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


Sinisa Stanimirovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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