Monday, January 3, 2011

The brain drain and the paradoxical polako

Way back in our Belgrade November when we met with Minister Djelic, the Minister of Science and Technology, he told us a story of when Vise President Biden posed the question, “What keeps you up at night?” As revealed by the title, Djelic’s response was the brain drain, the most intelligent Serbian youth moving to Western Europe and the States.

Djelic revealed the average age in Serbia is 41 point something which he claimed was the third oldest after Japan and Greece. With this kind of aging population I can see why he’s worried about opportunities presented by more stable countries luring the youth away. I really dislike generalizing but the most intelligent students we’ve met in Serbia have been those dreaming of moving away to be educated and live in the States or other parts of Europe. The apathy I’ve found in nearly everyone under 35 doesn’t represent those who’ve left Serbia for higher education in other parts of Europe or the States, after which the majority of whom create a life for themselves elsewhere. If an increasing percent of capable Serbian youth leave – some of whom have in them the initiative or ability to help Serbia’s current state but who are instead choosing the best education in a westernized society – then it truly is a worrisome matter.

In a report published by Djelic’s ministry, there was a section mentioning this issue and how they are trying to counter it by creating incentives such as increasing pay and adding security. But no matter what they do they really cannot eliminate the true or untrue image the youth have of life in a more westernized society as one of more fortune and opportunities. And another big sector who are immigrating thereby aging the average leave for vocation courses in hairdressing and the like, and this report didn’t seem to cater to the basic needs of those industries.

Djelic was quick to admit that most Serbians don't want to invest too much work into recognizing changes that the government is making, and either that's very true as no one I know speaks kindly of the government's work or the public is right to assess the government as inactive and corrupt. But from Djelic's point of view he sees the public as being "too difficult a crowd to please" while not devoting themselves to the necessary work and compromise that is required to see through the imperative changes that will, over time, make Serbia a more stable and safe country.

And that's the major paradox I see in Serbia's betterment: the inherent Serbian mentality and getting things done efficiently. As I've mentioned before the polako lifestyle of letting things be and not stressing or working too hard has engulfed the Balkans for decades, and it is this exact mindset which prevents efficient progress since how can a glorious democracy be created in an environment where people are taught to not work too hard but instead appreciate moments while not focusing on the future. This might be overstepping my understanding but perhaps those who naturally don't appreciate that mentality but could have the ability to counteract it and instigate worthy societal changes instead choose to have the best education elsewhere and surround themselves by like-minded, non-polako people.

As the story goes Biden responded with “Good. And it should.” But regardless of whether or not he countered discourteously, this issue is one that trumps counting sheep for the most high-ranking Serbian officials more than any other problem the country is facing.

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