Five years after democratic changes, Serbs still struggle economically

This month marked the 5th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic, ushering in a new period of democratisation and sweeping economic change. Today the average citizen is far less interested in politics, and far more in the economy and daily survival.

According to analysts, Serbia registered significant economic growth in the past five years, while at the same time managing to reorganise economic institutions under the framework of a “private economy”. According to the World Bank’s calculation method, Serbia increased its GDP from 2000 to the end of 2004 from around $8 billion to around $12 billion. In just five years, GDP rose by nearly 50 per cent.

By the time Milosevic left power in October 2000, he had managed to shrink Serbia’s GDP to about 70 per cent of what it was in 1989, the year the former Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. “If GDP per capita amounts are considered, it can be seen that Milosevic’s era set us back to under 832 euros per capita GDP, hence around 40 years back from today, while without him we managed to get back to 2,287 euros per capita,” says Dimitrije Boarov, the economic analyst for the Vreme weekly.

That achievement, however, has been offset by slow progress in other areas. Over the past five years, Serbia has registered an unsatisfactory increase in exports, from 1,295m euros in 2000 to slightly over 3,327m euros this year. In the same period imports surged, increasing from 2,770m euros in 2000 to 9,265m euros in 2004. The foreign trade deficit increased fourfold. It appears, however, that this year this tendency will be reversed. A significant reduction in the foreign trade deficit is expected.

The most difficult part of the transition has been unemployment, which has risen to over 30 per cent from an initial 25 per cent. That means Serbia has between 800,000 and 900,000 unemployed people. Yet in 2000, nearly one third of the million and a half employed persons were on forced vacations and receiving minimal salaries, while surplus labour was estimated at over 620,000 workers.

While much of the public had high expectations five years ago, for the most part the rewards of democratisation have yet to be reaped. Although the transition has been difficult, it has laid the groundwork for long-term positive change. Most importantly, with the beginning of Stablisation and Association talks with the EU, the republic has taken an important stride towards European integration, which many Serbs now see as the key to future prosperity.

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