L'anthologie of Global Inestabilidad Transpuesta - Demographic Instability - Serbia (Part 35)

Transposing emblem by Aleksandar Protić
Anybody born in Serbia could testify that our native country is a vivid symbol of instability. Through the tumultuous 20th century, Serbia went through six different countries and forms of government, it survived six wars, losing approximately one third of its population in WW1 alone (Radivojević; Penev, 43). The longest period of peace and prosperity in Serbia’s recent history was during three post-war decades in the then communist federation of Yugoslavia, in which Serbia was one of six constituent republics. As of the early 1980s, the relatively brief period of growth and stability gradually shifted to a period of economic decline, fuelling ethno-religious tensions in the multinational federation, ultimately ending in a bloody war and the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At the turn of the century, socialist Serbia was still based on the remains of the once-mighty communist Yugoslavia, both politically and economically. However, after democratic forces assumed power in 2000, the country opened up to the world and made a sharp turn in terms of its economic organization.
Novi Sad, Serbia - Devastated building
All of these changes inevitably had an economic, political, social and psychological effect on the country and the people living in it. One of the adverse aftermaths of these transformations is a steady decline in the country's population, especially in rural areas. The depopulation trend is manifested in several ways – negative population growth, brain drain and massive migration of people from rural regions to urban areas.

Current demographic нестабилност (instability) is a result of a combination of several unfavorable factors. Without any doubt, the economic situation in the country has contributed to the problem. In the early 2000s, Serbia made an abrupt transition to liberal capitalism from a relatively closed, self-sufficient socialist system. The opening of the Serbian market inevitably had some positive effects – we suddenly gained access to a wide range of good quality products at relatively low prices, but the transition from a self-sufficient economy to an import-oriented market meant that many jobs, factories and entire industries became redundant.
Serbia - Wheat field
Negative population growth is mostly linked to a low standard of living and high unemployment rate (above 13%, according to the Statistics Office), however, other factors seem to be involved as well. The fact that poor families often have 2-5 children whereas well-off couples generally have one or none seems to support this viewpoint. A modern lifestyle requires economic well-being and chasing money as absolute priorities, even more so in a challenging environment such as Serbia. Consequently, many couples tend to regard having children as an undesired extension of their list of obligations and an obstacle to career development, rather than something worth making the sacrifice for. Not so long ago, when agriculture was still the main branch of industry in Serbia, large families were not only commonplace, but even necessary – farming required a lot of physical labor, so extra family members were considered an asset rather than a liability. However, industrialized society has largely replaced agricultural communities, making them less prominent and less appealing, especially to younger generations gravitating towards urban environments and lifestyles.
Serbia - Golubac
As a result, another aspect of adverse demographic change in Serbia is a massive depopulation of rural settlements in favor of urban areas, stemming in part from the severe geographic centralization of our country. The trend is especially evident in remote mountainous regions, where, unlike in urban areas, the main issue is not unemployment, but rather a lack of labor. Despite being a promising yet underexploited sector of Serbia's economy, agriculture and the lifestyle usually associated with it are extremely unpopular with younger generations. A giant problem in some rural areas is also a lack of transportation and municipal infrastructure, educational facilities and social content that could keep the young population from leaving. Out of about 4,700 villages in Serbia, over 1,200 are on the verge of extinction (Gulan), being sustained in life exclusively thanks to their ageing population. Here in Serbia we even have a jocular saying about how our children explain what a village is – “it is a place where one’s grandparents live”.

Apparently, big cities are where all the fun is, and the migration of the young population seems to work like a snowball effect. Young people will naturally be attracted to places with already existing large communities of young people, such as cities with a major university. In Serbia’s case, that means less than five cities, and if we add popularity to the equation, probably no more than two. Most of the young people that migrate in pursuit of higher education never return to their home towns and villages – even if they cannot find employment in their new places of residence.
Serbia - Đavolja varoš
Internal migration is neither the only nor the most damaging type of migration in Serbia. Since the early nineties, Serbia has been experiencing a steady emigration of highly educated young people with no chance of employment or any kind of professional advancement in our native country, alongside all others who fled the country in search of a more stable and prosperous environment. According to a recent survey, 82% of Serbian citizens are willing to emigrate for employment (MojPosao portal), making Serbia the leader on the list of 11 Central and Eastern European countries included in the survey. Political elites seem too busy fighting for personal gain to show any interest in solving at least some of the many problems citizens are facing on a daily basis. Bleak economic prospects, omnipresent nepotism and politically motivated employment are to blame for the nationwide feeling of abandonment and betrayal; however, the brain drain gained such momentum that young people are willing to leave the country without even considering any other options they might have. Instead of advertizing jobs and promoting entrepreneurship, newspapers in Serbia openly and deliberately promote emigration to “popular destinations” such as Germany, the countries of Scandinavia or Canada.
Serbia - Uvac River and Eagle
The combined result of these negative trends is the following – as of 2016, only seven municipalities or cities in the entire country have had positive population growth – two of which are the country’s second largest city Novi Sad and the capital’s suburb of Surčin. In these two cases, the population growth is, sadly, not a result of high fertility rates, but rather of the immigration of people from rural areas and smaller towns and cities. According to the Statistics Office of the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian population is declining at a rate of 38,000 citizens per year – the size of an average Serbian town. For a small country with a population of 7 million, this is by no means irrelevant. With an estimated population of 2 million, Serbia’s capital of Belgrade is demographically devouring the rest of the country – there is even a specific term – “Beogradizacija” (Belgradization) – coined to describe the mass migration to Serbia’s capital and the ensuing devastation of rural areas.
Serbian countryside
Another factor contributing to bleak economic prospects and accompanying demographic decline is Serbia's maladjusted educational system which is, despite many “cosmetic” changes, still a relic of our communist past, totally at odds with the laws of supply and demand. This system involves “mass production” of profiles and professions the market does not actually need, resulting in tens of thousands of “educated” people whose only options are to keep waiting in employment offices for years or to leave the country in search of a brighter future. A related phenomenon is a devastating lack of entrepreneurial spirit in young people – another “illness” inherited from the communist system, where attaining higher education, or even simply being willing to work, automatically guaranteed employment. As a result, Serbia is probably one of few places in the world where you can often hear that someone is “waiting for a job” instead of “looking for a job”.
Belgrade, Serbia - People waiting on Republic Square
Nevertheless, if we put things into a brighter perspective, even the fact that (almost) nothing works properly can mean that there are many possible starting points for improvement. Our future will look a lot brighter if we manage to get the proverbial snowball rolling in the opposite direction. Hopefully, our government will finally see the warning signs and pull their heads out of the sand. A good starting point would be a radical reform of the education system and its harmonization with actual market demand. Our inert mentality should be countered by the promotion of an entrepreneurial spirit and the stimulation of agriculture through purpose-oriented rural development strategies. A positive example of improvement is the growing industry of rural tourism in Serbia, with a steadily increasing number of tourists arriving to admire our culture and the breathtaking beauty of Serbia’s nature. Maybe we can even learn something useful from them – it is often from someone else’s perspective that we discover the positive things about ourselves and the unused potential our environment has to offer.

Aleksandar Protić
Emblem of Instability in postcard booklet at 1080 Wyckoff (Queens, NYC)

Works cited

Gulan, Branislav. “Nestajanje sela, nestajanje Srbije.” Makroekonomija. Nov. 15, 2016. Web: Feb. 10, 2017.

MojPosao editorial. “Većina ispitanika spremna na preseljenje, ali jedino radi posla u struci.” MojPosao. Feb. 15, 2017. Web: Feb. 16, 2017.

Radivojević, Biljana, and Goran Penev. “Demographic losses of Serbia in the first world war and their long-term consequences.” Economic Annals 59.203 (2014): 29-54.

Institutions cited

Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. Unemployment rate for Q3 2016. Web: Feb. 5, 2017.

Emblem of Instability in postcard booklet at 1080 Wyckoff (Queens, NYC)


Photo 1: Novi Sad, Serbia - Cityscape by Aleksandar Protić

Photo 2: Novi Sad, Serbia - Devastated building by Aleksandar Protić

Photo 3: Serbia - Wheat field by Aleksandar Protić 

Photo 4: Golubac, Wikimedia Commons

Photo 5: Đavolja varoš, Wikimedia Commons

Photo 6: Uvac River and Eagle, Wikimedia Commons

Photo 7: Serbian countryside by Aleksandar Protić

Photo 8: Belgrade, Serbia - People waiting on Republic Square by BalkansCat

Parts of the Emblem of Instability

Alvisi, Andrea. Political and Social Instability: The Brexit Mess. May 2017.

Bahras. Unstable Air Pollution - Unstable Solutions: Mongolia. June 2017.

Bichen, Svetlana Novoselova. Mental and Cultural Instability: Russia and Turkey. February 2017.

Caetano, Raphael. Instabilidade emocional: Brazil. February 2017.

Çakır, Peren. On the Road in Search of Stability: Argentina and Turkey. June 2017.

Cordido, Verónica. Instability, a Stable Reality: Venezuela and America. April 2017.

Dastan, S.A. The Stability of Instability: Turkey and Syria. March 2017.

D'Adam, Anton. Psychosocial Instability in Argentina and America: El granero del mundo and The Manifest Destiny. January 2017.

Delibasheva, Emilia. Political Instability: Electoral Coups in America and Bulgaria. December 2016.

Ellie. Angry Folk: Korea. June 2017.

Friedrich, Angelika. Introduction: The Emblem of Instability. September 2016.

Fondevik, Vigdis. Unstable Nature: Norway and Denmark. October 2016.

Halimi, Sophia. Modern Instabilité: Youth and Employment in France and China. March 2017.

Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Embracing Instability - Spain. February 2017.

Kelvin, Sera. The Stability in Expecting Emotional Instability: Brazil. April 2017.

Larrosa, Mariela. The Very Stable Spanish Instability. April 2017.

Lobos, José. Political Instability: Guatemala. May 2017.

Mankevich, Tatsiana. The Absence of Linguistic Stabilнасцi: Does the Belarusian Language Have a Future? December 2016.

Meschi, Isabelle. Linguistic Instabilité and Instabilità: France and Italy. November 2016.

Mitra, Ashutosh. The Instability of Change: India. January 2016.

Moussly, Sahar. The Instability of Tyranny: Syria and the Syrian Diaspora. December 2016.

Nastou, Eliza. Psychological Αστάθεια and Inestabilidad during the Economic Crisis: Greece and Spain. December 2016.

Nevosadova, Jirina. Whatever Happens, It Is Experience. May 2017.

Partykowska, Natalia. Niestabilność and адсутнасць стабільнасці in the Arts: Polish and Belarusian Theater. January 2017.

Persio, P.L.F. Social Instabilità and Instabiliteit: Italy and the Netherlands. November 2016.

Pranevich, Liubou. Cultural Instability: Belarus and Poland. March 2017.

Romano, Mavi. Unstable Identities: Ecuador and Europe. October 2016.

Shunit. Economic Instability: Guinea and Gambia. April 2017.

Shalunova, Marina. Language Instability: Russia. June 2017

Sitorus, Rina. Instabilitas Toleransi: Indonesia. May 2017.

Sousa, Antonia. Social and Economic Instabilidade: Portugal. January 2017.

Vuka. My Intimate Imbalanced Inclination. March 2017.

Walton, Éva. Historical and Psychological Bizonytalanság within Hungarian Culture. January 2017.

Zadrożna-Nowak, Amelia. Economic Instability: Poles at Home and the Polish Diaspora. November 2016.

Zakharova, Anastasiya. Instability in Relationships: Russia. April 2017.

To follow: texts by Turkish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Egyptian, Irish, Syrian writers and translators

Further reading

Azazeal, Alex. Отражение Spiegelt Reflection. 2014.

Friedrich, Angelika. The Emblem of Instability. September 2016.

Friedrich, Angelika. Sub-Under-U-метро-Bahn-Ground-Way. 2014.

Gergiev, Vladimir. Street - Straße - Улица. 2014

Metivier, Anthony. Kunstart. 2014.

Smirnov, Yuri. Art de streetулица. 2013.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem - Junk Culture - Müll Trashed Мусор (Part I). August 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem - Junk Culture - Müll Trashed Мусор (Part II). August 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem - Junk Culture - Müll Trashed Мусор (Part III). September 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry. Forward to Next Transposing Emblem. January 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry. Changes to Transposing Emblems. November 2015.

Whittlesey, Henry. Excerpt of new emblem transpoзиция on trash. September 2015.

Whittlesey, Henry. Müll trashed мусор. 2013

Visit www.transposing.net for more information about transposition.

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