October 23, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a look at Serbia after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Special correspondent Martin Himmel reports from the town of Novisad.
MARTIN HIMMEL: A traditional Serb wedding shares the joy of the moment in the streets of Novisad. Like most Serb celebrations, national emblems and national identity are intimately linked in the event. Celebration takes on added punch these days. For the first time in a decade, there is optimism in this northern Yugoslav city, hope for the future. With Vojislav Kostunica taking over the presidency, Novisad's people, like most Serbs, believe their crippled economy and imprisoned dreams have been finally freed from ten years of dictatorship under Slobodan Milosevic. But as celebrations die down in the streets, the stark reality remains. Novisad's bridges, once the pride of the city, still lie in ruins in the Danube. NATO's forces destroyed the bridges during the war with Yugoslavia. Along with those bridges, the city's petrochemical industries and TV station were obliterated. A third of the population is unemployed. Novisad, May 1999: The all- clear rings out. A bombing raid just ends. The only way to cross the river is on a primitive barge. Dobravka Konjevic had a lot to be concerned about. Suffering from breast cancer, her chemotherapy treatment was disrupted by the bombing.
DOBRAVKA KONJEVIC: Maybe I can be healthy. I pray to God for this, but I don't know. We have every day many times stress situations. That is very sad. Every sound, which is like the airplane, makes stress for us-- not just for me, because kids, and they are stressful every minute, every hour.
MARTIN HIMMEL: A year and a half later, Dobravka has survived breast cancer and the war, but like many Yugoslavs, a new government, a new relationship with the U.S. and Europe does not easily erase the anger.
DOBRAVKA KONJEVIC: They can make new bridges, new buildings, new roads, but the lives, they can make not. I need some time to believe them again, to understand why we wasn't friends before and we are friends now again. The people are the same now and before. And what is different? Why this love now?
MARTIN HIMMEL: NATO 's bombardments were not the only threat to Dobravka's cancer therapy. She was treated at the Kamentsca Institute, one of the best hospitals in the country. Ten years of Milosevic rule has led to serious mismanagement of the funds, mismanagement that significantly compromises treatment. Professor Dusan Jovanavic is chief of oncology at the Kamentsca Institute. He claims the hospital's first- crippled by the lack of class equipment is crippled by the lack of essential parts and poor maintenance.
DR. DUSAN JOVANAVIC: We have a Rolls-Royce car. We have excellent drivers for the car. But we haven't gasoline, oil, spare parts, and so on. We need that. We need medicines. We need laboratory tests. We need x-ray film. We need contrast for x-rays, everything, and the money to repair that excellent technique which we have and which is now out of order.
MARTIN HIMMEL: As chief of oncology, Dr. Jovanavic's salary is $70 a month. The treatment budget for a patient is a microscopic $90. As in thousands of other institutions throughout Yugoslavia, since the fall of Milosevic, Dr. Jovanavic and his colleagues have literally thrown out of the hospital all Milosevic-linked directors, regardless of capability. It seems like a bit of a witch hunt. But Dr. Jovanavic believes this political surgery is necessary.
DR. DUSAN JOVANAVIC: Why? Because I need democracy. I need freedom. I would like to work, as a whole lot of doctors in the West and East, to have literature, to go to congresses, to have contacts with doctors abroad, and that we are doing for our young generation, everything-- not for me. I'm in the middle of my career.
MARTIN HIMMEL: The problems in Novi sad are difficult and complex, but this is actually one of the wealthier regions of Yugoslavia. In other areas, the need for hope is all the more important in order to overcome very serious challenges. May 1999: U.S. and NATO warplanes bombard Yugoslavia's major factories, effectively destroying the economy. Sava Pavelovic could only sift through the ruins of 30 years' worth of work at the Pancevo petrochemical plant.
SAVA PAVELOVIC: (speaking through interpreter) I can't only think about myself. I hope I can manage somehow, but I'm not alone. This didn't just happen to me. There are 500,000 others now without jobs, but it's probably much, much more.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Since the war, Sava Pavelovic and his colleagues have managed to rebuild this ammonia manufacturing operation. But in typical Milosevic fashion, the factory could not pay for the natural gas needed from Russia. Production stopped just three months after it began. The ammonia factory may have been rebuilt, but the vast majority of the petrochemical industries stand dormant here. Most of it is destroyed. Tons of carcinogenic pollutants released from the bombing have contaminated the air and the nearby Danube. There is no money to clean up the area. Local medical experts fear an eventual plague of cancer-related diseases. In the meantime, Sava Pavelovic tries to make ends meet. He may work in a petrochemical industry, but he can't afford heating fuel. So he chops wood for the winter. Thousands of workers in Pancevo are on permanent leave, paid an allowance of just $25 per month. They find unique ways to survive.
SAVA PAVELOVIC: (speaking through interpreter) We have flea markets, and we do some trading there and work some tracts of land. Some are working as money changes. Everybody is trying to find their own way. But all that is minimal till this plant is operational again.
MARTIN HIMMEL: What prompted the destruction of the Pancevo plants and other industries throughout Yugoslavia was Milosevic's expulsion of nearly two million Kosovar Albanians. They are back in Kosovo under NATO protection. Kosovo Serbs, on the other hand, are virtually barricaded in the northern suburb of the city of Mitrovica. July 1999: French troops took up positions on Mitrovica's main bridge, keeping Albanians and Serbs separated. Olga Illic had just become a Serb refugee. Albanian paramilitaries expelled her and her family from their home and furniture store.
OLGA ILLIC: (speaking through interpreter) For two days, things were taken out of our own house now. ( Sobbing ) When we went to give a statement to the gendarmerie, they asked to say how much it's worth, the value of the house and everything. So my father-in-law says it's worth work of 100 years, because it's the house of his father and grandfather, and also of work of his and his wife, and now ours.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Today the bridge is even more fortified. Serbs and Albanians risk almost certain death if they cross into each other's territories. Olga Illic's home was taken over by Albanian refugees. She claims the house was later burned down and rebuilt for a KLA Albanian officer. The furniture and millions of dollars' worth of merchandise are gone. Olga now works for a European agency, and can't speak publicly. She lives with her husband, children, and brother-in-law in a small rented apartment in Mitrovica. Olga's brother-in-law, Dejan, supplements her small salary from a photocopy machine. It's hard to make ends meet.
DEJAN ILLIC: Before, I was a young Serbian businessman, but after all, I have nothing. I lose my hope. I lose my business. I am now only a little stranger in my town. This is an old Balkan story for Serbian people. People lose; people win.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Dejan and the family hope Kostunica's new government will provide some sort of liberation from their predicament.
DEJAN ILLIC: If his government is with us, with young people who can support it, some changes in this country. We must to have hope, some hope.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Mitrovica's Serbs hope their children will grow up not under siege, but in a more peaceful Kosovo. They are banking on a more favorable relationship between the Yugoslav government and NATO's presence in the region. Olga's husband, Neboisha, runs the St. Sava field handball team. They are playing against St. George middle school, an island of normalcy in a sea of hostility. A similar hope is echoed throughout Yugoslavia. In Belgrade, the street celebrations are gone. The long queues for gas have returned, hours spent searching for fuel. President Kostunica's election portrait overlooks the long lines. Many hope his new relationship with the West and the easing of sanctions will mean the end to these queues, fuel rationing coupons, or the need to pay in scarce German Deutsche marks. But the burned-out office towers destroyed in NATO bombardment serve as a reminder that change will not come quickly or easily.