A severe decline in Serbia's population has many calling for plans to boost the country's birth rate.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 24/11/11
Many couples are putting off having children due to the economic crisis. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
The number of citizens in Serbia has decreased by 377,000 -- or 5% of the total population -- over the past nine years, according to the official results of the census conducted between October 1st and 20th.
Serbian Statistics Bureau head Dragan Vukmirovic presented this data at a news conference on November 15th. According to the latest statistics, the number of citizens in Serbia now stands at 7.1 million, compared to 7.5 million registered in the 2002 census.
"The reduction of the population has primarily occurred because the mortality rate is higher than the birth rate, but also because the Albanians in southern Serbia have boycotted the census," Vukmirovic said.
According to him, the Belgrade region is the only one in the country that has seen a rise in the number of citizens -- by about 63,000. In 85% of Serbian municipalities, the number of citizens has dropped by 10% or more. The Crna Trava municipality has been the most affected -- its population has decreased by 35.2% since 2002.
A rise in the number of citizens was registered in 22 municipalities, while in 146 municipalities the population has decreased. The number of settlements without inhabitants, compared with the 2002 census, has risen from seven to nine.
The number of settlements with a population of less than 100 has increased from 707 to 975. The total number of Serbian citizens living abroad is slightly above 294,000.
Serbian President Boris Tadic voiced concern over these results.
"We have to do much more to change the value system and develop readiness to have children. If we have 200,000 or 300,000 fewer citizens every ten years, we will have nothing to develop our society with and no one to leave that society to," Tadic told the media.
He noted that the current economic crisis has probably factored in to people's decisions on having children, but he urged them to look past that -- to the future.
Serbia's population dropped by 5% from 2002. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
"That is a global problem, but we have to deal with it. Some countries have dealt with it, such as France, but Serbia is one of the countries that have not solved that problem. This may be the red alert for our entire region," Tadic said.
Labour and Social Policy Ministry adviser Ljubomir Pejakovic told SETimes that the data is very worrisome and requires a response from the state. He pointed out that single financial sums given to parents upon the birth of their child are not enough to boost the birth rate.
"Long-term measures and the creation of an overall better environment for parenting are necessary. The citizens need security, adequate healthcare and the cheapest possible education," Pejakovic said.
He emphasised poverty as one cause of the declining birth rate in Serbia, and stressed that more than 140,000 children are living in poor families.
"If we want a good population policy, we must not allow such an occurrence," the adviser said.
Ljiljana Novakovic, 34, does not have children, and believes that Serbia is a difficult place to plan anything, especially a family.
"The worst thing is that is never the right time. We always wait for the perfect moment in our life -- a flat, a regular job," Novakovic told SETimes. However, she said she believes that waiting for the perfect financial situation to have children is not the perfect solution, either.
"Maybe for all of us, a good message could be if we have enough money for two of us, there will be enough for the baby, as well," she said.
Youth and Sports Minister Snezana Samardzic-Markovic told SETimes that the census results are depressing.
"There is no point in lamenting the results. Clear measures should be taken to give everyone an equal chance," the minister said. According to her, a growing number of young people are leaving their hometowns and villages or even going abroad in search of a better life.
Her ministry, she continued, "has over the last three years provided scholarships to over 6,500 talented young people, for the purpose of keeping them in the country after graduation".
Igor Miladinovic, 35, is a Belgrade economist with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. He said he manages to provide everything his family needs, but it's very difficult.
"I understand why young couples in Serbia think twice before they have children. It is very hard for a parent to say to his child that there is not enough money to buy that new toy he wants so much," Miladinovic told SETimes.