Balkans troubled by 'economic desperation'
In this story:
January 31, 1997
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EST (0000 GMT)
From Correspondent Richard Blystone
LONDON (CNN) -- Rampaging Albanians blame their anti-
Communist but authoritarian government for a giant swindle
that some say has hit every family in the country.
Marching Serbs keep up the pressure on a government of
ex-communists who, when opposition parties won
elections, did what came naturally -- it reversed them.
And striking Bulgarians, who've had both anti-Communists
and ex-communists in power, say both share the same old
thinking that's brought ruin on their country.
Three different scenes, one common factor.
"There is economic desperation in all these countries," says
Martin Rady, a professor with the University of London's
School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
"Albania probably has the worst standard of living and the
worst incomes in the entirety of Europe. In Bulgaria, you
have a constitutional crisis coming on top of an economic
slump of the worst possible proportions. In Serbia, we're
dealing with a country that is still under what is called the
'outer wall' of sanctions where economic recovery just hasn't
Former Soviet bloc dependent on international aid
When protesters in Eastern Europe took to the streets in
1989, they never knew when they might overstep some line and
be beaten or mown down.
Today's demonstrators can feel safer. Their governments are
mindful of international aid, and have to restrain
themselves. And they will, so long as they feel they still
have something to lose.
But 1989 was not like the start of a horse race, where
everyone got an even chance when the bar went up
Albania, authoritarian in the extreme, had isolated itself
from the rest of the world. Fear in Romania was an epidemic
disease. Hungary and Poland retained only vestiges of their
prewar sophistication and prosperity.
It was Yugoslavia that everyone envied. Marshal Tito had
welded its disparate groups into a nation, pulling the
country out of the Soviet orbit and made it into a wealthy,
progressive bridge to the West.
"Yugoslavia had the best standard of living and the
most sophisticated market economy," says Martin Rady. "It
had a civil society, free associations and organizations
operating, and it had an intelligentsia."
Yugoslavia has lost its economic luster
But what once looked like a front-runner is now running near
the back of the pack. While ex-communists in Yugoslavia
struggle to stifle democracy, other countries are returning
to the democracy and free market systems they had enjoyed
before the USSR suffocated them with communism for over four
decades -- and they are regaining their prosperity.
The Czech Republic and Slovenia have higher credit ratings
than Greece. Post-communist Hungary has had five times more
outside investment than Bulgaria and Romania combined.
Given these choices, then, who would invest in Albania, where
gangs and tribal law often have the final say? And with no
visionary strongman to hold it together, who wants to invest
in a Yugoslavia that has fragmented back into its
quarrelsome component parts?
But the isolation of an Albania and the disintegration of
Yugoslavia cause a dangerous fissure that widens throughout
the old communist bloc.
Michael Williams is a senior Balkans analyst at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies. "There has to
be some sort of overall Western policy of assistance to these
countries," he says. "Otherwise they're going forever to be a
pool of instability in Europe."
To fail to do so is to invite visions of a poor, polluted,
trash-strewn Continental back-lot that does little but export
illegal migrants and invite aggression. It would start the
next century with a disturbing similarity to the start of
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