Cutbacks in aid pose ‘burning problem’ for Serbia, says Panic

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Series Details Vol.7, No.35, 27.9.01, p8
Publication Date 27/09/2001
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Date: 27/09/01

By David Cronin

DRASTIC cuts in EU funding for Serbia send out the wrong political signal, the former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic has said.

Visiting Brussels last week, Panic described the lack of economic development in the Balkans as the "burning problem for people in that area" and of greater importance than ethnic or religious differences.

July's decision by EU finance ministers to reduce assistance to the Serbian economy from €120 million to €75 million stemmed from insufficient understanding of the region's troubles, he claimed.

"Philosophists have not united the world," he told European Voice. "Religions have, if anything, divided the world. What does unite people is economics - a desire for a better life for them and their children. Unfortunately, though, economics doesn't get as much attention as it should."

Now a wealthy US-based entrepeneur, Panic was the Yugoslav premier and defence minister between 1992 and 1993, when he was defeated by Slobodan Milosevic in the presidential election. Panic's supporters claim to this day that the poll was rigged.

Although he opposed NATO's aerial bombardment of his country in 1999, Panic is content that his old foe is behind bars as he awaits his next appearance before the Hague war crimes tribunal. "That's exactly where he [Milosevic] belongs," added Panic.

In an address to leading think-tank the Centre for European Policy Studies, Panic remarked how several analysts have estimated that much of the conflict which engulfed the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s could have been avoided if the EU and US had backed him against Milosevic.

"They have said this not because they think I was another Churchill or Roosevelt but because I was in a better position than any other political leader to represent and carry out the majority's clear opposition to Milosevic and his cronies, their opportunism, and their destructive ultra-nationalism," he said.

He also advocated that Serbia and other Balkan states should be admitted to the EU as part of a "fast-track" enlargement.

A prediction by Belgrade's finance minister Bozidar Djelic that the country could join the Union by the end of the decade "may be realistic under current timetables but I don't believe that is soon enough." The shift of international focus away from the Balkans caused by the atrocities in the US could have positive, as well as negative, consequences, he predicted.

"We received extraordinary attention when people started killing each other," he said. "Not to be on the front page any more is good for our people."

Drastic cuts in EU funding for Serbia send out the wrong political signal, the former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic has said.

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