The war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s has left Serbia with wounds that are difficult to heal. Reforms that have been promised have often not been made. There has been a lot of controversy around leaders such as Slobodan Milošević and the murder of Zoran Djindjics, as well as Kosovo and Montenegro’s succession from Serbia. Following the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, however, Serbia has a government that is willing to make reforms. The path towards reform is a long process, but Serbia is heading in the right direction on many levels.
Stabilisation agreement attracts foreign investors
An important step was taken in 2008 when the country signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. Many see this as a path towards political reform. The agreement, as well as Serbia’s initiatives to strengthen its market economy, has attracted many foreign investors.
However, because Serbia is not an EU candidate, the country has produced its own National Programme for Integration (NPI) to highlight its administrative will and ability.
One hurdle to EU integration is the lack of wholehearted efforts to hand over accused individuals, such as war criminal Ratko Mladic, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (CTY) in The Hague, the Netherlands. Those in favour of modernization hold views that are opposed to those of national political forces on that issue.
Poverty halved but unemployment high
Another measure of Serbia’s success is that it has already reached its target of halving poverty by 2010. GDP per capita in 2008 was about USD 5,400. The global economic downturn in 2009 is having a major effect on Serbia and is slowing the positive developments.
In contrast, about one in two young people is unemployed, and unemployment rates among minorities and women is far higher than the national average of almost 20 per cent.
Women have a weak role in a patriarchal system such as Serbia’s. Unemployment is about 30 per cent higher for women than for men, and salaries for women are 15 per cent lower. Violence in the home and human trafficking are widespread problems in Serbia, and affect women the most.
Half a million young people left the country in the 1990s. That, in addition to negative population growth, puts Serbia in fifth place in the world in terms of the percentage of elderly people in the population.
Serbia has gradually improved in areas such as human rights. But Roma and Albanian minorities in southern Serbia are worst affected by violations against human rights. On the other hand, the independent press is of reasonable quality.
EU – Serbia’s biggest donor
The biggest provider of development assistance to Serbia is the EU, with support for membership of more than EUR 180 million (2008). This is to help construct democratic institutions and infrastructure and help the country use EU funds responsibly.
EU support also goes towards privatizing companies in a manner that is responsible from a social perspective. This work had made good progress before the global financial crisis.
United States and others donors supporting economic development
Other donors, principally within economic development, are Germany, the United States and Norway, with Germany the most significant donor. Legal issues, public finance systems and job-creation programmes form part of Norway’s support.
There are also multilateral donors, such as the World Bank and the UN, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as well as 15 other bodies.
Sweden is concentrating its support in three areas:
- Human rights
- Natural resources and the environment.