Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 10:20 UK

Serbia's past helps ease the present

By Marijana Zivkovic
BBC News, Belgrade

Belgrade skyline
Many buildings had to be rebuilt after the NATO offensive in the 1990s

Until recently the economic crisis which has swept across the world did not concern the citizens of Serbia - they believed that was something happening to others far away.

Since the beginning of the year however, the crisis has spread across all aspects of the Serbian economy and society.

The value of Serbia's currency, the dinar, has fallen, salaries have been frozen, prices have soared and bank loans have become expensive.

Although they acknowledge the serious nature of the downturn, Serbians - who faced economic sanctions during the 1990s - do not consider the current crisis to be tragic.

Lean times

Nikola Rajkovic in Belgrade was particularly hit by the government's decision to freeze salaries in the public sector and state enterprises.

Liliana Rajkovic
Liliana says she goes food shopping later in the day order to find bargains

He has been working for almost 30 years in one of those former "fat gooses" but nevertheless, he doubts that anything happening now might resemble the misery that Serbia suffered during the last decade of the 20th Century.

"We are used to this up-and-down movement," he says.

"My parents had a very poor childhood, but through the years they increased their standard of living."

Nikola's wife Liliana lost her job at the beginning of the 1990s and since then they have been living mainly on her husband's salary of $970 a month - twice the average salary in Serbia.

Official statistics show that the average family spends about eight dollars a day on food, but Liliana says that cannot be true.

"I spend a minimum of $40 a day for food. I go to the market after 11 o'clock because it is then easier to find cheaper food."

The BBC is Taking the Pulse of the Global Economy, looking at a range of subjects this summer
Consumer behaviour - how have lifestyles changed over the year
Food prices - which remain a concern particularly in many developing economies
Highly volatile energy prices - which have been a major issue in the past year
The plight of migrant workers - as the global recession takes hold in many economies
Housing markets - which have turned from boom to bust in many countries
Rising unemployment levels - as firms cut back because of falling orders

"I buy vegetables, fruit, and dairy produce. This is a minimum for a healthy meal."

Another reason making Nikola now feel the pinch, is that bank loans have suddenly become more expensive.

The citizens of Serbia have found some solace through bank loans.

It is estimated that every Serbian owes the equivalent of two average salaries to his or her bank.

Many of them have been worried by the measures taken by banks since the beginning of the crisis.

"The National Bank of Serbia introduced some new rules limiting the amount of loans one can have."

"I wanted to renew the loan for my car, but they said I could not have it," Mr Rajkovic laments.

The family now only buy clothes for their children and they have had to curtail their visits to a restaurant with friends.

The only perk Nikola permits himself is driving to work. He drives a cheap diesel car.

"The reason I use the car is my quality time," he explains.

"A day has only 24 hours," he says. "If I spend one hour more in public transport that is one hour less for my family and my friends."

For the first time in three years, the Rajkovic family will spend the summer at the seaside.

The cheap package deal will be paid off during the next two years.

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