Docstoc

Sanctions

Document Sample
Sanctions Powered By Docstoc
					                                            Sanctions
                                       Rachel Landis Vesković
                                           January 1994



August 20, 1993
We arrived in Belgrade via train – not that there was much choice, considering that the airport
was closed to international travel. The mass of people at the bus stop guaranteed that we would
never get aboard with our five bags, so we walked around the corner and down the street to
where the bus would off-load its previous set of passengers at the end of its run. After 40
minutes, the bus came. The driver didn't want to let us or the other three people at the stop get on
here, arguing that it was against regulations. Grudgingly relenting, he glared at us as we boarded
and took a seat. That evening, we went into town. My companion, a Belgrade native, was
stunned at the empty stores that had been full of goods just two months before. He bought me a
chevrek, the Serb equivalent of a pretzel without the twist, for 15 million dinara.

October 14, 1993
The government took six zeros off the currency on the first of this month. The only way to get on
a bus – not a seat, just a place to have at least one foot touching the floor as you struggled to hold
on to what was left of a grab bar that swayed drunkenly, no longer attached to the ceiling or the
side supports, trying to protect your chest from the crush as if you were in the front row of a
Megadeth concert – was to wait three stops before the end of the line. A chevrek now cost 750
new dinara, or 750 million of the old.


One must try very hard to remain isolated from the problems of the outside world when CNN
brings the images into our homes. Governments are being pressured to do "something" to stop
the violence/feed the children/save the world. But how much can outside influence affect internal
conflict? And at what cost? The United Nations passes resolutions condemning actions it decides
are contrary to the common good, but it has little effective means to support these resolutions. As
it stands, the means of dealing with countries who do not abide by Security Council orders are
divided into two alternatives: military force or economic sanctions. Military intervention is
clearly a last-ditch effort to be avoided if at all possible, which leaves the "non-violent" method.
In some situations, economic sanctions have proved sufficient. South Africa, for instance, is
approaching its first multi-racial elections, a landmark that might never have occurred without
the economic pressure of the global community. Unfortunately, broad-based sanctions against an
entire country have some of the same pitfalls as dropping bombs: namely, that it is mainly the
innocent who suffer most. In addition, the ruling government can turn hardship to its advantage,
producing the opposite of the intended effect. As we approach the 21st century, there must be
better ways of bringing about an end to specific conflicts without completely destroying a
country's economy and the lives of those who must live within its borders.

It is difficult to describe what can happen to a city when it loses the resources necessary to its
survival. There are no raw materials, so the factories are quiet. Two-thirds of its labor pool is on
enforced vacation. Whereas a little over two years ago, the average salary was the equivalent of
$850/month, today the average is $20. Gasoline costs 2.5DM (deutschemark)/liter, or about
$6.50/gallon and is greatly watered down. People can not drive to work, to family, to the
hospital. Public transportation is overloaded to the point of destruction: the few remaining
vehicles, shocks crushed to uselessness under the weight of far too many bodies, cannibalize
their less-fortunate brethren for spare parts. A woman sitting over the wheel well on a bus was
killed when the tire beneath her exploded. Food can not be transported from the countryside to
the cities. Inflation for the month of August was 1,886%; by December, the monthly inflation
rate had risen to over a million percent. The six zeros taken off the currency in October had no
effect, since within three months, eleven more zeros had been added to take their place. Not
having been to Yugoslavia before, I did not realize how quickly things had changed since the
embargo – until I found a 1992 one-dinar coin.

Then there are the individuals: Branislava Eleković, a 23 year old pharmacy student. "There is no
future for us here. Why should I go to school and get a degree so I can work 40 hours a week and
get paid 10 DM a month? I can spend 10 DM a week. What am I going to do for the rest of the
month? What if I want to have some ice cream or go to a movie? This is not living. This is just
waiting."

Zeljko Šević, 25, the Yugoslav Minister of Youth, read me a letter in which, due to the embargo,
his request to participate in a regional conference was denied; a letter very similar to the one I
found on my host's desk rejecting his application for employment by a non-governmental peace
organization based in the Netherlands, also "due to the embargo" even though he was a private
citizen and the embargo was not supposed to apply to individuals. (If it did, Vlade Divac would
not be playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.) The overall attitude was summed up by Branislava's
room mate, Daniela: "We haven't done anything. Why do we have to suffer?"

The sense of futility becomes even more intense when everywhere one sees glimpses of the few
who still possess great wealth, and you realize that those who do have the power and are
responsible for national policies are the ones who have enough money and connections to shield
them against the harshness of international condemnation.

Sanctions seem to operate on the tacit understanding that the people of the country should rise up
against their leaders. However, in a country with a majority of the populace not very highly
educated and mainly engaged in agriculture and heavy industry, the leaders can twist the
sanctions to their own ends. Those people who disagree with the policies of their leaders feel
themselves outnumbered and impotent to change the situation. As of October 1993, 400,000
people under the age of 35 had left Yugoslavia in the prior two years. This is from a country
roughly the size of Virginia. Many of those who remain are older people, people without money,
and the uneducated. They are either apathetic or nationalistic. They were also confused. No one
seemed to know why only Serbia was under the embargo and not Croatia, why the embargo
was still in effect, nor what needed to be done to have it lifted. Slobodan Milošević, like Saddam
Hussein and Fidel Castro, took advantage of the conditions to enhance the righteousness of his
martyrdom and increase internal solidarity. Borba, an independent Belgrade newspaper,
interviewed some people standing for hours in lines for cigarettes. They only found one man
willing to place blame on Milošević, and he was quickly berated into silence by those around
him, people who insisted that it was all part of the German- and Croatian-led Western tradition
of discrimination against Serbs. One young woman said that yes, she had heard that smoking was
bad for her, but this was her way of showing the outside world that Serbs could not be cowed;
after the embargo was lifted, then she'd think about her health.

So what can we do instead? Today's technologies could be used to spread counter-propaganda,
but it must be created by those who have a deep understanding of the area and the basis of
conflict. Recently, in response to the military coup in Haiti, the foreign assests of military leaders
were frozen, a move which directly affected those in power without further harming those whose
only fault was to live in the country. The founding of an International Criminal Court or an
International Court of Human Rights which would have jurisdiction over heads of state and the
power to enforce its decisions would limit punishment to those most likely to be at fault. Yes,
this might easily be construed as an attack against "national sovereignty," but how long can we
sit back and watch national sovereignty be a shelter for those who condone and encourage
violence against their own citizens, the very ones whom they are supposed to protect?

Answers are always more difficult to find than questions. There may never be a painless way to
stop bloodshed. We must, however, continue to seek out alternatives which minimize the
destruction of the innocent bystander.