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On the Brink

Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Romania are facing a new wave of popular unrest

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A second wave of revolutions is rocking the Balkan states. These are not merely uprisings against the remnants of communism but mass movements of desperation with dire economic conditions. They are directed against incumbent governments, whether post-communist or quasi-democratic.

Popular unrest has already dislodged the socialists in Romania, while mass protests continue to challenge the political status quo in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania. If not defused, the revolts threaten not only domestic stability but international security.

Serbia is in the midst of a major social upheaval as President Slobodan Milosevic has unsuccessfully tried to manipulate and defuse public protests. The real issue is not the reversal of forged local election results but the legitimacy and survivability of a corrupt and repressive Socialist administration that has lined its coffers with state funds.

The regime has lasted this long primarily because it exploited the demons of Serb nationalism and fooled a confused populace during its proxy wars in Croatia and Bosnia. To distract them again, Mr. Milosevic may provoke a conflict in the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo that could embroil neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

Continuing social trauma

Bulgaria has sunk into severe economic difficulties caused by the absence of structural reform. The political scene is dangerously polarized between the ruling Socialists and a broad-based opposition movement. Analysts view Bulgaria as having the most corrupt and incompetent administration in all of the former Soviet bloc. The government has stalled mass privatization and propped up uncompetitive state industries. Hard currency reserves disappeared, prices skyrocketed, and the standard of living collapsed for the bulk of the population.


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