I was hoping this blog would have a more positive note and wouldn’t be just another collection of my socio-political and (anti) cultural rants. Well, Pandora’s done it again! I’ve just spent my Monday waiting in lines at several unorganized counters, spending my hard earned dinar on overpriced products and listening to half-ass excuses on why a simple task that takes minutes to be accomplished in any civilized country can’t be done at all in this one. Then I came home to find this REUTERS article on loan guarantors in the Balkans and their mentality. So we can lock hope up in that pretty little box and talk about the countless economic evils we’ve unleashed on our world.
Today’s particular rant is about the concept (or lack) of a consumer based economy in Serbia. I’m the farthest thing from an expert on the subject, but I happen to think that the term “consumer based” economy is redundant in the first place, a pleonasm if you will. I mean, what else are you going to base spending and profit on if not consumers?! I suppose I’m stupid and someone will have to explain that to me someday. For the purposes of this blog post we’ll accept the generic definition of that term. A definition that Serbia in general is having trouble understanding. As a prime example of a Serbian consumer, I have a problem with that.
The vast majority of Serbian consumers still have that apathetic, somewhat socialist mentality. The average Serbian consumer will walk into a Costa Coffee, Greenet or SpeakEasy (coffeehouse chains) and pay twice the amount for slow service and a cup of crappy brown colored liquid than they would for a real double espresso at any decent local cafe in town. And it’s not ignorance. Serbs know their coffee. It’s just that “nothing-to-be-done-about-it-now” attitude. The average bank customer in Serbia will quietly complain to the person sitting next to them while waiting hours at their bank to get the simplest transaction or task completed. Any Serbian homeowner trying to get an official deed for their property will be given a runaround that Kafka couldn’t have come up with only to either give up after a couple of years or just go nuts. (Note: about 70% of property in Belgrade still has recorded by not officially registered ownership as the state used to own most property in the former Yugoslavia.)
Will they complain on the spot or to any official? Nope. They’ll come home and rant (ehem… or blog) about it. Hell-oooo? YOU are the consumer, YOU are providing the company (from top to bottom) with earnings, it’s YOUR money that feeds them. React, fer cryin’ out loud! Ask to speak to the manager. File a complaint. Do something!
I’ve been using the same cable Internet provider, SBB, for years and I’m not happy with the on and off relationship I’ve had with them at all. In fact, I’ve had booty calls arrangements that were more stable than the connection they provide. Very often, about seven or eight days per month, I don’t have a connection for most of the day. I’m probably among their best customers in the area and I pay my bills on time or even a few days in advance. Why would I do that if I’m not happy with the srvice I’m getting? It just so happens that they’re the ONLY cable Internet provider in my area. I pay on time or in advance because there is no place where I can pay if it’s a weekend or holiday but guess what – their automated service will cut your connection off if the period you paid for has expired. Now, that’s your typical Serbian-style efficiency.
Recently, the lovely @aurorans told me about a similar experience she had had with a different provider. Obviously more intelligent than yours truly, she kept track of when she did and didn’t have an active connection and, when she went to pay her bill, presented the provider’s representative with this record and her bill was reduced. Eureka, it worked! Well, of course it did. All a consumer needs to do is file an official, documented, logical complaint. I’ll admit I knew that and was too apathetic to react. Obviously, one of the many bad habits I’ve picked up as a consumer in Serbia. The average Serbian consumer isn’t yet fully aware of their consumer rights and the government and other interested parties are doing a good job keeping this amazing concept under wraps.
Over the past months, as Serbia has begun to really feel the global recession, there have been cut-backs and bankruptcies at several fairly large companies and lowered sales of FMCG and agricultural products. Last week, over 30 thousand disgruntled workers and several thousand farmers took to the streets in Belgrade. I watched, knowing their meek protests in the steaming August weather wouldn’t do anyone any good, and I suddenly saw the irony of it. What if they hadn’t taken to the streets as workers but as consumers, which they all in fact are? Hm… now there’s an idea.
Yes, the main problem with the Serbian economy lies in the inaptitude of the Serbian government and financial institutions. (The global recession just happens to be the excuse they’re currently using for their lack of good judgement in the past.) Yes, the few major private and government corporations that have cornered markets and have the Serbian economy in seemingly permanent head-lock are a huge part of the problem. But where are the consumers in this equation? Will they learn to ditch the proletarian mentality and embrace the consumer mentality to become part of the solution?