An outline of Greek business in Serbia-2006-

From 6/12/2006 (Balkanalysis.com)

Serbia, which once could claim to have the capital of the entire Balkans in Belgrade, is still in the process of recovering from the frustrating 1990’s and the major consequences of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, including the former embargo, the wreckage left by NATO’s 1999 bombing, and constant political pressure from the Hague over the war crimes issue. Yet even though for most international investors Serbia is not considered as a major destination, Greek businessmen have already seized the opportunity to firmly establish themselves in the center of the Balkans, which by definition is Serbia and its capital, Belgrade.

Following the 6th Summit of Serbia and Montenegro that was held in Belgrade last month, three major issues that the country is facing were discussed, along with their consequences for Serbian economic stability.

First of all, the halting of the EU’s negotiations with Serbia due to the failure to catch General Ratko Mladic is a major drawback for Serbia’s path towards Europe, and its economic prosperity and stability. Secondly, the independence of Montenegro has had the consequence of increasing fears of instability which might, in combination with looming Kosovo independence, prove to be a factor that will lead to an introversion of the Serbian political and economic forces.

Kosovo by itself poses a great headache for Serbian politics, since it is the historical heartland of the Serbian nation, and any move towards independence will lead to internal strains and counter-accusations for years to come.

International investment houses and corporations weigh all of the aforementioned factors in their decision-making process. These factors thus continue to stall any massive injection of capital to Serbia. The consequence is that Greek companies have found virtually no serious competition in achieving their investment goals in Serbia and are actively pursuing a series of high stake investments. According to sources from the Hellenic Ministry of Economics, some 80 Greek businesses and 150 Greek-Serbian ones are currently operating within the country, with a total workforce of over 20,000. The direct Greek capital invested now is in excess of 1.2 billion euros, while the indirect investments amount to over 300 million Euros, thus making Greece the number one investor in Serbia.

The main reason for this substantial Greek investment is the firm belief that the Serbian economy, despite its current problems, will take off and provide large profits to the entrepreneurs that have already established themselves on the market. It is telling that Greek businessman have been traditionally accustomed to investing in troubled times, since Greece itself is a country that has witnessed a dozen major wars, a civil one and several national disasters during the past century- even though the economy has progressed spectacularly. The main dictum is that when the fundamentals are sound, then all other risks can be easily taken into account. In a nutshell, Serbia is viewed as an unexploited investor’s paradise by the Greeks, such as their own country was just a few decades before.

Two Major Greek Investments to Watch: Oil and Banking

The Hellenic Petroleum Company is a contender in the imminent privatization of the Serbian Petroleum Corporation-NIS. Hellenic’s CEO, Panagiotis Kavoulakos recently visited Belgrade and had extensive talks with the Serbian Minister of Economy. It is assumed that the Serbian government will sell 25 percent of NIS, plus management to a strategic investor, most probably during autumn.

The Hellenic Petroleum Company has also been in talks with the Austrian OMV and Hungary’s MOL, in order to make a joint offer. The successful bidder for NIS would have the obligation to restructure the company’s business model and offer capital for the upgrade of NIS installations, something that would be positive for the overall performance of Serbian industry.

A second investment on the horizon is the National Bank of Greece’s interest in the imminent privatization of Vojvodjanska Bank. The Greek chairman, Mr. Takis Arapoglou, was also recently spotted in Serbia having high-profile conversations with Serbian government officials. Should the investment go ahead, the NBG has earmarked around 700 million euros to buyout Vojvodjanska.
Appendix: Substantial Greek Investments in Serbia
The following list indicates the investments and their euro amount of 18 of the largest Greek investments in Serbia today.
Telecom Serbia: 370 million euros invested by the Greek telecom company

Jubanka: 152 million euros invested by the Greek bank Alpha Bank; 17 million euros by the Greek bank Alpha Bank IBP Beograd; 106 million euros by the Coca- Cola Hellenic Bottling Company

Yugopetrol Kotor (in Montenegro): 110 million euros invested by the Hellenic Petroleum Company

EKO Yu: 40 million euros invested by EKO Hellas

Post Banka: 30 million euros invested by Eurobank

EFG Eurobank: 20 million euros invested by Eurobank

National Stedionica: 80 million euros invested by Eurobank

Fabrika Cementa Kosjeric: 55 million euros invested by the Titan Cement Company

Secerana Zabalj: 9 million euros invested by the Hellenic Sugar Company

Deljug: 32 million euros invested by the DELTA foods company

Super Vero: 30 million euros invested by the Veropoulos super market chain

Atlas Bank: 29 million euros invested by the Bank of Piraeus

National Bank of Greece: 30 million euro self-investment

Metropol Hotel: 29 million euros invested by Grecotel

Alumil YU: 17 million euros invested by the Alumil Corporation

ASCO Vidac: 8 million euros invested by ASCO

Eurosoles: 6 million euros invested by Mamadas Bros. Eurosoles

Yugolot: 4 million euros invested by the Intralot Corporation

Greek- Serbian Relations in the midst of 19th Century: A synoptically historical outline.

Greece and Serbia have over the years developed strong ties and it is a well -known fact that in numerous cases they have constructed a sort of a Balkan entente. Important historical courses were either shaped or influenced by Greek Serbian cordial relations, such as the Balkan wars of 1912-12, WW1, WW2 and other. If it is to examine the reasons for such a long lasting common interests, one should look into the geopolitical aspect of the matter. First of all, Serbia was always a continental power, namely it lacked adequate access to the sea, whilst it was situated in a position to control the main continental corridors of the Balkan Peninsula. That is the North -South axis from the Panonian plain of Hungary-And Central Europe- to the Aegean Sea, and the West – East axis running from the Adriatic Sea towards the Black sea. Due to its geographical placement it became an arena of conflicts in periods of political and military strife, and witnessed extensive invasions as well as occupations from foreign powers that were seeking dominance in South Eastern Europe.

Greece on the other hand, is a naval power since it is affected for its coherence on the dominance of the Aegean Sea and the Ionian one. To that statement, the thousands of islands and islets should be taken into account, as well as the high importance that the mercantile navy and commerce had in this state since ancient times.

The combination therefore of continental and Sea power in the Balkans is considered to be a paragon of stability for the region since it absorbs power shifts from other interested parties and at the same time it connects in economic terms the Central European region with the Eastern Mediterranean basin and as an outcome with the Middle East. It should be noted though that this harmonious situation as described above was rarely been achieved in the past two hundred years at least.

During most of 19th century various attempts to establish common ties between those states, took place. At that period the disintegration process that already was taking place in the Ottoman Empire, culminated in an ever -expanding nationalism in smaller states like Serbia and Greece. In 1867[1] in Voslau the first official Greek-Serbian agreement was signed. It didn’t specify any particular details as far as territorial politics were concerned but it was the first important stage for a common strategy against the Ottoman Empire. It also stated the need for further Balkan cooperation by including Bulgaria, Montenegro and possibly Romania. As year progressed the balance of powers changed in the region and Bulgaria gained a strong foothold in the wider Macedonian area, with the Saint Stefan treaty (1878), and the revisionist Berlin one (1881). That was an incentive for further initiatives for closer ties between the two discussed states and in 1885, informal negotiations were held in Belgrade where spheres of influence were drawn and Serbia for the first time requested to control a free zone in Thessaloniki’s port thus recognizing indirectly Greece’s position for a claim in the city. During that period a political entity called “Saint Savvas” was formed in Belgrade under the guidance of Svetomir Nikolajevic who had strong amenity with Serbia’s royal family, and was calling for stronger relations with Greece.

The 1890’s timeline brought increasing hopes from Greece’s side for the creation of an official Athens- Belgrade axis, and for that reason the Greek Premier Trikoupis visited Belgrade in 1891[2], while the following year Djordjevic the Serbian one held talks in the Greek capital. The conclusions derived from those talks was that Serbia stated its interests for Southern Serbia-Currently FYROM- and proposed a common line against future claims by the Bulgarian side in those areas. Despite original Greek interest the destructive 1897 war for Greece against the Ottomans dwarfed all plans, whilst Serbians went on negotiating with the Bulgarians under Russian auspices, which at that period aspired of gaining a strong presence in the region.  

A very important as well as constructive approach to the relation of the two states is their individual relations with the third interested party, in Balkan territories and that is Bulgaria. Historically when Bulgaria seemed to grow stronger Greek-Serbian relations cemented and vice versa. It is a purely power- politics attribute that can be seen in many parts of the world when there are three powers striving for local dominance. That also concludes to the Macedonian question, and that is who is going to control the whole of the historical territory (As it was in antiquity), of Macedonia. It is the most important part of the Balkans due to the fact that is a land platform that connects the Aegean sea with the inland and contains various and numerous amounts of precious metals like gold, uranium, nickel, chromium, zinc etc. Last but not least individual relations and cooperation in SE. Europe in the 19th century as in the 21st strongly and sometimes vitally, depend on the wider rivalries of larger powers[3] that were concerned on how to solve the all timely “Eastern question”[4], in which the Macedonia question is a parallel string and cannot be viewed by itself, as a local multiparty conflict. It would be wise to illustrate this state of affairs by paraphrasing a great historical leader; it is an enigma trapped in a wider riddle whose cords seem to trace back in the outer past.

Bibliography

1) Evangelos Koufos, “Dilemmas and orientations of Greek policy in Macedonia, 1878-1886”.
2) Petar Milosavljevic “Greek- Serbian cooperation 1830-1908”
3) Konstantinos Vakalopoulos “Modern ethnological boundaries of Hellenism in the Balkans”
4) Evangelos Koufos “Greek-Serbian relations and the question of Macedonia, 1879-1896”

***

[1] Petar Milosavljevic “The Serbian- Greek cooperation, 1830-1908”. P 83-92
[2] E. Kofos “Greek-Serbian relations and the question of Macedonia, 1879-1896. P 101.
[3] Russia, Germany, USA, UK, France, ex Austria- Hungarian Empire and Italy has all meddled in Balkan affairs military. Actually nowadays all of them-Apart from the Austrian Empire!- have troops in Kossovo, FYROM and/or Bosnia Herzegovina.
[4] A very illuminating description and analysis could be traced  in Ioannis Loucas book “Geopolitics”, Trohalia publ. Athens, 2000. Greek Ed.