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Is providing fuel the right way to aid Serbia?

By Colin McCullough
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 12, 1999

Dinner got cold yesterday in Luxembourg, but not as cold as it is going to get in Serbia. Diplomats from the European Union scheduled a meeting with Serb officials in Luxembourg to try and arrange a plan to replenish heating oil supplies destroyed by the NATO offensive last spring. Officials on both sides have been weighing the benefits of providing heating oil and electricity to Serbia, which is estimated to have lost approximately 40 to 50 percent of the resources required for this winter. At the meeting, several seats remained empty as EU diplomats were stood up by more than half of the 32 invited Serb officials. While this may be seen as a slap in the face to the EU and indicate that Serb officials do not need their heating oil and charity, I assure you the people of Serbia do.

Perhaps Serb officials were making a statement that they don't need assistance from the governments that not too long ago were attacking their country. Perhaps they all missed their bus to the meeting. We don't know why the Serb officials declined to attend and we don't need to, for we can say with absolute certainty that failure to provide Serbia with this basic need will lead to a potential human catastrophe as Jack Frost books his ticket for the Balkans.

Meanwhile, the U.S., in contradiction to the EU, has been opposed to this plan on all fronts, claiming that the cold winter without heating oil could lead to a disgruntled populace, demonstrations and perhaps the removal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from office, by either a call for early elections or his resignation. Perhaps this logic will work. But, to persuade the people of Serbia that their current government is unacceptable to the world, the U.S. and EU must provide them with some incentive.

So, there are two sides. There are the European officials who want to provide heating oil to the general populace of democratic cities but have been told, in not so many words, that their help is unnecessary. Then there is the American government who feels that it cannot, in good conscience, provide relief to any of Serbia until Milosevic has been removed and a democratic system is in place.

In this instance, the solution lies somewhere between these two extremes. There are two Serb cities, Nis and Pirot, which have a history of support for a democratic system. As some are proposing, giving aid to these cities would allow for both U.S. policy to take hold and give the people of Serbia a fair chance.

Perhaps U.S. policy may seem cruel in this instance, but it is somewhat justified. There is a fear that somehow Milosevic would take control of the fuel for his own use, even if it was appropriated to the proper cities.

However, if systems could be set up to destroy so much of the Serb country, then surely a system of monitoring the distribution of these resources can allow for the grassroots democratic movement in Serbia to thrive and provide a model to the entire populace of Serbia.

If the U.S. truly wants to see democracy thrive in Serbia, it needs to provide some relief and aid to those who have supported democracy, if it is to expect any cooperation from the Serb populace in the future.

As one EU official said, "If you give them some glimmer of hope, if they chose another path, they might chose another."

This same official said, "It is a carrot-and-stick question. The EU sees more profit in the carrot than the stick."

As it stands now, there is no carrot to offer the people of Serbia.

Providing aid to Nis and Pirot would allow the people of Serbia to view alternate plans as a viable option and would achieve what the United States is ultimately pursuing, a democratic Serbia.

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