SERBIAN leaders seem bent on defying United Nations economic sanctions aimed at halting carnage in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as millions of people face hardships unknown since World War II.
"A campaign is building to circle the wagons," says a Western diplomat. "The leaders don't realize that the world is pretty united on this."
The resolve to resist compromise has been underscored by the continuing Army-backed drive by Serbian Democratic Party (SDP) gunmen to rip territory out of Bosnia-Herzegovina and merge it with the rump Yugoslavia forged by communist-ruled Serbia and Montenegro.
Serbian gunners resumed barrages of the capital, Sarajevo, on June 1, less than two hours into the latest truce brokered by UN officials in a bid to allow the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid to the city. The Yugoslav Air Force bombed two other towns even as Branko Kostic, the head of the four-man presidency of the rump Yugoslavia, sent yet another cable to the UN insisting that the Yugoslav military was not involved in the conflict in Europe's newest state.
SDP President Radovan Karadzic dispelled any hopes that the sanctions would force an end to the land-grab, saying his forces will never relinquish any of the vast swaths of territory they have captured since March.
"Bosnia-Herzegovina is our homeland and we shall defend the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina," he asserted only hours after the UN banned any trade and oil sales to Serbia and Montenegro and froze their assets abroad.
Confronted last weekend by some 50,000 opposition protesters on the streets of Belgrade, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia has launched a campaign to whip up anti-foreign sentiment in support for his regime, portraying the sanctions as an international plot against the Serbs.
Referring to polls held May 30 for the Parliament of the Serbia-Montenegro union that are expected to consolidate his grip on the rump federation he engineered, Mr. Milosevic told Belgrade Radio: "The elections were a response to foreign interference, to political forces that were against the united Serbia and Yugoslavia."
But anti-foreign diatribes by state-controlled media reflect a realization that the sanctions will worsen the economic chaos that has already enraged a population that enjoyed the highest standard of living of any of the Marxist states that emerged in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.
The sanctions are already having an impact.
r Long lines of motorists wait at gasoline stations to purchase supplies, of which Serbian officials conceded there are normally only 20 days of reserves. Overnight the regime boosted gasoline prices by almost 100 percent in a bid to preserve fuel for the military and ensure that farmers can harvest and deliver produce to towns and cities. The move is certain to force further rises in the already skyrocketing state-prices of food and other necessities.
r International airports have been closed by a total UN-ordered ban on links with Serbia and Montenegro, forcing thousands of people to take trains or buses to neighboring countries, where they have to pay for flights in scarce hard cash instead of the nearly worthless Yugoslav dinar.
r Experts said it is only a matter of time before the state-owned industries that are still operating run out of crucial foreign-supplied raw goods and spare parts.
"Any industry that relies on petroleum products is pretty quickly going to have to come up with a conservation routine. I've heard of plans to reduce bus services by 50 percent," one Western diplomat says.
Western diplomatic sources say Milosevic's regime is preparing strict emergency conservation measures, including ration coupons for fuel and basic food items.
THEY said they also expect an announcement of stringent economic controls to reduce galloping inflation, possibly including wage and price freezes, and a police crackdown on the foreign-currency black market.
"People are not conscious still about all of the possible consequences of the UN sanctions. But, very soon, maybe even this month, we will see some kind of mass dissent with the regime," said a Belgrade office worker, who asked to remain anonymous.
The sanctions coincided with developments that could embolden opponents.
The influential Serbian Orthodox Church last week broke almost 50 years of silent submission to communist power and publicly called for the replacement of the regimes of Serbia and its tiny prot, Montenegro, with a government of "national salvation and national unity."
The church's unprecedented condemnation was tantamount to an endorsement of an opposition call for a boycott of the rump Yugoslav parliamentary elections that appeared to have a significant impact.
In addition, the size of the turnout for the May 31 protest in Belgrade against the polls and the war in Bosnia surprised even its organizer, Vuk Draskovic, whose Serbian Renewal Movement is expected to call for further anti-regime actions shortly.
"People are really angry," said one protester, Bosko Spasojevic, a historian.
Many analysts, however, played down the chances of a serious threat in the near future to Milosevic and his undisputed control of the Yugoslav Army, police, and the media. They pointed out that he still enjoys considerable support among the under-educated rural masses of Serbia's 6.4 million Serbs, whose allegiance he has captured through years of Serb nationalist appeals over pervasive propaganda machinery.
They also said Serbia's main opposition parties remain badly fragmented.
"The opposition has not yet shown the ability to rally people in an organized way," said a Western diplomat who closely tracks political developments in Serbia. Yet "this regime has shown a tremendous ability to give the minimal ... level of bribes to keep people off the streets. While it is getting harder for them to do that, it is still not beyond their capacity. There is a scary chance of serious violence breaking out here, although I don't think it is a certainty."
But Zoran Petrovic, a leading opposition journalist, disagreed: "We are heading for the abyss."