Advertisement

A 'solidarity fund' threatens Yugoslavia's control over intellectualsUPI NewsFeature

By
PATRICIA KOZA

BELGRADE -- When Zdravko Gvero was fired for organizing a workers' strike -- illegal in communist Yugoslavia -- he got help from a totally unexpected source: a likewise illegal 'Solidarity Fund.'

It was also the Solidarity Fund that came to the rescue when Uros Bukumira, a secondary-school philosophy teacher, was evicted from his apartment for criticizing some local officials and forced to live in a tent with his wife and four children.

Advertisement

'In my ordeal, the Solidarity Fund has played a considerable role, giving me both financial and moral support,' said Bukumira, who has received the equivalent of two months' salary.

Now, in their first direct confrontation with the communist government, some of Yugoslavia's intellectuals are attempting to legally register the fund, which helps support people fired for disagreements with the Communist Party leadership or the government.

Named after the outlawed independent trade union in Poland, the fund has about 650 members across Yugoslavia, mostly journalists, writers and workers.

Gvero, 32, was one of its first beneficiaries. Fired nearly two years ago after organizing a strike of 28 men at a Belgrade power station protesting corruption, abuse of power, poor management and maltreatment of workers, he has been battling ever since to get his job back.

Advertisement

Shortly after the fund was organized in May 1986, it heard of Gvero's plight and donated a month's salary.

'But moral support from the Solidarity Fund is much more important,' he said. 'It is nice when one can feel he is not left alone in this world.'

Bukumira, 50, who taught Marxism in Ivangrad, a town nestled in the rugged mountains of Montenegro in southeastern Yugoslavia, was evicted from his apartment after criticizing some local officials.

Although he has won a court judgment awarding him back the apartment, Ivangrad officials have ignored the order. He and his family are staying temporarily in Belgrade in the apartment of a friend.

'There is a lot of injustice in this country. This is why I think the Solidarity Fund should be allowed to become a legal organization,' he said. 'The fund is not a political party -- just an organization that wants to help people in trouble.'

The existence of the fund has sent tremors through the elite of Yugoslavia, where intellectuals who support the official line are privileged and praised in official publications. The fund offers the promise of an independent counterweight to official support.

Like the Yugoslav government and the Communist Party itself, members of the intelligentsia are often divided by nationalistic or regional interests.

Advertisement

The country, whose leadership has been foundering since the death of the revered Josip broz Tito in May 1980, comprises six republics and two autonomous provinces containing 11 major ethnic groups and at least half a dozen minor ones.

Tito's legacy was a deliberately weak central authority, the antithesis of most communist systems. Its revolving federal presidency has proved powerless to tackle an annual inflation rate that, at 120 percent, is the highest in Europe, unemployment that tops 14 percent, and often violent ethnic rivalries.

As a result, both the intelligentsia and the official media have become much more vocal in their criticism of top officials. The government has struck back with censure, harassment and even imprisonment.

The growing numbers of these victims led to the creation of the Solidarity Fund in May 1986.

Despite their differences on how to resolve the country's economic and political crisis, the fund has drawn a cross-section of support from intellectuals, ranging from former Yugoslav Vice President Koca Popovic to retired Gen. Gojko Nikolis and leading economist Branko Horvat.

'It is an all-Yugoslav group without ideological limits, formed to help those public figures who are in any kind of danger,' said Dusan Bogavac, 56, a founder of the fund.

Advertisement

The Initiative Committee, a revolving group of members which runs the operation, is now attempting to set up an account at the Ljubljana Bank in the western Republic of Slovenia, where the atmosphere is the most liberal in Yugoslavia.

If that effort is successful, authorities could be forced to recognize the fund as a legal entity -- a move it has refused to take on its own.

Bogavac himself could qualify for aid, although he has refused it. A devoted Marxist and journalist at the influential party weekly 'Komunist' for 25 years, he was fired in April 1986 for advocating the establishment of public forums to allow for other opinions.

'What Yugoslavia needs are reforms -- political and economic,' he said. 'The fund is not a group of adventurers. They just want to create conditions that would lead to changes in a normal way.'

So far the fund has given financial assistance to about 10 journalists and 10 strike leaders, some of whom lost their jobs in the wave of workers' strikes across Yugoslavia last spring. It has only a largely symbolic cash reserve of $1,100, Bogavac admits.

He also has no illusions the organization will ever grow to the size of its Polish namesake, which claimed more than 9 million members before being outlawed by martial law.

Advertisement

'Solidarity is not possible in Yugoslavia,' he said, alluding to Poland's activists. 'They had a nucleus -- it was the (Catholic) church.'

'There is a sort of resistance in this country, but it is split, it is atomized,' he continued, noting that even last Spring's wave of workers' strikes over wages -- the biggest such protest ever in Yugoslavia -- was prompted by local issues and there was no national coordination.

Nevertheless, word is spreading. Some of the 250,000 Yugoslavs who write to the government each year complaining about some injustice in their lives are beginning to drop copies of their letters to the Solidarity Fund. Others have joined after hearing of the fund's activities.

The fund's relatively minor role in the battle for greater openness did not keep authorities from attacking it as an 'antistate movement' and refusing to allow it to register as a legal organization.

Last spring the government closed down the fund's bank account, forcing the committee to set up another account where its contributors' money is collected and then immediately withdrawn. Under heavy pressure, the fund ceased most activities over the summer months.

Despite their differences, the fund's 650 members agree on four steps toward making Yugoslavia an open society: free elections, including the right of any candidate to run for office; the right of people to organize themselves; the legal right to strike; and the abolition of Article 133 of the federal Criminal Code, which imposes penalties for 'hostile propaganda.'

Advertisement

'Only then,' Bogavac said, 'could all forces in Yugoslavia be used to pull this country out of crisis.'

adv for release Thurs, Oct.

Latest Headlines