IRI-Sponsored MPO Hosts Roundtable on Serbia’s Economic Crisis

The International Republican Institute (IRI) -sponsored Network for Political Accountability (Mreza za Politicku Odgovornost, or MPO) held the latest in a series of roundtables meant to bring the “bread and butter concerns” of average Serb families to the government’s attention on April 2, 2009.  The theme of this roundtable, held in a standing room only Media Center in downtown Belgrade, was the world economic crisis and its impact on workers and families in Serbia.

Svetlana Logar of the public opinion research firm Strategic Marketing and Media Research Institute opened the event with the latest polling data, showing the public’s growing fear of job losses and falling standards of living.  Milica Vojic-Markovic, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia, gave a critique of the government’s policies, while Ivana Milosevic of the People’s Office of the President described the assistance the president’s constituent service office was able to provide.  

Perhaps the most important comment of the roundtable came in the form of a journalist’s question – a journalist asked why representatives of the government were not present.  Government ministries were invited, but declined to attend.  This fact became a major theme of the local print and television news coverage of the roundtable.  Symptomatic of the disconnect between Serbian citizens and their government, this inattention to the concerns of the people is exactly what MPO was created to address.

Changes in key economic indicators for Serbia have been stark.  Industrial production in Serbia has fallen by 19.7 percent from February 2008 to February 2009.  Unemployment stands at 14 percent, and is expected to rise.  Foreign direct investment has fallen from almost $4.5 billion in 2006 to $2.7 billion in 2008, and may drop further.  The average wage has fallen by about three percent in the last month, and the value of the local currency has dropped by about 23 percent in the last year.

Business and labor were also represented by Zoran Stoijlkovic, Professor at the University of Belgrade and a prominent member of the union “Nezavistnost” and Jelena Starcevic of the Association of Entrepreneurs.  Professor Stoijlkovic stressed that the goal of the government should be simply to defend the jobs that exist now, not to try to create new jobs.  He said that the government has continually changed its approach to the economy adding further instability.  The government, he said, should decide on a course of action and stick to it.  Jelena Starcevic offered a list of concrete steps the government could take to help businesses preserve jobs, including cutting taxes, cutting wait times for business permits and cutting the cost of electricity and water to companies.  

MPO is a network of women across Serbia who have come together to demand the government keep its promises and address real people’s issues.  Founded by a group of politically active women with IRI’s assistance in 2006, the network is growing across the country.  While Serbia’s recent politics have been dominated by questions of war and peace, sovereignty and international relations, politicians have not had to address the needs of average people, such as jobs, healthcare, roads, and schools.  MPO is dedicated to holding government accountable through grassroots action.

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