By Bojana Milovanovic
Serbs are marking their triumph over Ottoman rule this week, but a slew of challenges threaten to cast a shadow over the celebration.
Statehood Day, celebrated every February 15th, marks the recognition of Serbia’s independence by the Ottoman Empire in 1817. This year, for the first time, a two-day federal holiday has been declared for February 15th and 16th. While it’s a time for Serbs to celebrate the victory, the nation’s energy and financial crisis has some using the event as an opportunity to conserve.
Acting on a proposal by the group that monitors energy supply and safety, the government has extended the holiday to run from Monday (February 13th) through February 17th. Petar Skundric of the Working Group said that this way there would be five non-working, non-school days, which would help reduce the state’s energy consumption by at least 10%. This decrease is dire, he said, due to the fact that the state’s energy systems are overloaded.
The economic crisis and grim economic forecasts for the year ahead have also taken their toll.
“It seems to me like the standard of living keeps getting worse. Prices are rising, people are increasingly losing their jobs and those who are working do not know whether they will get paid. All I can do is hope that we will overcome this somehow, just as we overcame the 1990s,” taxi driver Dragan Protic, 38, told SETimes.
Economic analyst and web portal Makroekonomija (Macroeconomy) editor Miroslav Zdravkovic said that one of the major problems is that over the past three years, more than 250,000 of the workforce, or 12%, lost their jobs.
Forecasts of industrial growth and development in the year ahead are not encouraging either.
“Estimates say industrial production will decrease by about 4%. The deficit in industrial production is certain; all we are waiting for now is the beginning of production at Fiat in May or June to see whether it will mitigate the drop in industrial production by 1 or 2%,” Zdravkovic told SETimes.
In addition to the economic cloud, the state faces other domestic issues.
Military analyst and author Aleksandar Radic sees organised crime as Serbia’s biggest security concern.
“Those who have illegal money generate problems. Crime uses national and religious extremism and different political organisations to protect its interests. We … are not dealing with it to a sufficient extent,” Radic told SETimes.
He said that since the beginning of the democratisation process, the Serbian state has been struggling with organised crime.
Attention should be paid to those who gained wealth and profit after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic’s 2003 assassination, he said, noting the example of drug lord Darko Saric.
“There are large and serious holes in the security system which have enabled the creation of such a strong criminal organisation,” Radic said.
According to Transparency Serbia representative Vladimir Goati, however, the biggest challenge for Serbia is its EU membership bid. The country’s accession is a two-fold problem, he says.
Besides the necessary reforms the country must undertake, “[EU accession] is linked with the improvement of relations with Kosovo, which is constitutionally defined as a part of Serbia. The international community, particularly the EU, is calling for the establishing of tolerance and co-operation. There is no demand for the official recognition of Kosovo, but there is a demand for normal relations. I think that is very difficult,” Goati told SETimes.
However, he said, some of the country’s problems could be solved in the May general elections.
“But I do not expect any kind of election earthquake,” Goati said.