Accessibility links

Breaking News

Many Serbians Not Happy with Their Lives

In Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia, a newspaper survey finds that 80 percent of the students at Belgrade University would leave the country if they had a chance.

That despondency about Serbia's economic and political future matches what correspondent Barry Wood heard recently when he visited young professionals in the cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad.

Four years ago there was revolutionary euphoria in Belgrade. After a decade of dictatorship and war, workers joined with students in a popular uprising that on October 5th, 2000 triumphed with the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic.

Eight months later Serbia's new leaders sent Mr. Milosevic to the Hague tribunal where he is on trial for war crimes.

Amid new freedoms and open borders, Serbia's energetic reformers quickly set to work building a market economy and democratic institutions.

But in March 2003 underworld figures linked to the old regime gunned down Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic outside his Belgrade office.

Many young Serbs say that with the advantage of hindsight, their dreams for a democratic, European future died alongside Mr. Djindjic.

Nebojsa Tasic, a human rights activist at the Belgrade office of Helsinki Watch, says the high ideals and hopes of October 5th are gone. "What happened with people? I don't know. Nobody told them there had been a war. Those wars are not cheap. That this country can't, after one day, become rich with everybody having money and jobs and everything."

In Novi Sad, the biggest city in northern Serbia, a member of the nationalist Radical party, long allied to Mr. Milosevic, has been elected mayor.

Broadcaster Milena Jerkov, 24, is stunned by the result. "I'm very disappointed with these election results. And I don't know if I have the strength enough to continue. Until this, I was completely sure that, sure, we have a future here. And even now I think that. But the problem is how much can you stand?"

But it is hard to leave. Young Serbs like Milena have difficulty even getting tourist visas for Western Europe or the United States.

Her friend Zoltan, 30, an ethnic Hungarian, is an anomaly. Following the revolution, he came back to Serbia after eight years in Canada. "The fact is many people in this country would leave this country first thing, if given a chance," he said.

Just married, Zoltan wants to start a business in Novi Sad. And even though he worries about recurrent anti-Hungarian violence and a halt to economic reform, he's not ready to give up on Serbia. "If things improve here, I'll still choose staying here. I was born here. This was the country I lived in for two-thirds of my life," he told us.

Back in Belgrade, Nebojsa Tasic surveys a deteriorating political and economic situation and is despondent about the future. "If you live here you have to recognize something and admit to yourself: they won, that you're defeated, that you don't live in a country and a system you'd like to live in."