that they


dismissed the director of the institute because he belonged to the JUL (the Yugoslav Left party


run by Milosevic's wife). But it is unclear to me why they are now


replacing other departmental heads who are widely admired as experts."


Serbia's transitional government decided to establish commissions


to investigate the validity of these changes. One of the DOS leaders,


Dragoljub Micunovic, said the bodies "will investigate every case


and propose measures to stop abuse and return matters to normal."


He promised the commissions would retain managements which had improved


matters and replace those which had brought chaos.


No-one knows when or whether the commissions will actually start work.


The transitional government will last only until December 23 election, when a DOS


victory is expected.


Milosevic's party, the Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, and JUL vehemently opposed what they describe as the "slaughter of directors." But Yugoslavia has a long tradition of


political dabbling in the economy.


On coming to power, Milosevic himself


threw out most of the company directors who had been loyal to his predecessor, Ivan Stambolic, thus acquiring absolute control over Serbia's finances. One


legendary director, Miki Savicevic, was dismissed from the then Belgrade


giant Genex. With the fall of Milosevic, he returned to Genex.


In the early nineties, legislation was enacted to give huge


power to Milosevic followers running state companies. By the time the president was overthrown, all management posts were exclusively held by


members of his party or JUL. This held true as much for a primary school as for a big


trading company.


This hierarchy disintegrated after Milosevic's departure. The DOS


leadership must now reflect on whether it would be wise to continue this


interventionist pattern, a policy which clearly did not pay off for its


predecessors.


Sinisa Stanimirovic is a regular IWPR contributor