I attended two symposia in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in October and December 1993, and clearly Belgrade and Serbia had changed since my last stay there. The famous cafes in Belgrade were almost empty; most shops had almost nothing to offer. The people were out of money; the sanctions had practically made a concentration camp out of the FRY. Easygoing, intellectual, and cosmopolitan Belgrade had lost much of her nonchalant splendor.
Due to the sanctions and exorbitant inflation rates, incomes had dropped to unbelievably low levels in both Serbia and Montenegro, some pensions reaching the value of four to five U.S. dollars a month, or even less. A minister of the federal government told me with a sad smile that his monthly salary was less than 60 U.S. dollars. But one thing had not changed: the people’s determination not to surrender to the outside pressure of lies, slander, and disinformation and to survive with dignity all the hardships imposed by diplomatic and economic sanctions. The poor (now the majority of the once-prosperous people) and the relatively well-off, regardless of their party allegiance, both told me the same thing: “In our turbulent history, in our fight for freedom, we went through even worse times and survived with honor; the truth will finally prevail. During the war in 1914-18, more than 25 percent of our nation was exterminated by German and Austro-Hungarian Kulturträger (bearers of culture)—and we are still here!”
What they find most disturbing is that their former friends and allies—the French, the British, the Americans—are the ones spreading the lies, destroying their economy—and their health. An old friend of mine, a truck driver named Jovica G., put it this way: “We fought as their staunch allies during the last two big wars. The Serbs were on the list of those who suffered most, like Jews and Russians, during the last war. And those who killed us quite recently by the thousands are now the alleged protectors of justice and democracy and are making decisions about our destiny. With few exceptions, we did not change, we still have our traditional values. But a lot of people in the West have become venal. They would sell and write almost anything about us. Their media have lost any sense of integrity and honor, the professional ethic. Their traditional values that we used to esteem have disappeared completely.”
I visited a few hospitals and medical institutions, and I was appalled by what I saw. In the prestigious Endocrinological Institute in Belgrade, in the famous Military Medical Academy (VMA), the most common drug for the treatment of Graves’ disease of the thyroid (carbimazol) was not available. “If the patient gets the drug somewhere from somebody who just returned from abroad and pays him in Deutsch marks or in U.S. dollars, he could be treated,” said the respected professor of endocrinology Dragan M. There were virtually no anesthetics (elective surgery had decreased tremendously), analgesics, tuberculostatics, anti-tumor drugs, geriatrics; there was a severe shortage of antibiotics, insulin, etc. Some psychiatric patients were being treated with shocks, as patients were 50 years ago, because psychotropic drugs were scarce. In psychiatry, the situation was tragic. There also was a severe shortage of vaccines for infants, and the food in many hospitals was often inadequate.
Spare parts for various medical instruments and for sophisticated diagnostic machines were not allowed to enter the FRY, even if they had been paid for much earlier. The well-known institute for diseases of the thyroid gland and for treatment of obesity on Zlatibor was in need of many instruments—various hormonal levels could no longer be measured there, proper treatments could not be followed. There is a modern and expanded pharmaceutical industry in the FRY, which needs various raw materials for its production, but they are all prohibited to enter the country by the Sanctions Committee of the United Nations, whose bureaucracy causes incredible delays even in the shipment of drugs and food. And if the finished drugs are allowed to enter the FRY, they are much more expensive than the drugs produced domestically. In the latter case, domestic drug production could create many much-needed new jobs. To make matters worse, Yugoslav foreign assets were frozen abroad. Who could pay for a sufficient supply of the imported drugs, vaccines, medical instruments? The Serbs and Montenegrins who work or live abroad could not do so, and, as a consequence, the infant mortality rate increased tremendously, tuberculosis spread, the chronically ill died much more frequently, and there were no drugs at all for the aged.
The whole situation deteriorated dramatically after Security Council Resolution 820 was passed in April 1993 and after the FRY was effectively removed from the World Health Organization (WHO) the next month. People once thought the WHO was a humanitarian and not a political organization, but the American, Austrian, Dutch, English, French, German, and Muslim representatives, together with many client governments, expelled Yugoslavia and converted the WHO into an instrument of political blackmail. Only a few voted against them or abstained, namely China, India, Russia, and Zimbabwe.
I discussed the health problems of the Bosnian Serb Republic with its foreign secretary. “In our republic,” he said, “we lack about 70 percent of the medicines needed. The people suffering from chronic diseases, the elderly who are ill, are actually doomed to death. The infant mortality rate has increased tremendously. Dental care is practically nonexistent. Almost no humanitarian convoys reach our people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our kids are being wounded and killed by Muslim and Croat shells and snipers, too, but nobody abroad cares about them. There are no limelights, no helicopters, no publicity for them. We are stunned by the ignorance and often arrogance of foreign politicians and media about our history and suffering. If they speak about Sarajevo, they speak almost in unison about the Muslims. But Sarajevo, just before the tragic events in our country, was the second largest Serbian city, immediately after Belgrade, with only a slight Muslim majority. Do you know how Muslim grenades destroyed Grbavica, Nedjarici, Ilidza, and other Serb-held parts of Sarajevo?”
The president of Belgrade’s city council is Mrs. Slobodanka Gruden, M.D. She is also the president of the Serbian Red Cross. In her official residence, the Old Royal palace, we discussed the problem of refugees in Serb-held territories. There were about 600,000 refugees in the FRY at the end of last year; there was no international help for them. Approximately half of them were expelled— “ethnically cleansed”—from Croatia; the rest were from Bosnia and Herzegovina, including about 50,000 Muslims, who were well cared for. About 200,000 refugees were in the Bosnian Serb Republic and in the Serbian republic of Kraina. And the FRY fed them all, regardless of the draconic sanctions. The secretary general of the Serbian Red Cross, Mrs. Radmila Cvetkovic, told me proudly: “And do you know. Professor, that 96 percent of all the refugees here, in Serbia, are not in various refugee camps, but they live as guests of various families not related to them? And those families are overburdened with their own problems. Foreign media never report this, or anything about our problems with refugees.”
Four British members of Parliament—two Conservatives, one Labor, and one Liberal Democrat—traveled to the FRY in a private capacity to assess the health situation in the Bosnian Serb Republic. They published a report about their findings in September 1993. They found that a health care crisis was looming and that the problems needed to be addressed quickly before conditions became critical. In addition to the lack of drugs (especially critical in Bosnia and Herzegovina), they found a rise in cases of contagious diseases and tuberculosis, infant and maternal mortality, cardiovascular disorders, and malignant diseases. They found almost no drugs for the treatment of hypertension, except for those patients who can afford to pay for them with foreign currency (assuming the drugs could be found at all). Some dialysis centers for kidney patients were closed—there were difficulties in replacing components for dialysis machines. Most needed were drugs for child care; for tuberculosis, bacteric and parasitic diseases, and for cardiovascular and malignant diseases; drugs for surgery; laboratory and diagnostic supplies; and psychopharmaceuticals. The urban population (90 percent of it) depends on drinking water supplied from central systems, but the stocks of chemicals and mechanical parts for the water purification plants were in low supply—due almost solely to the international sanctions. Waterborne epidemics increased ominously, although the previous hygienic and epidemiological situation had been excellent. The Sanctions Committee had refused many times to allow any shipment of heating oil or gas from abroad for hospitals, schools, and kindergartens. The Russian delegate battled in vain last year to convince Britain, France, and the United States to give clearance for a large emergency shipment of heating oil for the FRY.
The British MPs found the situation especially depressing at the Belgrade University Children’s Hospital. The problems were exacerbated by the shortages of medical supplies and equipment. Children whose parents could not afford to purchase medicines on the black market had to be withdrawn from long-term treatment; even cancer cases were subjected to the same criteria. Because the medication for a child with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) was not available, his brain was almost totally destroyed. The volume of surgical work, particularly heart surgery, dropped dramatically. In one case, the United States government blocked the importation of special equipment for the hospital, in spite of Security Council Sanctions Committee clearance. Children were dying of cancer and leukemia because the expensive cytostatics could not be bought. The need for children to receive proper care was totally neglected by those who organized and carried out the sanctions. The Director General of this hospital had had a monthly income of approximately 1,200 U.S. dollars—now it had dropped to 18 U.S. dollars.
The British MPs concluded that delays of up to six months in the granting of import licenses, even for humanitarian aid, had become the norm. Clearly, there was a need to reexamine the colossal bureaucracy that blocked the shipment of medical supplies to the FRY, to the Bosnian Serb Republic, and to Kraina. The provision of humanitarian support and care should not have been affected by the economic and diplomatic sanctions. Repeatedly, trucks with drugs were held at the Hungarian- Yugoslav border, even though they had all the necessary documents. Frozen Yugoslav funds overseas should have been freed to enable the FRY authorities to buy all the necessary medical supplies.
All medical aid in the Bosnian Serb Republic comes from the FRY, from its meager resources and donations from Serbs living abroad. Here, too, the situation was desperate, and again the shortages affected almost all types of drugs—cardiotonics, insulin, diuretics, tuberculostatics, antibiotics, analgesics, anesthetics, cytostatics, psychotropic drugs, oral antidiabetics, H2 blockers, all kinds of eye drops—as well as gauze, bandages, syringes, and needles. The mortality rate of patients with cancer, tuberculosis, heart and kidney diseases, geriatric and psychiatric problems increased about 60 percent. There was practically no antishock therapy, and the death rate immediately after injury had increased dramatically, partly because of the lack of fuel for ambulances and the bureaucratic approach of the U.N. protection force, which required at least six hours’ clearance before flight. In the meantime, most patients died.
Finally, the British MPs came across two severely injured Serbian boys, Sinisa G. and Dejan Z., aged 9 and 10, who suffered critical trauma from a Bosnian Muslim shell on August 5, 1993. Sinisa suffered severe abdominal injuries, damage to the stomach and both the small and large intestines. He was burned and had sustained wounds on his hands and neck. Dejan had both his legs amputated, and gangrene had developed in his thigh. Doctors who were treating them could not complete all the necessary treatment, so they asked that the boys be flown to the West for further help. Their parents agreed. But the boys were not flown to the West, and both died. Was this reported by CNN or by the New York Times or Time magazine?
People in Belgrade cannot understand the hypocrisy of the West, particularly the Western media and politicians who speak about human rights and about the sacrosanct rights of children while condoning and encouraging sanctions that kill innocent people, especially children. The weak and the poor are punished without reason; they suffer much more than the affluent leaders. Nobody is innocent in the civil war in Yugoslavia, a civil war that the West helped to initiate and to spread, but the politicians of the West are ignorant of this region’s history and are unwilling to acknowledge their errors, to admit that they were successfully manipulated. Is it not a crime if an organization like Global Public Affairs earns huge sums of money manufacturing lies and disinformation about a country that has repeatedly proven its courage and loyalty to its friends and allies in the West? The Serbs will never forget the words of the last United States Ambassador in Belgrade, Mr. Warren Zimmerman: “We will compel you to stop smiling!” Neither will they forget the arrogance and ignorance of Senator Robert Dole when he visited Kosovo.
Our week in Belgrade was ending. We were invited to dinner by our good friend Rade R., a tough Montenegrin, and his wife Olga. Rade had just returned from work in Russia. His plum brandy was excellent, his white-labeled Vranac—the superb Montenegrin claret—soothed all the anxieties and hardships. “Look, Rajko and Dobra, what I found in an old journal: the words of the American foreign secretary Robert Lansing about our Serbian nation, in 1918, at the end of the big war. Little has changed in the last 75 years”:
When the history of this war will be written, its most glorious chapter will be called: Serbia. The Serbian army with its courage made miracles, and the Serbian nation suffered incredible hardships. Such self-sacrifice and endurance cannot pass unnoticed—they must be rewarded.
Seventy-six years ago, on September 15,1918, the Allied armies on the Thessaloniki front, led by the first Serbian army, broke through the German, Bulgarian, and Austro-Hungarian defenses, and the sweeping advance of the Serbian army liberated Montenegro and Serbia. Every year, to commemorate that event, wreaths have been laid at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior on the hilltop of Avala, near Belgrade. Until last year, when the former allies, the Americans, the British, and the French, were conspicuously absent. . . . The Sanctions Committee in New York had refused to authorize the flight of the old Thessaloniki veterans—there are a few of them still around, all over age 90—from Belgrade to Corfu. What would Robert Lansing say?