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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Serbia Fight Common Foe: Inflation

BELGRADE-Russia is all the rage in Serbia, at the moment. In Serbian eyes, the Russians - or at least, the anti-Yeltsin Russians - can do no wrong. The biggest heroes are the Russian volunteers who have arrived in Serbia to help in the crusade against Croats and Moslems.

Commentators on state-controlled Serbian television hammer home the message every night: Big brother is coming to the salvation of his imperiled Slav, Orthodox kin.

Yet the most striking similarity between Serbia and Russia is not their shared ethnic or religious identity. It is inflation. Just as in Russia, prices are rising at supersonic speed in Serbia, and the government seems powerless to bring it under control. The Serbian state bank is churning out money 24 hours a day. The banknotes are crisp and clean, straight from the printing presses, and become worthless in a matter of days. Two months ago a dollar bought 5, 000 Serbian dinars. Now it buys 20, 000. Serbia's annual inflation is somewhere between 20, 000 and 30, 000 percent.

All wars fuel inflation. Bat in the case of Serbia, which was in a terrible mess even before the Yugoslav civil war started in 1991 and which is trapped in a web of international sanctions, it seems astonishing that the economy has not completely broken down and provoked a wave of social unrest to bring down Slobodan Milosevic and his ruling Socialist Party.

The Belgrade newspaper Horba, a relatively independent publication, ran a story last week headlined: "Serbia on the Edge of Mass Poverty". Over 4 million of Serbia's 9 million people live "below the line", it said. There are 700, 000 registered unemployed people, of whom 70 percent have no income support at all. Another 750, 000 workers have only part-time jobs, and 70 percent of those earn too little to keep abreast of inflation. There are regular shortages of bread, sugar, milk and cooking oil.

How long can Serbia survive? Another year, two years at most. But not indefinitely. The cost to Belgrade of supporting the Serbian client states in occupied areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina is too high. They produce nothing and gobble up Serbian resources. These states, unrecognized by any country in the world except Serbia, are fated to disappear along with Milosevic and the illusion of an ethnically pure Greater Serbia.

When that day comes, the world will need to remember that not every Serb voted for Milosevic or expelled Moslems from their villages or committed atrocities in Croatia, or even wanted a war. There is another Serbia, a moderate Serbia that has been silenced in recent years and is yearning for a voice. The world's quarrel is with the Serbian leadership, not the Serbian people.