The Foundation's position on the Diaspora

Boris Vukobrat
President of the Peace and Crises Management Foundation
Vladimir Gligorov
Member of the Board of Directors of the Peace and Crises Management Foundation

Vladimir Gligorov’s text, with which the president of the Foundation fully agrees.

Migrants and country of origin

Three characteristics of Serbian migration are perhaps the most important.

First, their remittances are of great importance to the Serbian economy (and to the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well). They usually account for about 10 percent of gross domestic income. Remittances maintain consumption, investments in real estate and banking (to the extent to which they are deposited in banks or represent savings). Compared to remittances, Serbian investments from abroad are relatively small, if we put aside real estate investments. They should not be confused with the investments of Serbian entrepreneurs through tax havens, which are, for example, recorded as Dutch investments. The entrepreneurial investments of Serbian emigrants are relatively small.

This is not a Serbian specificity. This is the case with all emigrants from underdeveloped, or from countries that are not developing or are even regressing: in no small part because the domestic economy is monopolized and corrupt. So, it is difficult and expensive to apply from abroad. An exception may be the export-import operations, which are not lacking, because, of course, a large inflow of remittances also means a major import, in no small extent, from the countries from which the remittances originate, especially from Germany and Austria.

Ultimately, the Serbian economy depends on remittances and other transfers, and this encourages further emigrations. Hence, the emigration from Serbia will continue. Here lies the only limiting factor in all likelihood: low birth rate and accelerated aging of the Serbian population.

Secondly, the cultural contribution of Serbian emigrants is small. This is at odds with the historical role of emigration, which was known to be modernizing. There are many reasons. The most important is perhaps the closed nature of intellectual and scientific institutions and the public at large. Today, it is not realistic to expect that someone from abroad would come back to help modernize universities for example, whether in the natural or social sciences. An additional reason is the increased popularity of backwardness to the extent that may have no precedent in Serbian history.

Thirdly, the political influence of a considerable part of emigration is non-existent. People living abroad do not generally vote in elections in Serbia. Politically active abroad nevertheless, they often support parties, for example in Austria and Germany, who marginalize their influence in the countries in which they live. In addition, they often support the people and parties in power in Serbia (and in Republika Srpska).

These are, generally speaking, the three key characteristics of the Serbian diaspora and the three problems that it faces. Nothing can be changed quickly, which does not mean that there is nothing that could be done.

In order for people living abroad to influence on what happens in Serbia, it is necessary that someone represents them. In other words, they need to be organized. Serbian authorities are mainly interested in being represented abroad by the diaspora. There is no interest in influencing the country. So, if the diaspora is not organized, no significant changes can be expected. As the financial importance of the diaspora is significant, if we take a look at remittances for example, it could certainly be required to improve the conditions for investment in the country.

Perhaps the first step could be to draw up a white paper, following the example of foreign investors in Belgrade. This would highlight the importance of the diaspora in economic and financial terms, and it would also point out the requirements for how to enable them to have greater prospects for economic and other activities in the country. It would affect the mobilization of people living abroad and would have a corresponding weight in the country.

When it comes to the modernization role, it is not difficult to see what should be done. Universities in Serbia, for example, should include not only well-established scientists from the diaspora, but also a foreign presence in the programs, advancement and defense of doctoral and master's theses. A large number of countries formally request that these university activities be internationalized. This would affect the quality of staff, teaching and students. In addition, it would lead to increased participation in international projects, which is probably the only way for a small and poor country to join the progress of science, especially of applied science.

Finally, the Serbian diaspora is not such that it cannot deal with so-called identity politics. Not even when it comes to influencing politics in the countries where they live, or their policy towards Serbia or Serbian interests. If one wants to influence the position in which one lives, political influence should be exercised on parties that can do so. These will usually be requests shared by many, not just Serbs. If politics is to be influenced in Serbia, it is necessary to organize and vote for those who will improve the position of citizens and diaspora in Serbia, and not for those who force people to emigrate.