by Slobodan RELJIC
It is a scandal that a representative in the parliament (one with very prominent public profile to boot) violated his own law, forcing two of his escorts to do the same. But, soon it became clear that that was only a part of the problem. Forgetting the old gambling rule that the worst losses come once we start trying to make up for the initial bad luck, the DOS turned several gallons of white paint into a large black stain.
First, the supporters of the Socialist Party of Serbia exploited their chance. On February 9, when they demonstrated seeking “Sloboda [Freedom] for Slobodan [Milosevic]”, they marched to the abovementioned DOS landmark, so that the following days city employees had to return with another bucket of white paint. But no whitewashing was going to help at this point. Residents of Belgrade, “Otpor”, [satirical magazine] “Jez” [hedgehog] joined in the fun.
After all of that, the spice in all of our political dishes, deputy prime minister in the Serbian government Zarko Korac, spoke up and demanded that the crossing be removed. Apparently he, as a Belgrader, has noted that the citizens believe that the crossing is not supposed to serve the citizens but, and this is not good, only the deputies in the parliament. Pandemonium in the audience!
Those who hate to be reminded of the previous regime will be repulsed by this, but that is less important for the essence of this story. Now, it is important to record that this is an event that did not result in a classic conflict. The DSS did not strike back at the DS, the Prime Minister did not attack the president of the state, “healthy forces” that noticed that Ceda crosses street outside a legal pedestrian crossing were not accused of obstructing reform. The obvious nature of the transgression and inability to deny it forced the authorities to refrain from the maddening discussion that has polluted the public discourse so much – and turned it into live sand – that the trust in our, until yesterday unquestionable, political elite in power has been dropping with the speed that Milosevic and his SPS never experienced.
But, in the first month and a half of this year the voters have seen all sorts of things: accusations against the Prime Minister in connection with his trip to United Arab Emirates, accusations against the president of FR Yugoslavia in connection with his trips to China and the USA, “Delimustafic affair” that leaves behind the slimy trace of spit and fabricated accusations of the worst sort… “Discourse with so much cynicism and malice is discourse characteristic for the state of emergency and somewhat resembles Milosevic’s rule” (Srbobran Brankovic, analyst of Medijum index, Belgrade). In other words: “We have gone so far in this partisan approach that we have slid into militant and intolerant, all but offensive discourse” (Dr Ratko Bozovic).
After, now it has become obvious, a total debacle of the law against profiteers the DOS promises to its voters fight against corruption. The fulfillment of the ageless need for justice convinces the people that they live in a just state, worthy of their trust. These authorities claimed that they would force the profiteers to pay $500 million to the devastated society. So far “400 decisions have been delivered”. “Until now more than $25 million have been collected….” One gets the impression that Bogoljub Karic is simply a scapegoat and that others “who made profits of $500 million each, failing to pay any taxes” (Slobodan Lalovic, secretary of Commission for Investigation of Business Fraud) can breathe a sigh of relief.
Of course, the worst “DOS’ zebra crossing” of this month was depressing insensitivity in connection with electricity bills. Obviously uncontrolled pumping up of numerous bills that was getting worse with every coming month finally broke down in January. The state-owned utility company and the government immediately started making concessions – bills will be paid in installments. As if the inaccurate bills do not boil down to theft from the consumers. Then, the public pressure led to the discovery of mistakes so huge that it became clear that the problem was elsewhere.
The authorities also do not know what to do once they register that “between 12 and 14 percent of consumed electricity is stolen by consumers illegally attached to the grid”. Taxpayers, as consumers of electricity, are supposed to pay for the laziness and inefficiency of the employees of a state-owned company. The announcement by the Serbian Electrical Utility Company that “the planned maintenance activities would cost $73.7 million this year” aroused further suspicions. $32.8 million of that will be donated from abroad, while the remaining $50 million must come from the consumers. We still haven’t been informed how much has been collected so far.
In the end, after this whole shameful scandal, several employees were suspended, the management took a pay cut, while in the midst of the drama another scandal was cracked open. Apparently the director of the EDB [public electric-grid] Branislav Uskokovic had “bought 30 houses, apartments and office spaces in Belgrade with money obtained through embezzlement”. Careful readers will recall that Uskokovic is a former director of the EDB, and it is much more important whether the reader would be satisfied with the firing of the people who in January 2002 issued inflated electricity bills and reduction in salaries of the two new managers of the EPS.
The DOS will pay for that and other scandals, as the reactions to “Ceda’s zebra” clearly demonstrate. Arrogant underestimation of the people who keep quiet is harmful. Because, the “city keeps quiet and works, picks up news and voices, and carries them along, whispering… Thus, slowly and unnoticeably, the united spirit of the town multiplies,” Ivo Andric explained in “the Travnik Chronicle”. Also: “that is only one general and diffuse mood that is demonstrated with sharp gestures and curses referring to usual suspects; this mood then slowly turns into openly expressed opinions; finally, it becomes a hardened and definite conviction that does not need talk but is expressed by action”.
“Ceda’s zebra crossing” should be viewed as a beginning of that expression. If it is worth saying to those who “are hard of hearing because they do not want to hear”.