Trade in the millennial Balkan

©Getty Images/©Freepik

Roger Williams explores the nations of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and spots new hope for trade in the region 

The dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia resulted in six internationally recognised independent states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Kosovo meanwhile is recognised by the USA and by another 101 countries at the UN (out of 193), but not by Russia and China.

War was the midwife to the break-up of Yugoslavia and birth of these countries. The break-up can be traced back to early 1991 when the Yugoslavian military were about to launch a coup to stop Croatia declaring independence.

Yugoslavia had the fourth biggest military in the world at this time, the Yugoslav Peoples Army, the Serb-dominated JNA. The great majority of Croat and Bosnian officers left the JNA and fought for their countries secession.

Actual fighting broke out in June 1991 and the Muslim-dominated government of Bosnia-Herzegovina found itself caught between the Christian forces of Croatia and Serbia.

The birth of these ex-Yugoslavian nations, the war crimes committed and the racial/religious hatred seen, is crucial to understanding these nations today. A 1992 to 1995 arms embargo on Yugoslavia was breached by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and others, who funded a Muslim charity which purchased arms for Bosnia.

The smuggling of arms helped establish a route for guns and drugs to Bosnia. Serbia, allowed weapons from Romania and Bulgaria to reach not just Islamic Bosnia but also its Christian enemy, Croatia, drugs followed these routes too.

Oil-starved Serbia was soon buying oil from Bosnia, Croatia and Albania in breach of UN economic sanctions imposed in 1992 on Serbia and Kosovo.

In this way, the ex-Yugoslavian countries gave birth not just to independence but also to powerful, well-entrenched criminal drugs/arms/people-trafficking/prostitution and smuggling networks.

Politicians, organised criminal czars and military leaders became fabulously rich and, despite the prosecutions of war criminals, some remain in positions of power and influence today. Just as importantly, an acceptance of corruption and a reliance on illegal activities can mean trade with some of these states can be unpredictable and difficult.

In all, the seven countries (including Kosovo) provide home to some 19 million people, 18 per cent of the UK’s population, in a combined area of 103,000 square miles, approximately 10 per cent bigger than the UK (93,000 sq mi).

The economies of ex-Yugoslavian states is small; in aggregate, their joint GDP is only $211 billion; approximately one-thirteenth of the UK’s and produced by about a quarter of the UK’s population.

Croatia is the most recent member of the EU (although not the Euro) joining in 2013. It has the largest economy of the ex-Yugoslavian states. About a quarter of the economy is industrial, principally in ship-building, transport machinery, petrochemical and food processing.

Services account for about three-quarters of the economy with agriculture supplying around four to five per cent of the economy each year with 92 per cent of land being rural. Tourism is very important to the country, with around 10 million visitors accounting for 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Italy, Germany and Austria are major export destinations (30 per cent of exports) with Croatia and Slovenia just slightly less. Annual growth rate in GDP in Croatia averaged 1.91 per cent from 1998 until 2019.

Slovenia became a member of the EU in 2004 and the country has adopted the Euro. It has a smaller agricultural economy than Croatia but proportionately a larger industrial base. The production of cars and pharmaceuticals are key segments of the economy.

Information technology is said to be first class, an aid to the country’s burgeoning service sector. Average growth since 1998 has been 2.8 per cent although growth has halved in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the last three-months of 2018.

Serbia – of all the countries created by the break-up of Yugoslavia – has suffered the worst, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in 2015, the Serbian economy was 27.5 per cent smaller than it was in 1989.

GDP growth in Serbia has averaged three per cent since 1974 however, GDP last year grew by 4.4 per cent following a long series of moves by the Serbian government to control inflation, remove budget deficits, improve trade and reduce unemployment. 

The country has been working to join the EU and has made considerable progress somewhat hampered by the poor state of its judiciary and corruption.

It has signed free trade agreements with EU, Russia and Turkey. Key segments of the economy are energy, automotive and mining (in aggregate 26 per cent) and agriculture (10 per cent). Energy, transportation, utilities, telecommunications, infrastructure, mining, and natural resource extraction are all dominated by state-owned operations.

Serbia has 727 SOEs, which employ more than 250,000 people, or approximately 15 per cent of the workforce. Serbia’s main trading partners are Germany, Italy, Russia, China, and neighbouring Balkan countries.

Bosnia and Herzegovina shares similarities with Serbia as a war-torn economy trying to put in place what is required for EU membership. Agriculture is a less important sector of the economy than Serbia (six per cent) although the share of industry in essentially the same.

The main industries are steel, coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, manganese, bauxite, vehicles, textiles, tobacco products, furniture, tanks, aircraft, domestic appliances and oil refining.

These industries benefit from government policies which are skewed towards state ownership. The resultant environment, despite reforms, is not private investment friendly despite all the major banks being foreign-owned.

Newly-renamed Northern Macedonia, avoided the violence and ethic fighting that impacted other ‘sister’ states. However, the country came close to civil war when rebels staged an uprising demanding rights for the resident Albanian minority.

This resulted in a lack of a functioning government from 2015 to May 2017. The new government has agreed to the name change to Northern Macedonia in order to remove objection from Greece to its bid to join the EU and NATO. The economy is almost completely agricultural. The country imports all of its oil and gas and most of its modern machinery and parts. 

The smallest of the ex-Yugoslavian states, excluding the ‘disputed’ Kosovo, is Montenegro. Most famous for approving NATO airstrikes on its own territory, the country and its then President Djukanoic, led and benefited financially from what was said to be the world centre for illicit trade in cigarettes via fast boats to Italy.

Although this trade came largely to an end in 2001, the huge sums ‘earned’ and the structures set up continue to influence the country’s behaviour today.

Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo are among the top 25 countries in the world in terms of the percentage of firearms owned per civilian, according to the global Small Arms Survey.

After the United States and Yemen, Montenegro and Serbia tied for third place with a rate per 100 people of around 39 firearms. Bosnia was in 10th place (31 firearms); Macedonia in 12th (30 firearms) and Kosovo was ranked 17th (24 firearms).

Overall, the low density of population and land-use means these countries, especially Croatia, are well-known for offering extensive hunting. Slovenia offers a similar list that includes wild boar, red deer, roe and fallow, Balkan chamois, mouflon sheep and brown bear as well as partridge and pheasant.

However, mitigating against this meaning a good market for field sporting goods is the dominance of CZ and other Eastern, German, Italian and Austrian sporting gun manufacturers.

For the other ex-Yugoslavian countries outside the EU, I have had good quality experience with a Serbian PCP supplier. However, it must be said, it was hard to get spares from them. Overall I would recommend awaiting further progress in all the states except Croatia and Slovenia.

Visit www.ammoterra.com to see suppliers or distributors in these two countries. Perhaps a trip combined with some hunting could be worthwhile?

For the best field sports news, reviews, industry and feature content, don’t forget to visit our sister publications Sporting Rifle, Bow International, Clay Shooting Magazine, Airgun Shooter. And our YouTube shows The Shooting Show and The Airgun Shooter.

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