By Igor Jovanovic
The Chinese shopping mall in Belgrade’s Block 70 was known as a very crowded place buzzing with business activity.
Up until mid-2010, many of the 6,000 Chinese vendors in the capital marketed their goods to thousands of Serbs.
One was barely able to enter the premises, while piles of scattered cardboard boxes and the traffic around the mall irritated many nearby residents.
Today, the mall is nearly empty and numerous closed shops feature “For rent” or “For sale” signs. Vendors who still conduct business say that sales are down and people are buying only the cheapest goods.
“People simply have no more money, which is dramatically reducing our revenue. That is why we are moving out of Serbia, where we were well accepted. Whoever can go to an EU country does so, whereas those who can’t move even farther away,” shop owner Sun Yei told SETimes.
Yei said his compatriots were well received since arriving in the mid-1990s, but are now moving due to a dramatic decline in purchasing power.
According to data from a local Chinese association, around 3,000 Chinese citizens have left Belgrade since 2010.
Economic analyst Marica Vukovic argues that the Chinese vendors’ departure will not be felt much at the macroeconomic level. It will, however, severely affect the poorest segment of the population which purchased inexpensive Chinese products to get by.
Vukovic added it will also negatively affect those who leased shops and apartments to the Chinese, as well as workers and the transport sector tied to Chinese businesses.
“Unemployment in Serbia is around 19% and the loss of any job is not good news,” she said.
According to official data, the average monthly salary in September was 380 euros.
The difficult economic situation is compounded by what President Boris Tadic described last week as a second wave of the global economic crisis. He urged all state institutions to be prepared, but many are unsure what to do. The crisis has the potential to tremendously shake up Serbia, particularly because the country’s traditional economic partners — Greece and Italy — are also in dire economic straits.
The macro-economic picture aside, Belgrade residents have telling, wide-ranging reactions to the departure of Chinese vendors.
Some, like Dusan Markovic, who lives in Block 70, says he had been leasing an apartment to the Chinese. “They left a few months ago. Since then, I have not been able to lease the apartment to anyone, and I also have to pay the bills for it. Because my salary is low, it was not easy to see my tenants leave.”
Miroslav Radjenovic, who used to be employed by the Chinese, also says he has felt the impact.
“The work was hard and the hours long, but by our standards, I actually earned solid money. Now that my bosses have left, I am jobless again and there is not much hope I will easily find a new job,” Radjenovic said.
Snezana Mitrovic differs. “I am not sorry the Chinese traders are leaving. We could not walk around the block because of the boxes and other things around the mall. Now that there are far fewer buyers, it is a lot quieter.”