Copper King Turns Money Pit as Serbs Wind Down State Economy – by Gordana Filipovic and Michael Winfrey (Bloomberg News – April 19, 2016)

Miners at Serbia’s state-owned RTB Bor copper pit are worried. Their equipment is crumbling, the workforce has been diminished and it costs them more to produce the metal than they can sell it for.

“Some of our machines are older than our oldest workers,” Vlada Stefanovic, a union leader, said Thursday from his office near the huge canyon’s rose-colored terraces, carved by years of mining the mountains four hours from the capital, Belgrade. “If we had five new trucks, one dredge and a drill, there would be more work for all of us.”

That’s probably not going to happen. Bor, once the pride of Socialist Yugoslavia, is at the center of a struggle to retool a $38 billion economy that missed out on the transformation that has lifted living standards in much of former communist eastern Europe.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, seeking re-election on April 24, has promised the International Monetary Fund he will sell, shut down or restructure around 500 state companies that drain as much as $1 billion from the budget a year as he readies Serbia for European Union membership by 2020.

“Serbia is probably the last country in Europe to make these reforms that other countries did two or three decades ago,” Milojko Arsic, the head of the Foundation for the Advancement of Economics in Belgrade, said by phone. “It will certainly be unpopular.”

A former ally of late President Slobodan Milosevic, who led Serbia in the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, Vucic is set for a decisive victory in the Sunday election.

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