Jelka Jovanovic tried to find out in Novi Kozjak how did a place, which was a symbol of prosperity in 1987, at the verge of earning a label of a dying village and what is being done in Serbia to stop the reflux of people from villages and boroughs.
Almost the entire population of Novi Kozjak gathered on April 13th to bid farewell to Dusan Lalic (45), their neighbor that died a day earlier. In the procession which was ten meters long there were only elderly people.
“There is nothing more sad than when old people are burying a young man”, says for Novi magazin our host Ziva Lalic, the president of local community of Novi Kozjak.
Dusan left behind his three children, which are all younger than 15, a wife, a father and a mother. The crew of Novi magazin went there, to prior arrangement, because their three children are the only hope that the village won’t be extinct.
Even though it’s half its size from the last census in 1948, Novi Kozjak still doesn’t have the label of a dying village: in 200 out of 4600 villages in Serbia there are no more people, in 200 there are no people younger than 25, and in the next decade another 700 villages will be extinct. Some 50 000 houses are already empty, another 150 thousand have no permanent residents, and 600 000 acres of land is not being cultivated.
DYING VILLAGE: In fifty years, from 1950 until 2000, eight million people in Serbia changed their peasant shoes for workers’. In the western countries it took a century, or a century and a half for such a migration.
Serbia entered the demographic transition, which is a euphemism for the aging of a nation, a decade before the Second World War. After the war that process was accelerated by the industrialization. The percentage of the people living in cities in 1953 was 22,5, in 2002 – 56,4, while the part that the agriculture population fell from 72,3 to 10,9 percent. Today it makes a one digit percent.
The natural growth in Serbia has been dropping since 1953, when it reached its highest post-war rate of 14,5 per mil. Some twenty years ago it reached the zero rate, and it has been falling ever since then. In spite of the arrival of more than 300 000 refugees and internally displaced because of the wars in ex Yugoslavia, Serbia is loosing 25000 people a year and is getting older. In a decade and a half the average citizen will be 65 years old and will be living in a city.
STATISTICAL OVERVIEW: Even though they are marginal, the mountains of Serbia which everybody thinks about, Novi Kozjak and Alibunar represent an alarming example of the aging of villages and boroughs. Novi Kozjak has 643 adult citizens, and an average household has 2, 87 residents.
“From 330 houses 30 are closed, and in some 60 houses have only one soul living there, and we also have a couple of older couples”, says Lalic and adds that there are no more than 60 active households.
A hundred and nine children have been born in the last 20 years. The most fertile was 1999, the war year, and 2006, with 9 newborns each. The record holders in having the most number of newborns are on Roma family with seven children. The refugee families have three or four children.
In a village there are only three to four marriages a year, and the same number of newborns, and more than 20 funerals. Some ten thousand people have left Alibunar in the last twenty years, a third from the 1991 consensus. According to the member of the parliament and the general manager of the Health Center Viorela Zura, eight years ago there were four thousand people working here.
Unsuccessful privatizations just cut that number in half. Only some 100 people working in public departments and institutions have somewhat decent salaries, and the informal calculation says that legal incomes secure a Euro a day per citizen.
The situation is similar in another 47 municipalities which are seen as the most developed and their GDP per capita is lower than 60 percent of the republic average. At the bottom of the board is Bojnik with 26,59 percent of the average.
"A significant part of the immigrant come to the centers not because they believe that they will be better of economically than they would in their villages, but because they hope they will live better”, says Nikitovic.
THE GAME OF NUMBERS: “The number of citizens is decreasing, but the overall number of years remains the same”, Zura points out. The similar thing is happening in the near by village of Seleus, where half of the population in Romanian.
There “and American” recently passed away, a man who made his fortune in USA, and his wife and children, which were born there, didn’t want to come to Serbia. The big house, which engulfed a lot of money, stands empty today. The same dead capital is everywhere; they are “the trade mark” of eastern Serbia and Pomoravlje.
“The big empty houses are dead capital, but they helped the domestic industry of building materials, constructions and other services. That is better then our people building houses abroad”, says an economist Goran Nikolic for the New Magazine.
Nikolic warns that “the return to the villages is an idyllic story” : “ The productivity of the villagers is low and the depopulation of villages was probably a good decision. Serbia is currently a country in west Europe with the most number of villagers. Share of the agrarian population in the west part of Europe is 2-5 percent”.