Like a Mirror Image

Reflections of macro changes in the everyday lives of women and men
  • Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 10)


As shown in the previous chapter, and similar to other post-communist countries, economic and political changes in all countries included in the survey led to changes in GDP, employment and real wages. Both economic development and the level of employment are closely connected to the level of privatization and the level of foreign investment, as well as to the direct or indirect impact of war, i.e. the intensity of that impact. The combination of severe recession and deeply flawed tax systems led to a large decline in government revenues as well. Although, because the communist state was so costly, the revenue decline was not a bad thing in itself, it had several quite negative consequences. First, it impaired the functioning of vital state institutions and made reform of institutional arrangements extremely difficult (UNICEF, 1999:9). It also led to the abolition of many social benefits, subsidies and services as well as to continual increases in taxes. And finally, one of the consequences of economic recession and punitive tax systems and costly and corrupted bureaucratic procedures was the growth of the informal sector and its associated labor markets. The growth of the informal sector (both ‘shadow’ and illegal economy) was a prominent feature of the transition economies of all countries included in the survey. However, it was especially apparent in connection to UN economic sanctions imposed on Serbia, which prevented trade and financial transactions with other countries, opening a large space for illegal activities, including organized crime. It especially generated fuel and weapons trade and foreign currency transactions, in Serbia as well in other countries included in the survey as Serbia’s immediate neighbors (Bolcic, 1995:87). Transition from communism was also followed with an enormous increase in traditional crime, especially property crime and violence, with an additional impact of war on the increase of crime in Serbia.


Real Wage Informal Sector Private Firm Financial Situation Private Business 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 27.
    pecially characteristic for women who lost a job after the age of 40, when they are usually not able to find a new one without retraining. However, as they become closer to retirement age, they are less ready for retraining (Gabriella Nemeskesy, interview, 1999).Google Scholar
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    Earlier, Albanian girls used to leave primary school after finishing the fourth year. This was the way of the traditional family to keep them in the home. However, more recently, more and more girls, especially in urban areas, continue education and try to find employment (Coneva, interview, 1999).Google Scholar
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    The kind of unemployment which prevails in Macedonia as well as in the most other economies in transition is not the kind of so called “healthy” unemployment which promotes labor mobility. Instead, it is permanent (structural), in the sense that same people are unemployed continuously for more than a year. For example, in 1997 more than the half of unemployed people in Serbia had been waiting a long time for employment. (Vukovic, 1999: 364). Moreover, “it is habit-forming: people lose their self-dignity, they become dependent on outside assistance, they are afraid to face reality” (Vaknin, 2000:1).Google Scholar
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    At least 300,000 people, 40% of whom are women, stayed without jobs as a consequence of destruction caused by NATO bombing. With the beginning of aggression, the number of employees in the private sector was limited to the necessary minimum, while more than the half of those employed in state firms were sent on “forced vacation” (Women - victims of aggression, Federal Government Report, 1999, p.13). One of the most striking examples of the unemployment crisis caused by NATO bombing occurred in the car factory “Zastava” in Serbian city Kragujevac: “The story about workers who stayed without job is the story about the majority people in Kragujevac¡­ Everything here is onnected to ”Zastava“¡­ When it broke, the entire city broke. This is now the valley of hungriness.” (V.Simic “Depresija u dolini gladi”(Depression in the valley of hungriness), Blie, 23 July 1999.Google Scholar
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    My earlier research showed that women, who used to be employed before the war, had stopped working when the war started, because they had either been dismissed from work, or had quit their job, because they had been made redundant or were unable to go to work due to disconnected communications. In order to make a living, in the absence of husbands, most of them had turned to farming, activities that used to be men’s work etc. (Nikolic-Ristanovic, 1996:17).Google Scholar
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    Among Macedonian respondents only four respondents, including two males and two females, were employed all the time. This is in accordance with the analysis done by Macedonian Statistics Bureau, which found out that in 1999, the number of households with only one employed member, increased constantly. (S.M.Vankov “Nivoto na siromastija postojano raste” - Level of poverty is increasing constantly, Nova Makedonija, 20 October 1999, p.12). Also, an examination of labor force survey data, which was focused on the employment status of children’s parents in Hungary in 1992–97, showed a large decrease (about 10 percent, or from 48 to 38 percent) in families where both parents had worked, and a slight decrease in those where only the mother had worked (from 6.6 to 5.6 percent). However, there was a marked increase in the proportion of children in households with only the father working (up to 6 percent), as well as a slight increase in children living in workless households (quoted from UNICEF, 1999:39). This has very serious consequences on the material well being of families, since families with one wage earner are considered to be in a very dramatic situation, i.e. among the most vulnerable groups of Hungarian society. As pointed out by Adamik, during communism, an artificial wage system had been adjusted to the model of families with two wage earners. Thus, during the first years of transition, it was especially difficult since there was no new wage system, inflation was more than 30 percent and prices were at “almost world-market level” (Adamik, 1993:208).Google Scholar
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    They were often on compulsory leave, for shorter or longer period, since their factories were not working at all or they worked with decreased capacity, because of lack of raw material, etc. due to economic sanctions, because the factory or part of it was destroyed in war and similar. Also, sometimes they had to work normal working hours, without any or with only symbolic income.Google Scholar
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    Since NATO aggression against Yugoslavia, poverty increased even more. Already low salaries decreased and the payment of pensions and social benefits became difficult.Google Scholar
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    According to one survey, until 1993 every fourth household in Belgrade felt direct consequences of war. In 1994 even 16 percent of households in Belgrade accommodated refugees, while every fifth household supported refugees in some other way (Blagojevic, 1997: 30). After the exodus of Serbs from the Kraj ina (Croatia) and Kosovo, it became worse.Google Scholar
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    In fact, the only exceptions in that regard are paradoxically two respondents-refugees, who said that their material situation was improving constantly while they were in Krajina, i.e. Kosovo. The standard of living that they described having before coming to Serbia was in sharp contrast with the rest of respondents who lived in Serbia during the last 10 years. This is not strange because people from the Krajina often had land and other resources gained from an earlier time. Also, since Milosevic came to power, Kosovo Serbs did not have problems finding jobs and earning a living owing to the loss of jobs by Albanians, the flourishing black market and the nformal, including illegal, economy there (Helsinki Committee Report, 2000).Google Scholar
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    ’Ihe speed and intensity of the deteriorating economic situation and living conditions in Serbia was also evident in the fact that between 1989 and 1994, i.e. for only four years the GDP decreased 54.3 percent (Blagojevic, 1997:29). The sharpest inflationary increase and the most dramatic decrease of living standards ever recorded in world history deeply influenced the everyday life of Serbian people (Blagojevic, 1997:76).Google Scholar
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    It is interesting that for the significant part of Bulgarian respondents eating out was still possible in spite of difficult financial situation. It may be explained by culture, by acceptable prices in a lot of restaurants as well as by the fact that it somehow became substitute for socializing at home. Namely, many of recently established private restaurants in Sofia, for example, are located in or near the houses of restaurant’s owners and the food and atmosphere in them are rather like at home.Google Scholar
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    In the autumn 1999, 550 000 households or about 1 million people in Bulgaria had their heating expenses covered through Government’s social welfare scheme - G.Lanzov “1 min dusi s pomoci za otoplenie (Million people with help regarding heating), Nosen Trud, 28–29 October 1999.Google Scholar
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    fferent forms of natural economy developed. According to BBSS Gallup data (based on a sample of 11,200 interviewed people) 9 percent of the people lived on self-produced food, and 45 percent relied mostly on homemade foods (Raichev et al., 2000: 70). Misery leads to degradation. In 1999, one out of ten Bulgarians neither bought toilet soap, nor was able to obtain it in another way. Every fifth Bulgarian, or 1.5 million people, was unable to obtain toothpaste. Every fourth woman was unable to buy or otherwise obtain underwear or deodorant. (National Representative Survey of “Mediana” Agency, January 2000, Trud Daily, 19.02.2000)Google Scholar
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    Most often these are flats which they received, and later bought for symbolic money, from the state, and which were only rarely appropriate for the size of the family. However, some people also had private houses, which they built or bought.Google Scholar
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    The same is widespread within the Albanian population, but, as stressed by Jovanovic, it is related to tradition rather than to necessity (Jovanovic, interview, 1999). The same may also apply to Romany people in all countries and Turkish ethnic groups in Bulgaria, which (traditionally) large households are seen as a significant factor for poverty distribution among those groups (UNDP, 1998a:83).Google Scholar
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    A similar situation was noticed in Macedonia but mainly in connection to the increase of prices related to the increased presence of international military forces in that country (Coneva, interview, 1999).Google Scholar
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    Such one case was reported in Bulgarian newspaper Nosen trud: after being left without a flat and money, 83 years old Fidanka Nadeva, who could not live on her 42 levs pension, and who did not have a family of her own, asked from doctors to give her an injection and let her die (Nosen Trud, 1213 November, 1999, p.24).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Criminological and Sociological ResearchBelgradeSerbia

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