Ulcinj, 13th of July 2010
I was lately reading the Montenegrin weekly magazine, called 'Monitor'. In a sea of extraordinary prices that are guaranteeing an expensive adventure, I bumped onto a cheap accommodation in the most southern town of ‘smallest Yugoslav republic’, Ulcinj. The prices in the supermarkets are the same as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a sufficient argument for a Bosnian person to call something ‘cheap’. This way, a Bosnian won’t notice how the Montenegrin extortioner is taking hundreds and thousands of his euros, and he’d be able to forget how the Bosnian supermarkets are more expensive than German ones. I won’t even mention the Croatian prices, which are guaranteeing a bankrupt within a short period of time, companioned by no services at all, and with traditionally presumptuous and lazy hosts. Because all of this, Ulcinj with its Albanian hosts and lower prices seems like a touristy heaven, compared to Dalmatia.
However, the subject of this article is an advertisement in the 'Monitor', which I mentioned in the beginning of this article. All these years during my many vacations in Montenegro, I’ve been reading their daily paper ‘Vijesti’ and the weekly paper ‘Monitor’, to find out what is happening in my neighborhood country. I usually skip the ads, but this time my eye stuck with an ad for a special purpose loan. Every time we put our eyes onto an ad for a certain type of loan (credit), we see a happy family with one or two children that solved all their problems. This ad goes even further – it offers a whole spectrum of products and services which you could buy with the loan they are offering. Merging certain letters from the products, the ad is putting together a crossword puzzle, and the slogan of the bank is thereby emphasized. And then, when you read the list of products, you see how easily one could solve its life and assets problems, without even wondering how to pay back the loan. Of course, the whole ad seems like someone is going to donate us money, and we’re simply taking the given.
I'll go step by step. The first product on the list is a computer. This product costs around 1000 KM (stands for the convertible mark, the Bosnian currency, 1 Euro = 1,95 KM), if it has a certain quality and configuration. Something more qualitative won't be the core in this article, so I'll only take the average and under average quantities and qualities as examples, the ones that are enough for a bare survival. The next product is a school fee. In the capitalist world we have to pay the school fee, as in a socialistic system this was not the case. An average academic fee for a master study in BiH costs around 10.000 KM, sometimes even more. You'll be paying this similar amount of money for three or four years of an undergraduate program or a parallel program (regular program, only self-financing). After these products, we should also buy a motorcycle, because we can't really function without it in this city's traffic jam. Socialism used to solve this problem with even and uneven registration plates, but this system does not exist anymore. Moreover, there are precisely double as many cars as there are used to be, so it is easy to calculate how the traffic jams on the roads extended four times in size and duration, as there are mostly no new roads. So, a little vespa is a must. If we buy a new one, it costs around 5000 KM, but it can also be more or less expensive than this.
A stove and the minuses in our budget are the next ones on the list. An average Bosnian person had a debt of around 1800 KM, while in the neighboring countries this amount is even larger. Credits also existed during the socialism era, but they were paid off by different principles. I remember the time my parents bought a Citroen 2 CV (“Diane” or similar one), the last credit rate had the value of a box of matches. That is not the case nowadays, fortunately, because the government is regulating the inflation, so it does not reach its extremes, as during the ‘dark period’ of Yugoslavia. This way we’ll pay the last credit rate much more than that, as the interest is now much higher. The interest is higher, because the state index in world banking is much lower, that is, risks that banks are taking are greater, so the unfortunate banks have to insure themselves with greater incomes. To pay for a trip and to pay back the credit rates are two things that are numbers five and six on the list. I’m not sure what the exact difference is between minuses in a budget or credit rates, but lets assume that these ‘rates’ include the already existing credit. So, this bank predicts that you’re already swimming in a pool of different credits, so it suggests making you happy with even more loans. Accompanied with a smile, of course. A regular trip of ten days for example, can’t cost less than 1000 KM, including vacation money. For a four member’s family that is four thousands or a bit less, if two members are children. During socialistic, ‘dark’ period, we would spend our holidays in our own country, wherever that would be, from Bled to Ulcinj, from Đerdap to Plitvice, at the sea side, on a lake or in the mountains. Almost every company had their own vacation resorts, and as these firms gradually fell apart, or disappeared, so these resorts also decayed or were taken into possession by the chief executors. In some cases, the governments simply took over these resorts. Today, in a capitalistic era, reimbursement is only a wishful noun, or how Ekrem Jevrić says in his song 'I live, work, and only work', so we don't really have time to go on vacation. Some private businesses don't even let their employees go on vacation, or give them only five symbolic days off. Sometimes they fire their employees, only to employ them the next day, because this way they receive money from the Bureau for employment and prevent by law the employees to make use of their free days.
Dentist, apartment and wedding are also on this never ending list of debts and (dis)honest smiles. Dentist services used to be free of charge, that is, they were financed for the tax budget, and even this is the case today, no one trusts the state dentists, so everyone goes to private practices that take from 30 to 50 KM for a filling. Unfortunately, because all of this changing in systems and habits, our nation's teeth have never been worse, so fixing our teeth is probably a large, expensive investment nowadays. The smallest apartment in Sarajevo costs minimally 100.000 KM, if it is in a minimum state of shape. If you want to buy an apartment outside the city, you're probably earning less, so it all comes to the same thing. In today’s capitalistic system, no one will allocate you an apartment anymore. Thanks to our past 'dirty communism' we all got our apartments, to use them, and we all have them still today, or bought them off for certain certificates. Thanks to democracy, nowadays we put between 300 and 500 KM, or even more, apart for the buying off of our apartment. Weddings lately became redneck fairs. Everyone will try to sell you certain services, which actually don't have the posed value, so this way, a wedding cake will cost you up to 1000 KM, and the photographer will make double as many photographs than necessary, going from 300 up to 500 photographs. If you're renting a location for the wedding, financing the dinner, and you have a 'modest' list of around fifty guests, this luxury will cost you at least 5000 KM. Lets say you won't pay for the music, because a drunk cousin will put on turbo folk.
We can't live without a car, and as I said, there are double as many cars on the roads that are not even better than twenty years ago. If you buy the least expensive new car, your expenditure will be at least 16.000 KM. Long time ago, a new car used to cost much less, because we all used to drive Yugoslavian Zastava or Yugo, compared to present times, when a car is seen as a status symbol. An average citizen of BiH drives a Golf II, while the ones that 'found' their ways better in this transitional period are driving ML, SLK, and all other weird abbreviations that don't say a thing to a simple mortal person.
We must have a washing machine and a mobile phone. The first thing is logical, and costs around 500 KM, while a mobile phone is another thing we can use to make our friends envy us. As a Bosnian writer Ozren Kebo said in his genius book 'Kako je lijepa moja Vectra' (translated 'How beautiful my Vectra is'), 'friends serve to make them jealous and praise to them when we have something better than they do. When we end our friendship for all times, we still ask others about them, and try to let them know about all our successes to make their lives even harder. We experience their successes as our failures, while celebrating their failures till late in the night, sneering secretly or openly.' So a mobile phone has to be better from the friends one, must have a camera or camcorder, with which we'll never make a good photograph or movie, a radio we'll use only few times, loads of memory for all the other useless data, and masses of patriotic songs, instead of a normal ring tone. During the 'dark period' there were no mobile phones, so we didn't have such problems. We'd find our way to buy a washing machine, probably with the help of a credit with a huge inflation percentage, or from a heap of checks we could simply write out, and buy something.
New installations, money, suit, TV and satelite antenna are the last things on this lovely list of wishes. If we buy a new apartment, we'd surely need new installations, because the existing, also new ones, are badly put, so they'll give up pretty soon. I don't really understand what is meant with the term 'money', so I'll skip it. We are already buying money by taking a loan, and the bank is regularly selling it. A suit costs at least 500 KM, and as we aren’t in that a good shape as our parents used to be, because we nourish ourselves with bad food sitting behind a computer, we can’t inherit a good, quality suit from our father. We are fatter and more dull, don’t even have a bit of energy as our parents did, we move less, and we look year by year only more terrible, so we even have to spend money on our looks. We have a TV, but we must have a plasma one, because all our friends have it as well. It does not matter that plasma TV’s don’t last that long as regular ones and we can’t use them anymore after certain time, we’ll spend another thousand KM for a home surround system, so our friends won’t laugh at us, or gossip about us. A satellite antenna is just a part of the image, so we also must get it, although we can follow more than 50 canals through our cable TV; not to mention all other luxury things, only the ones from the list.
In the best scenario, we need 150.000 KM for all these things. Of course, when you look at an ad from any other bank in the world, you'll see a happy and carefree family, but in reality is actually swimming in a pool of loans and debts, and is barely surviving. Banks don't ask how you'll pay back the loan, nor do they care about that. They take cars, washing machines, motocycles, and even houses, and sell them for a mere trifle, only to make their own profits.
A loan like this, accompanied with the best possible interest of 6%, will cost you extra 100.000 KM of interest, depending of the lenght of the period you're paying back the bank. If you take a loan for the period of twenty years, you'll be paying a symbolically anuitty of 1100 KM, including fixed costs and service of the loan. This way, you won't be investing any money in a certain business, but spending immediately all the money, while all your possessions can be gone in one fire. An average sallary in BiH is a bit more than 800 KM, which means that you'll have a minus of 300 KM in your budget for the next twenty years to come. If you choose to follow your dreams, as the ad is saying, you'll have to work three times working hours instead of one, without a partner and children, or any social activity. You won't be even able to use all the things you bought, but you'll have a huge smile on your face, and you'll seem carefree.