Belgrade upgrade?

Cash-strapped Serbia needs money. Shane McGinley has some but can’t get rid of it
Shane McGinley
By Shane McGinley
Tue 01 Jul 2014 03:19 PM

Serbia could go bankrupt within a year and end up in as bad a state as Greece, the country’s new Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned this week.

“I am a rat in a corner right now... We have to fight for reforms and we have to fight for our survival,” he said.

The last time I spoke to Vucic, a minister who served under former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, was in an aircraft hangar in Belgrade. He stood alongside Etihad boss James Hogan, unveiled the newly rebranded Air Serbia aircraft and put the final rubber stamp on the Abu Dhabi carrier’s purchase of a 49 percent stake in the beleaguered state airline.

Vucic and Hogan waxed lyrically about the strong ties between the two countries and how Etihad’s cash injection into Air Serbia was just the start of the bonds between the UAE and Serbia.

After the celebrations ran into the night we were up early and off to the airport and back to Abu Dhabi. But in the rush I didn’t have time to exchange my Serbian dinars into UAE dirhams. With all the tightness between the two countries it won’t be an issue I thought.

However, landing back in the UAE, my local Emirates NBD branch in Dubai Media City refused to accept the dinars. “You need to go to the airport with those,” I was told. A trip to Dubai Airport and the answer was the same: sorry we don’t accept those.

Frustration mounting, it was off to Abu Dhabi and with the growing rhetoric about strong links between the two countries I thought I’ll surely be able to offload my dinars there. Wrong, another refusal! Back to the malls and I approached an exchange house billed as the biggest in the country. Again, they refused to accept the notes.

This week, Serbia announced plans to redevelop the Belgrade waterfront using $4bn in cash from the UAE. The epic project will include office and luxury apartment blocks, eight hotels, a shopping mall and a tower resembling Dubai's landmark Burj Khalifa, albeit a quarter of the size at 200 metres, on the right bank of the Sava River.

The reports claimed it was the latest sign of increasingly cosy economic ties between the UAE and Serbia under Vucic. This may be true at diplomatic levels but the cosy ties obviously haven’t trickled down to street level in Dubai or Abu Dhabi if UAE banks and exchange houses are still reluctant to even accept or handle Serbian currency.

Belgrade is a lovely city and at this rate I’ll have to plan another trip there soon. After all, what else am I going to do with my thousands of dinars?

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