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Serbs Flee To Montenegro

Serbs are fleeing to Montenegro in droves to escape the harsh realities of the Milosevic regime.
By Zoran Radulovic

Until a few weeks ago, Jelena was working as a psychologist at the Clinical Centre in Novi Sad, northern Serbia. Today she is a waitress in a fast food joint.

By swapping her white coat for a pink uniform, she increased her previous monthly salary of 70 German marks five-fold. In order to do so, she followed a well-trodden path, leaving Novi Sad for Herceg Novi, a coastal resort in Montenegro.

Thirty-year-old Jelena is one of the many Serbian "refugees" who are slowly taking over the southern part of Montenegro.

Not so long ago, Belgrade echoed with the sounds of Montenegrin accents - the people of undeveloped and mountainous republic flocked there in search of opportunity. Today, Podgorica is becoming a magnet for Belgraders - business people, politicians, journalists, students, professors and doctors.

People flee for a number of reasons. Political opponents of the Milosevic regime come to save their heads - or at least their sanity. Some hope to get rich in more liberal and market-orientated Montenegro, while others - like Jelena - are fleeing poverty.

Increasing levels of repression and the wave of unsolved murders on the streets of Belgrade have also brought the rich and famous.

Bogoljub Karic, who became a multi-millionaire under the patronage of Slobodan Milosevic then fell from grace, is on a list of those forbidden to enter the European Union. Montenegro is his only outlet. Nenad Djordjevic, another wealthy Serb who bankrolled JUL, the party of Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic, came here after he was frozen out of the inner circle.

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, recently escaped an assassination attempt while at his holiday home in Budva.

It remains to be seen whether Montenegro's "safe haven" status will suffer as a result.

Defections to Montenegro, which many Serbs regard as an oasis of freedom and optimism, began in earnest two years ago with the passing of the draconian University Law, which turned universities in Serbia into centrally controlled institutions with no freedom of opinion or expression.

Disillusioned university staff were followed by newspapers. Belgrade-based "Dnevni Telegraf" and "Evropljanin" switched publication to Podgorica, after they fell victim to the notorious Information Law.

At the beginning of NATO bombing campaign, the owner and editor of both papers, Slavko Curuvija, was killed in the centre of Belgrade by unknown assassins.

The biggest-selling newspaper in Serbia, Blic, was forced to move some of its print run to Podgorica when state printers refused to continue printing the popular independent daily. Editor-in-chief, Veselin Simonovic, estimates that Blic loses around 70,000 copies per day as a result of the switch, which has also increased publication costs by 20 percent. The editorial staff of daily Glas javnosti, latest target of the Belgrade regime, are also thinking of moving to Montenegro.

During the NATO bombing campaign in March of last year, Serbs flocked to Montenegro. Opposition figures fled, along with artists, journalists and thousands of draft-dodgers. In three months, the Security Centre in Podgorica issued around 5,000 new identity documents.

Some, like president of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic, returned to Belgrade at the end of the bombing campaign. Others, like Goran Vesic, a Democratic Party deputy in the Belgrade City Assembly, are still in Podgorica.

"I came at the end of May 1999, prior to receiving a two-year sentence for not responding to the draft. I am still here, awaiting for the outcome of my appeal to the Supreme Military Court," he said.

Belgrade artist, Miroslav Nune Popovic, shared a similar fate. "I have faced four politically motivated trials in the past four years because of my work. I was due to appear in court during NATO bombing campaign, so I went into exile as I could have faced a three-year prison sentence. I felt secure in Montenegro, but since I could not work on projects connected with Serbia, I have decided to move on to Slovenia," he said.

The influx of business people who lack ties with the Milosevic regime has meant an injection of capital to Montenegro. "Since the middle of last year, we have registered at least one company per week, coming from Belgrade to Podgorica," said one of the numerous company registration agencies.

The two-currency system now in place in Montenegro is a further incentive for business people.

"Montenegrin regulations are much more liberal than Serbian ones, export-import licences are much simpler or aren't necessary, and the tax and financial controls are rare and not so rigorous," said Goran Vesic, adding that all of his Belgrade business friends have now registered their companies in Montenegro.

Those who worry that Belgrade's sabre-rattling means that Montenegro could eventually face military intervention should note that even Yugoslav Army officers are heading south.

Some, like General Radosav Martinovic and Lieutenant Jovan Strugar, have found lucrative new careers - as advisers to the Montenegrin government.

Zoran Radulovic is a Montenegrin journalist

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