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Shrinking Country: Serbia Struggles with Falling Population


In this photo taken on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, an old postcard shows how the village of Blagojev Kamen, Serbia looked like fifty years ago. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Shrinking Country: Serbia Struggles with Falling Population
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Uros Trainovic remembers when his small village in eastern Serbia was home to about 200 families.

Now, over 60 years later, his village of Blagojev Kamen is a kind of ghost town. Only eight people live there now.

This kind of population loss can be found in other parts of Serbia, where a shrinking population raises questions about the economic well-being of the country.

Population changes are a fact of life across Europe.

So Serbia, with a low fertility rate, is like many other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Serbia takes in a small number of immigrants, but has high migration rates.

The World Bank reports that Serbia’s population, of around 7 million, could fall to 5.8 million by the year 2050. That would represent a 25% drop since 1990.

The Serbian government considers the shrinking population a kind of national emergency. The United Nations has even stepped in to help. It sent a group of seven international experts to the country last month on a fact-finding mission.

Blagojev Kamen is evidence of the problem. A nearby gold mine kept the local economy alive before and after World War II. The village suffered after the mine closed in the 1990s.

In this photo taken on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, Uros Trainovic walks inside his house decorated with picture of former Yugoslav communist president Josip Broz Tito, in the village of Blagojev Kamen, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
In this photo taken on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, Uros Trainovic walks inside his house decorated with picture of former Yugoslav communist president Josip Broz Tito, in the village of Blagojev Kamen, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Uros Trainovic said there are still gold and other minerals in the mine, but that it needs investment and hard work.

“One of my sons is in Germany, and the other one is in Austria,” he said. “They visit often but they have nothing to return to.”

The changes in Blagojev Kamen are not unusual in a country that experienced years of war and sanctions in the 1990s after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Wolfgang Lutz of Austria is an expert on demographics at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. He told The Associated Press that the main problem is related to the kind of people who are leaving Serbia.

“We see that it tends to be the better-educated, the more highly skilled, the more highly motivated mobile people who are leaving and that is certainly a drain of the human capital,” Lutz noted.

Serbia’s government has tried to stop the decline in population. It has offered financial assistance to families with two or more children, supported schools and day care centers and given aid to families in rural areas.

It is not only Serbian officials who are worried. Serbia’s neighbor Croatia has made the “pressing issue of demographic challenges” a top issue. More than 15% of Croatia’s 4.2 million people are living and working overseas.

Bulgaria and Ukraine are two other countries seeing population declines.

Stjepan Sterc, a Croatian expert on demography, thinks the efforts to deal with the problems across the Balkans are not enough. He thinks that the tax system can be amended to support population growth.

“Demography should be recognized as the essence of economic development so that the most important encouragement tool [taxes] is directed toward it,” he said.

I'm John Russell.

Jovana Gec reported on this story for The Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

ghost – n. a very small amount or trace (as in ghost town, a town with few remaining inhabitants)

migration – n. movement from one area to another

missionn. an important job or duty

sanction – n. a threatened punishment for disobeying a law or rule

tend – v. used to describe what often happens or what someone often does or is likely to do — followed by to + verb

motivated – adj. describes someone who has a strong reason for doing something

drain – n. a thing that uses up something; the continued loss of something

challenge – n. a call to take part in a competition

demography – n. the study of changes (such as the number of births, deaths, marriages, and sicknesses) that take place over a period of time in human populations also : a set of such changes

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