Uno sguardo alle condizioni di vita dei cittadini della Serbia: differenze tra Sud e Nord del paese, alto costo della vita e bassi salari, la fiacchezza del governo e i numerosi scioperi in atto, anticipazioni di un bollente inverno nel cuore dei Balcani.

13/12/2001 -  Anonymous User

Uno sguardo alle condizioni di vita dei cittadini della Serbia: differenze tra Sud e Nord del paese, alto costo della vita e bassi salari, la fiacchezza del governo e i numerosi scioperi in atto, anticipazioni di un bollente inverno nel cuore dei Balcani.
Summer is indeed behind us, but the social climate in Serbia remains hot. Unfortunately, this is not so because foreigners have started seriously investing money in Serbia, or because workers have stepped up production. It is a hot autumn full of uncertainties because the social status of many has remained virtually unchanged as compared with the previous ten years.

Salaries still too Low

The latest research of the Centre for Economic Research of the Institute of Social Science has shown that 2-3% of the Serbian population (around 250,000 people altogether) is extremely rich. An additional 10% live decently, whereas all the rest (almost 90%!) can be regarded as poor under all relevant European and global standards. Although social changes have been anticipated since the October revolution last year, these figures show that, in total, little has changed.

Professor Nenad Popovic M.Sc., a sociologist employed at the Faculty of Philosophy in Nis claims "the prime prerequisite for democracy is the existence of a stable middle class." According to Popovic, Yugoslavia, former or present, has never actually had this social group - which would comprise those employed in 'liberal' professions - e.g. professors, doctors, lawyers and judges, or executives. Mr. Popovic adds "the consequence is that even the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor are not within a defined class. The former have become rich overnight, and therefore are prone to lose their property as quickly, whereas the latter sometimes find ways to overcome their poverty outside the official system, such as in the black market." Facts confirm these claims. Monthly salaries of doctors, judges or university professors are still well below 250 EUR. The recently-announced implementation of an extra-profit tax is expected to reduce the wealth of many formerly untouchable magnates. Many people who officially live on minimal wages working in nearly closed-up factories (cca 20 EUR) manage quite well in flea markets or small-scale smuggling business.
Taken as absolute values, salaries have indeed increased substantially as compared with the previous period. The much-repeated statement by Government officials states that "we now have an average salary of 205 DM (102 EUR) whereas last year it was about 85DM (42.5 EUR)." This sounds encouraging, but rarely do they dare to mention the similar change in the prices of basic items. The former regime prohibited the increase in prices of basic products, such as bread, oil or salt. Although this command-type economy has nothing to do with the free market, and although those moves often lead to basic items being simply out of stock, early birds, such as the poorest pensioners or those in need of social aid still managed to get a loaf of bread for a ridiculous 3 dinars, if they bothered to stand in queues for hours sometimes. The new Government of course does not want to control the market in such a notorious way, but the price of this decision bears the new price of a loaf of bread - 20 dinars. This is less than 0.5 EUR, and thus cheap by European standards, but it is still 7 times as much as it cost last year. In addition, the average salary is just 3-4 times higher. The incongruity can be seen in many other examples.

The official statistics go as follows. The latest Official Bulletin of the Republic of Serbia claims the average salary in the country in September was 9,940 dinars (around 150 EUR). The highest average salaries were found in Beocin (as usual, in the north, with Vojvodina topping the list of salaries and always demanding more autonomy since it feels abused by the rest of the country) at 22,315 dinars. The lowest salaries were traced in Bela Palanka, a small town near Nis at 3,306 dinars. As for Nis, which is second only to Belgrade in size, and perhaps third by importance in the country (after Belgrade and Novi Sad), is ranked 62 in the country in terms of the average salary earned. The new local government in Nis even takes pride in this fact (!) since only last year the ranking was much worse - 92. In figures, the official salary in Nis last September was 2,100 dinars, while today it is around 5,500 dinars (about 92 EUR). Statisticians say even this is not very laudable, since it came out not as a consequence of Nis salaries being much higher than before, but mainly because in many other towns income has dropped in the previous months.

High Cost of Living

Real life data are even less encouraging. The Institute for Market Research has recently published the latest findings, according to which during September and October the total small-scale exchange of goods has been very low. Stale food in shining supermarkets is again a common scene - there are simply not enough people to buy it regularly. Shopkeepers are therefore forced to offer even basic food items on installments. Without this, they say, hardly any meat or fruit would be sold in their shops. Even though salaries have grown significantly, not because production has increased, but mainly due to foreign donations, the monthly amount needed for mere survival (basic food and even more basic hygiene, clothing excluded) reaches 2 - 2.5 percent of average salaries. Bread and milk cost the average Serbian family one fifth of its monthly income.
The overall situation gives way to anger in common citizens, especially in the southern parts of the country, which have traditionally been underdeveloped in comparison to the north or Belgrade. Strikes are quite common, and with varying results. Miners and electroindustry workers are important for the stability of the entire system, so their strikes are taken seriously by the Government, and their initial position in negotiations is very promising.
Larger-scale labour protests, even when led by the former tacit Milosevic supporters, such as the Alliance of Self-Governed Trade Unions, can also make the Djindjic cabinet step back and allow for substantial concessions (such as the acceptance of over 50 amendments to the Law on Work pending in the Serbian parliament). Others have to wait for their chance and try to organize themselves better, which is often very difficult. Doctors and judges have remained disunited, and they seldom get many benefits. Secondary school and university professors have remained on the fringes for years. Their strikes are not taken very seriously, unless they are completely united, which is as of yet unseen in Serbia. The local situation is important, too. While professors in Nis have a 200-odd EUR monthly salary, their colleagues in Belgrade are in a better financial situation, and are therefore unwilling to enter serious strikes or protests. Even more locally, on the micro level, the situation differs from faculty to faculty - large faculties which admit about a thousand students every year use frequent student payments to add to their total salaries. This is the case with the Nis Schools of Law and Economy, which have been uninterested in entering the most recent strike with Faculties of Philosophy, Natural Science and Technology, for instance. The alleged reaction of the prime minister to the strike of university professors was "Who cares, if it's only about 100 people altogether!" If true, such a statement is indeed humiliating when it comes from the man who is himself a prominent scholar (Zoran Djindjic has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, acquired under tuition of the famous German social philosopher Habermass). Power corrupts, many will say.

Weakness in the Government

It would be fair to say that the Government does not have much room for maneuvering either. Production is low, industry is virtually non-existent, and foreign aid has been reduced after the world public averted their attention towards Afghanistan. However, the Cabinet must also take some blame, not only by definition, but also because production will increase upon foreign investment, which will come after relevant system laws are passed in the Parliament. The failure to pass crucial laws, after more than a year, with a 75% majority in the Serbian Assembly is simply unacceptable. It also serves as the main argument against the inefficiency of the 18-party DOS coalition. The graphs provided by the Republic and Federal ministers, showing that the country has started moving out of the gutter eventually are helpful, but still widely seen more as an academic exercise and a boost for the nation's morale, than as real evidence of progress. True, 150 EUR is much better than 40 EUR. But this is hardly enough for an average hard disc or two quality articles of clothing. As time passes, the appetite for a little more than just-not-starving increases. The Serbian Government should keep this in mind, or else it can be blown away in no time. The recent partially repeated local election results have shown the revival of SPS in many areas. Now DOS led by Djindjic's Democrats, Kostunica's DSS, which entered the elections alone and former Milosevic's SPS are pretty close in the polls. A possible return of the SPS to power before substantial reform is carried out (i.e. the SPS's revival earlier than the course of reforms makes the name of the currently ruling party unimportant in crucial matters) is a catastrophic scenario, analysts say. Therefore, after this autumn and winter, many things will be clearer. We can only hope the change will be for the better.

See also:

New serbian Government wants to keep its promises

Città in rete nei Balcani

Serbia: Scioperi all'Università di Nis

RFY: 5 ottobre, un anno dopo