Arab Today, arab today devastated serbia economy puts hope in election and reform
Last Updated : GMT 14:31:54
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Devastated Serbia economy puts hope in election and reform

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Devastated Serbia economy puts hope in election and reform

Loznica - AFP

The devastated Viskoza factory in western Serbia was once a proud symbol of Serbian industry. Today, its deserted complex resembles a post-apocalyptic movie set -- a painful reminder of Serbia's ailing economy ahead of early polls on March 16. The factory in the western town of Loznica -- a dozen gigantic production halls now ghostly empty -- used to employ 11,000 people and was the economic mainstay of the region. Dishevelled boxes full of chemical products that never reached customers are scattered across the concrete grounds. Weeds grow out of the paths and everything that could be reused or sold -- including windows, taps and pipes -- has been stolen. The bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s, followed by international economic sanctions, halted production at the factory. A bungled attempt to move it from public to private hands hammered the last nail into Viskoza's coffin, leading it to bankruptcy and eventual closure in 2005. An official of Serbia's Privatisation Agency, which is responsible for the factory, told AFP it is unlikely ever to be revived. The only part of the complex that was successfully sold was the power plant, which once supplied electricity to the entire town. It was bought by a Belgrade-based company for one million euros ($1.37 million) in 2007. "But it does not work. They owe us 22 months in unpaid wages," Radosav Marjanovic, a worker in the plant, told AFP. With many of Serbia's 179 state-owned companies struggling, Viskoza is far from the only site that needs rejuvenation. Having started EU accession talks in January, the government pushed through a stringent austerity package of privatisation, subsidy cuts and tax increases in a bid to reduce spending and get people back to work. Unemployment has reached 20.1 percent in the country of 7.2 million. Many more are stuck in the so-called "grey economy", where salaries are often delayed and there are no health or retirement benefits. In some areas in the underdeveloped south, the unemployment rate exceeds 50 percent, while those lucky enough to have a job struggle to survive on the average salary of 350 euros ($480) a month. With such controversial reforms now to be implemented, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party has called early parliamentary elections on March 16, hoping for a strong mandate to push ahead with its pro-European austerity programme. The weakness of the opposition means it looks set for victory, but the future of Serbia's economy remains uncertain. - Waiting for 'Superman' miracle - For Loznica, hope has shifted rather desperately to a "Superman" mineral. In 2006, the Rio Tinto mining company found large reserves of jadarite  -- a mineral used in mobile phone batteries -- in the region, raising hopes that it would set up a mine. Jadarite, a mineral said to have the same chemical composition as "kryptonite", the fictional rock used to hurt Superman in comic books, is highly sought throughout the world. But Rio Tinto has made no public statements on the subject since 2012, when it said it was still considering the costs of setting up the mine. For locals, there is nothing to do but wait and hope. Many have turned to agriculture, but a lack of government support means they are stuck at subsistence level. Ivanko Jankovic, a former Viskoza employee, thinks it is too late for his former factory to return. He remembers the days when a "flow of people walked along this path to work," but now says it looks like a "nuclear bomb was dropped here". "Everything is ruined. It is impossible to relaunch production. We have tried everything to attract investors, but in vain," he said. He sees Rio Tinto as the only chance for a positive future. "The opening of the mine would employ people, it is our only hope," he said.

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Arab Today, arab today devastated serbia economy puts hope in election and reform Arab Today, arab today devastated serbia economy puts hope in election and reform

 



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