The Great Divide

January 29, 2014

Gracious Living Day by DayThis cold, sunny morning I spoke via Skype with some members of my family in Serbia.

Today is my cousin Maja’s birthday and a number of guests came to her home to visit and celebrate. And when they are all together like that, they like to call me so I, too, can feel like a member of the tribe.

We laughed and talked and delighted in seeing each other’s faces on the computer screen. How wonderful technology is sometimes, and how deceptive. We felt so close and yet so far from each other.

Across the icy distance of the Atlantic Ocean we chatted about the weather, about each other’s health, about the children, about what’s going on in the world.

Then they asked me to explain some finer points of Obama’s State of the Union Address. And they wanted  to understand better the differences between the Republican and the Democratic visions for this country.

I explained how Republicans mandated smaller government, lower taxes, less government regulation of any kind.

“They should come to Serbia,” my uncle Jova said.

Serbian capitalism

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right he is. Serbia is a country of very small, weak government. Capitalism is growing rampant, with very little oversight. Taxes are low.

It would seem like a perfect environment for  healthy economic growth. And some business are flourishing and some people are getting very rich.

But most are not. Most of the rights that workers had won in Serbia (while it was part of Yugoslavia) have been swept away in the last few decades. Most people work for ridiculously low wages, in fact I don’t even think they have a minimum wage requirement. Some people work every day of the week (and on weekends) for long hours and no holidays. If they complain, they can easily be replaced.

Because the government is so weak, inefficient and powerless, the taxes so low, the infrastructure is in terrible shape. With roads, bridges, rail and public transportation in decline, businesses have trouble attracting the rest of Europe and the world to invest. The excellent Yugoslav education system has greatly deteriorated because of lack of funding and  collective support. Young people feel helpless and abandoned; old people, too, for the pensions as well as the once universal health care system are in shambles.

In Serbia, for decades now, it’s been every man for himself.

And I can tell you this – most Americans would not hold that kind of unchecked capitalism as a utopia. Before American society comes any closer to the Serbian reality, it might make sense for members of Congress to take a little field trip. Be careful what you wish for.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Loi Thai - Tone on Tone January 29, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Dear Liliana – I hope you are well and staying warm! Happy birthday to your cousin! To be able to connect with your family in Serbia – isn’t technology incredible? We love skype. As for the political environment in Serbia, I hope 2014 brings needed changes and improvements. Take care!

Reply

Liliana January 30, 2014 at 1:23 pm

You too, Loi, glad to read in your blog that you are doing well.
Keep in touch!
L.

Reply

Nikole January 30, 2014 at 11:37 am

The last paragraph says it all. This post makes me laugh — kind of hysterically!

Reply

Liliana January 30, 2014 at 1:22 pm

And we all need a good laugh, wouldn’t you say Nikole?
Hope all is going well. I am always glad to hear from you.

Reply

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