L'ingresso della nuova moneta in Serbia ha portato con sé la diffidenza dei cittadini rispetto alla moneta dell'UE, l'idea di un avvicinamento all'Unione Europea, l'Euro come uno strumento politico (testo in inglese).
The introduction of the Euro into the monetary system of Serbia, legally or illegally, will have come as some surprise. Although the public has been prepared by the media for the forthcoming exchange of currencies from 12 European countries, little concern has been noticed so far. Most analysts agree, however, that the beginning of the new year will be marked by crowds of Serbs trying to exchange remnants of their home-kept foreign currency for the new shining united-Europe banknotes.
In expectation of such a high turnout in the first days of the new year (the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of January are feared the most), the state TV has these days warned the population that possible crowds can and should be avoided, since all the foreign currency will be exchanged freely in all banks, exchange offices and ZOP (roughly translatable as Government Auditing Office, a state organ in charge of registering all legal money transactions). The message has been reiterated: all currencies will be exchanged for the Euro by June 2002 and therefore there is no need to hurry. In addition, even after this deadline, money will be exchanged, but only in some specialized offices and with higher fees. There have been rumours, perhaps deliberately launched, that in the first few days of the new year there will be many tricksters, especially among numerous private exchange offices (mostly owned by ex street-based dealers). Allegedly, many will offer unrealistically high exchange fees, and citizens should also be aware of this.
Building Trust in State Institutions with the Euro
The official propaganda has not been aimed only at convincing the population that there is no need to rush. Additionally, it has strived to use the current Euro-fever for the purposes of acquiring renewed trust in state institutions. In the economy this means banks. For example, commercials have been repeated on many TV stations recently with the alleged purpose of pointing to the easiest ways of exchanging money into Euro. Thousands of leaflets have been sent to mailboxes all around the country. Three options have been widely analysed: the first one, mostly anticipated, direct exchange of home-kept cash (mostly German marks) for the Euro equivalent, which will be carried out with the exchange fee of about 0.9% (in translation, for 10,000 DEM about 90 DEM will be lost).
The second option is the one already opted for by some more fearful people - the prior exchange of German marks for a non-EU currency (American dollars or Swiss franks) "just in case", which has already cost many a 1-1.5% exchange fee. If these citizens want to exchange these dollars or franks for the Euro now they will be asked for the additional 0.9% mentioned in the previous option. This totals about 2.5% altogether. Naturally, some might decide to keep their dollars, but there are two problems with this. First, the simple fact that many Serbs are not used to this currency and would very much like to get rid of it and get "whatever will be used in Germany and the like". The second misgiving is the suspected stability of the dollar after the terrorist attacks in the USA. The word 'recession' rings in the ears of the common folk as a possible threat to their dollar-based home budget, although few actually know what the word really means. But subtle intimidation from the 'state authority' can obviously do wonders.
Finally, the third, state-favoured option is the one of putting the money in the bank beforehand (i.e. by tomorrow, January 31) and keeping it in the banks for at least 30 days. This way the conversion of any currency into the Euro will be automatic and tax- free. "You will even earn something this way", the leaflet teaches its uneducated citizens, since banks offer interest rate of 2-4%, depending on the size of the deposit and the time it lies on the bank account. Of course, the third option, seen as normal in any normal country, would be an opportunity to jump at elsewhere. However, in Serbia the memory of recent bank-frauds is still very much alive. These include the never-returned 'loan for the economic renewal of Serbia' (1989-1991), the so-called 'old foreign-currency savings" (up to 1992), literally stolen by the former regime for its war purposes and who-knows-what-else and never returned, and the pyramidal banks of 1993, which at the time offered unreasonable interest rates of over 30% only to draw all cash from the population out of the country into many private accounts - they broke apart in early 1994. Such memories are indeed an obstacle to the expected new banking system stability, and not even the energetic non-conformist Central Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic and his 'dinar stability policy' has convinced the population it is now safe to put money into banks. This is why the Euro is used for the purposes of increasing new savings, as well and with some success, one must say. Official statistics claim an over 20% increase (in some banks only!) in the last three months.
The Euro as a Political Tool
The Euro is used for political purposes as well. Newspaper headlines such as 'The Euro Arrived in Nis" with photographs and recordings of armoured vehicles escorted by special police motorists and sometimes army commandoes is a good propaganda message for the seriousness with which the new authorities have approached this job (apparently equal to what their European counterparts have done so far to protect the Euro from theft). This is yet another proof, one might hear, 'that we are a full-fledged member of the European community of nations again". This image is often used together with the expected return of Yugoslavia to the Council of Europe in early 2002. Additionally, the Euro is used for internal political wrangles, too. Recently, one could see the Central Bank Governor Dinkic who indirectly accused the Montenegrin government of carrying out suspicious transactions regarding the Euro. Since Montenegro has used the German mark as the official currency for some time now (which has further undermined the unity of the already feeble Yugoslav Federation, since Serbia officially sticks to the dinar), it needs to switch to the Euro full-scale now. Dinkic claims Montenegro has no official approval of the European Central Bank for this action, but it has bought the Euro worth its total national money-flow semi-legally at a high exchange fee from a private German bank. No official comments have been made by the Montenegrin authorities as of yet.
And thus, the Euro in Serbia has become yet another object of political feuds, much more than a simple currency or, symbolically, a token of Serbia's 'return to Europe'. Last Thursday's arrival of Euro banknotes into Nis caused little distress in the view of ordinary folk. The official statement simply read ' The National Bank has provided enough new currency for the expected crowd in the beginning of January. All citizens are assured the exchange will be carried out swiftly and with no difficulty". Some stores (especially those offering computer equipment) have just switched their price tags to the Euro. The long-lasting custom of pricing more expensive items in German marks was only last month unexpectedly changed with more and more offices returning to the local dinar. Nowadays, dinars are succeeded by the Euro, and one can see many people in the street trying to get used to the new mathematics. Most still multiply the Euro figure by two in order to get the German mark equivalent, and thus have some idea of how expensive an item really is. Some time will pass before the value in Euro will be accepted and understood off-hand as an absolute value. Some social groups, however, have already gotten used to the Euro. Prosperous businessmen, working with foreigners, or NGOs, writing project proposals with budgets for foreign founders, have used the Euro in their transactions for a year now. There were no literal banknotes, true, but in their calculations the new currency has been very much alive in Serbia too.
The final merit of the Euro is at stake in Serbia as well. Apart from the alleged physical perfection of the banknotes (it just cannot be forged, as many say), few in Serbia see why one should exchange their beloved Deutsch marks, used for so many years, for something else. Stories of the return to Europe help very little in this respect. But the outcome remains to be seen.
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