What will happen to us, figuratively and literally?

By Ruža Ristanović Veljović

The coronavirus affects and threatens not only the health of people, which is of utmost importance, but also the economy, small and large businesses, and the economic life of every family.

Only two weeks ago, on 2nd March 2020, I woke up on the Kopaonik Mountain, the location of the eponymous business forum which had been going on for four days. I exchanged a few messages with my boss, Robert Čoban, which I usually do, and with whom we all had breakfast, lunch and dinner and drank coffee and mulled wine that day. After I came down to have breakfast, I read the news and saw that the outbreak of the coronavirus was hovering like an ominous dark cloud over us but after meeting up with a colleague of mine and two business associates, I quickly forgot about China.

Everything looked so idyllic. Snow everywhere, we are hobnobbing, having a coffee here and there, sometimes mulled brandy or wine, surrounded by chit-chat of other guests, running off to see a panel… The idyllic Kopaonik at its best. And how could it not be, when 1,300 of us gathered on the mountain to discuss our present and the future?! Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would not be able to travel to Zagreb, Slovenia, Munich or Milan only three weeks later, that our children will not go to school and nurseries and that our parents will not be allowed to leave their homes.

More than 1,300 forum participants on the Kopaonik had come together with one mission – to understand and actively shape the economic and business ecosystems to launch a global economy based on innovation and universal mobility. Great!

Universal Mobility…. Mobility….

Those words are now echoing in my head. Fourteen days after the Kopaonik gathering, the mobility is now banned. The mobility of people, goods, services… All public service counters are closed as of this morning, expired personal documents are still valid, a state of emergency has been declared, people are urged to work from home, no walks outside, no gym, no pool, no Madera. If you bought extra rolls of toilet paper, lucky you; the same goes for surgical masks… State of emergency is no joke.

The business ecosystem that we have been talking about is now at its lowest point ever. All sectors, industry, tourism and ancillary catering services are threatened. Export is at risk too.

The value of Serbia’s trade with Germany amounted to a fantastic 5 billion euro last year, with Italy over 4 billion, with Austria over one billion euro (source: INFocus publications http://www.diplomacyandcommerce.rs/in-focu-archive/ ). Only one month of a stagnant economy and the consequences can be incomprehensible.

Maybe someone will say that the most important thing is to save our heads now. I agree, but it is also important what implications this will have on the economy of the country on which people’s income depends.

Malicious people will say: “Take that, all you people who attended the Kopaonik Business Forum”, but these are not the people we socialize with.

A package of measures to stabilize the Serbian economy has not yet been devised, and it is unknown how small businesses will pay their tax liabilities, whether people who work will even receive their March salary and if and how companies will settle their credit obligations. There are so many other unresolved issues too.

Some of the economic stabilization measures that NALED proposed this morning include temporarily reducing payroll tax and contributions or introducing deferred payment of taxes for small businesses and the most vulnerable sectors, securing cheap government-backed corporate loans and disbursing one-off financial aid to vulnerable companies and citizens who are left without a job.

We will see what the Serbian government will do to secure the Serbian economy. We have to wait and hope. As the old adage goes, “expect the worst, hope for the best”. When it comes to the spread of the coronavirus and human health, we pray that the effect will be as mildest as possible.

At the next Kopaonik Business Forum in 2021, I hope that the central topic to discuss will be protecting the population in times of crisis, because, truth be told, that is the most important thing in every sense, both figuratively and literally.





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