Milosevic's China dream flops, Chinatown-Belgrade booms
By Boris Babic Sep 9, 2006, 15:57 GMT
Belgrade - Former Yugoslav president and strongman Slobodan Milosevic's influential wife, Mirjana Markovic, a declared leftist, returned from a visit to China a decade ago all excited.
She saw Beijing's mix of Marxist ideology and free economy as a model for the rump Yugoslavia, which had then just emerged from wars in Croatia and Bosnia, and had no inkling of the upcoming nightmares of Kosovo and the NATO bombing.
Though Markovic's trip launched a series of high-ranking bilateral visits, including Milosevic's trip to Beijing in 1997, it resulted in little business.
Milosevic had turned to China, one of the few countries willing to deal with him, as a promising political and economic superpower that was less susceptible to Western influence than its debt-ridden, Slavic big brother Russia.
The Chinese smiled and welcomed him, but what he brought back as a sign of Beijing's support, most notably oil, proved to be a simple purchase often at an exorbitant price.
Milosevic and Markovic's great Chinese dream never came true. However, now that Milosevic is dead and Markovic in exile in Moscow, a growing Chinatown is taking root in a recovering Belgrade.
Owing to eased entry requirements, the Chinese began arriving in significant numbers in 1999. Many only used Belgrade as stop over on their way further west, but others stayed and set up shop.
The first Chinese businesses appeared in the far-flung corner of the flea market in the sprawling New Belgrade area. The visitors simply appeared one day and displayed the typical goodies - textile products, shoes and toys.
A Chinese offensive, not just economic, followed. Massive brawls were covered by local media as newcomers from the east started spreading through the marketplace.
Today, while some friction persists between the Chinese settlers and indigenous New Belgraders, relations have been lifted to a different level, partly because people have become used to the changes and because the Chinese also adapted to the local ways.
Chinese entrepreneurs are also recognized as an engine behind the invigoration of the dour grey cement apartment blocks in a neighbourhood known as the 'dormitory of Belgrade.'
There are dozens of well-stocked and profitable Chinese shops in New Belgrade malls, but Asian-owned businesses abound across the capital and other Serbian cities also.
Chinese youths speak Serbian, go ice-skating and dancing and appear at home and relaxed in the city of more than 2 million.
Belgraders, many who do not have enough money to dine in Chinese restaurants, include oriental cuisine and herbs on their homemade menus, though cheap garments with expensive labels are among the top- selling items.
Fake Nikes are a far cry from Mirjana Markovic's dream, but they have built a better bridge between China and Serbia than the officials managed to do.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur