One-fifth of Serbs want to leave Serbia

Traveler's suitcase featuring flag of Serbia. [Novikov Aleksey/Shutterstock]

Around one-fifth of Serbian citizens want to emigrate in search of a better life and better-paying jobs, according to a new survey. Most of them are young people and almost all of them want to go to the West. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Those who have already left do not wish to return, at least not before they retire, again primarily because of the higher living standards abroad, according to the survey titled Why Are People Leaving Serbia, conducted by the Srbija 21 think tank on a sample of 1,000 citizens.

One-third of the respondents thinking about leaving Serbia are in the 18-29 age bracket, while nearly half of those looking to go abroad consider permanent emigration.

The most frequent motives for emigration are the standard of living (41%), a better-paying job (36%) and the bad situation in the country (9%). Serbia is the biggest country in the Western Balkans but its remains poor after a decade of international isolation and wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Of the total number of respondents, 85% want to move to western countries, while just 2% named Russia as their desired destination.

The survey was also conducted online in the diaspora, on a sample of 2,149 adult respondents who had emigrated from Serbia.

The vast majority of those (92%) said their life was better abroad than in Serbia.

Asked if they would return to Serbia, 41% of the respondents said they were not planning to, while 35% would return only after retiring. Nine out of ten said they see their children’s future abroad.

One of the founders of the Srbija 21 organisation, Ivan Andrić, said while presenting the survey results that the problem of mass emigration affected Serbia and other countries in the region, but also some of the Eastern European countries.

The “Eastern Balkans” have gone the same way. Neighbouring Bulgaria and Romania, EU member since 2007, have lost respectively 3.5 and close to 2 million of their population since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“It is important that we understand, and it is evident in the experience of our neighbours, that the problem will not disappear with our association with and accession to the EU. Rather, the number of those who leave will only increase. For people to stay, it is important that we establish the Western European quality of life in our own country,” Andrić stressed.

For social psychologist Jasna Milošević Popović, the main reasons for the bleak outlook are the low standard of living, corruption and the inability to get a job in Serbia without some kind of backing.

“Staying here is what young people would call ‘a loser’s move’. What would keep them here would be the ability to manage their own career,” said.

The unemployment rate in Serbia, an EU candidate country since 2013, was just under 12% in the second quarter, according to official data, but in the 15-24 age bracket, it was 27.5%. The average net salary in July was 49,202 dinars (€416).

Another survey, the Balkan Barometer 2018 survey, unveiled by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) in Brussels in early July, painted an even gloomier picture. according to that survey, Serbs are more concerned about the economic situation than the citizens of other Western Balkan countries and 32% of them say they would leave the country.

Because of emigration and the mortality rate higher than the birth rate, the annual loss of population in Serbia is equivalent to a town of about 35,000 people, which puts it among the 10 countries in the world with the biggest population decline, according to the data presented by relevant organisations.

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