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WHAT SANCTIONS? STORES BRIM WITH WESTERN ITEMS

SHARE WHAT SANCTIONS? STORES BRIM WITH WESTERN ITEMS

For anyone with a bit of money in Belgrade, it is easy now to feel that U.N. sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia two years ago for backing Serb aggression in Bosnia are falling apart.

Shopping arcades are lined with boutiques stocked with the familiar brand names of the West - Levi jeans, Reebok sports shoes and Seiko watches.The shopgirls will describe in imprecise terms how the goods are somehow "brought in" via middlemen in Hungary and Italy but smile vaguely when asked exactly what route is used through Yugoslavia's borders with its seven neighbors.

In some shops, the assistants react indignantly when it is suggested that the racks of brand-named shirts and trousers may be counterfeits dressed up as the real thing.

"There's nothing illegal," said one who named a well-known Italian fashion brand. "We deal directly with companies in the West."

Whatever may be decided by the U.N. sanctions committee, which sits in judgment over which items to allow through the blockade, Belgrade's leading boutique manages to bring in the latest lines every season.

But with a woman's blouse costing a week's pay, many of the customers are just window shopping.

The transformation in the shopping centers of Belgrade since last winter has been made possible by a gravity-defying anti-inflation program masterminded by Dragoslav Avramovic, a 75-year-old World Bank veteran who governs the Yugoslav central bank.

By printing only as many dinars as are matched by hard currency reserves, he stopped inflation - which had reached a rate of 60 percent a day - virtually in its tracks.

Since the Avramovic program was introduced at the end of January, one new "super dinar" has remained equivalent to one German mark.

For Belgrade residents used to watching their money evaporate in value before their eyes, this has come as a blessed relief.

Nowadays, the black market moneychangers are off the streets and Yugoslavs are so cheered by the end of the monetary chaos wrought by one of the highest rates of inflation the world has ever seen that Avramovic has become a national hero.