During a just concluded four-day visit to Serbia, Elke and Klaus Fimmen of the Schiller Institute found great openness and optimism about the potential of China’s One Belt-One Road policy for the region. Academics, representatives of various organizations and media were familiar with and appreciate highly the crucial work and record of the Schiller Institute for the World Landbridge. One leading academic, who has written on the importance of the New Silk Road for Serbia, stressed that he completely agrees with Mrs. Zepp-LaRouche, that this is of global significance and a new paradigm.
In the end of the trip, a lecture on “The New Silk Road – a regional and global peace policy of development” was held in Serbia’s second-largest city Novi Sad for about 50 students and economic faculty members, organized by the regional association of economists.*
For the first time in decades, full of regional wars, economic and social destruction, people see now hope for the future. One former politician said, with the Silk Road, Serbia for the first time in history is in a position to use its geographic and strategic location for the good, instead of being ruined by geopolitics for millennia. Adding to this sense of new maneuvering room, were the result of the US elections. In public “votings” published by the media, results had been 95% for Trump. For the population, Hillary was the embodiment of NATO-aggression. People agreed that with the Trump victory, for now war with Russia has stopped. There was great interest on the possibility to realize Glass-Steagall now and reshape the whole economic policy towards real economic development in the US and worldwide.
Serbia has become quite central for China’s approach to the CEEC region. At the recent CEEC-summit in Latvia, a first visa-free agreement between Serbian and China was signed, starting in January; the National Bank of China is going to open up a branch under Serbian charter starting next year. Final agreements were made on starting now the Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway construction, which will revolutionize the inland rail grid in Serbia as well. At this point, just going the 80 km from Belgrade up north to Novi Sad, the train needs almost two hours.
On other projects: the Smederovo steel plant with 3000 workers, which the Chinese have bought, is about to be modernized, including complementary port development (at the Danube), where the plant is located. While the EU has been trying to drag its feet, there is nothing it can do, since all regulations (including “anti-dumping”) have been carefully followed. An industrial park for high-tech firms is planned for Belgrade, possibly combined with a new harbor as well. Also, the development of one of the largest European huge copper, silver and gold mine in Bor, which never had been properly invested in during the last 25 years, is planned. China thus is going to vitalize projects and sectors, which have been put under privatization for decades, and were just left hanging in the air, with a huge burden on the state budget.
While growth of GDP has moved up by 1% (from 2 to 3%) in the last year, which some attribute to the effects of Serbian-Chinese cooperation already, industrial production is abysmal, with a disproportionate service sector. Many goods are imported cheap (or not so cheap), including from China. Unemployment is still massive, officially around 16%, while real unemployment is much higher. Youth do not have a future, university graduates end up as taxi drivers or tourist entertainers. In the second biggest city of Serbia, Novi Sad, the average income of a waiter is about 200 €, while the cost of living is 500 €. Young people are moving to the few cities and abandoning the countryside, but do at present not find jobs in the cities either. Investment need for renewing of infrastructure is immense, ranging easily in a range of 30-50 bio € for the capital city of Belgrade.
The EU, which is putting a lot of pressure in all ways (Serbia is an accession country), is regarded as a real stumbling block for development during the last 15 years. Not only were there no projects financed, but EU-accession to Serbia has been constantly delayed. Serbia has a huge population traditionally living and working in Germany after World War II. People are fed up with the empty promises. So either Germany and other EU-countries shape up now and change course, or they will have lost their chance.
*(Fifteen years ago, in June 2001, at Novi Sad university Jacques Cheminade and Elke Fimmen had presented the Eurasian Landbridge, the need for a global New Bretton Woods and the principles of physical economy, as defined by Lyndon LaRouche. Another lecture was held during that same visit at the prestigious Institute of Economic Science in Belgrade, which was founded in 1958 and has managed to exist still to this date.)