Serbia at a loss to stop population decline

Tue Dec 6, 2011 12:58pm EST
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By Aleksandar Vasovic

NOVA CRNJA, Serbia (Reuters) - Pera Milankov is literally paying people to stay and have babies in Nova Crnja.

Trying to stem a declining birthrate and exodus out of the town on Serbia's northern border, the mayor has offered free school buses and free medical check-ups for children, as well as 200 euros for every newborn.

To no avail. Since 2002, Nova Crnja has lost 20 percent of its population, or almost 2,500 people, driven away by the closure of processing plants for sugar and sunflower oil, an ethanol producer and factories for meat and canned foods.

"It has all collapsed since the nineties," said Milankov. "And without new jobs, people have no reason to stay."

Alarmingly for this Balkan country, once the dominant republic of socialist Yugoslavia but now landlocked and impoverished, Nova Crnja is not alone.

Serbia has lost more than 377,000 people -- 5 percent of its population -- over the past nine years, according to the results of its most recent census released last month.

The statistics show a migration from village to city as Serbs abandon rural life in search of jobs.

Most graphically, though, it is evidence of the toll taken by a decade of war and isolation under late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and the country's painful transition since his overthrow in 2000.   Continued...

<p>A boy waits for his father as he sits in their vehicle in the southern Serbian town of Trgoviste November 8, 2011. REUTERS/Marko Djurica</p>