Transcript of commentary and interviews

Connecting people

The port of Bar --on the Montenegrin coast-- used to be one of the busiest of the Adriatic Sea. Difficult to imagine today – boats are scarce, and the harbour is functioning at just 30 % of its capacity. Due to wars and embargo in the nineties, Bar has lost out to its competitors.

Goran Stanovic, Manager, Port of Bar

«What has been our characteristic the past ten years is that we were not in Europe. While everyone else was heading to Europe full speed, we were excluded from that process. But we are now trying to join that race.”

To get back on the road to Europe, the key is the link with the mainland. And this key is the Belgrade-Bar railway. Goods shipped into Bar by sea could be transported further by train to the north, all the way to Hungary. But railways have also paid the price of international isolation and political disputes
between Belgrade and Podgorica. Travel conditions are much less comfortable today than twenty years ago. And the trains seldom arrive on
time.

Radojko Beslic, Traveller

”For three and a half years I have counted hours and minutes of delayed trains between Podgorica and Uzice. When I added them all up, it turned out that I could have crossed that distance on foot during that time.“

Train Conductor

”Of course, the situation inside (the train) is the same as the one `outside`. Everything that happens on the train is an accurate reflection of the state of affairs in our country and the situation the people have found themselves in. It can all be felt in the train.”

With the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, investments in infrastructure ceased to be a priority. The former common transport network has been broken up in pieces. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, three separate railway companies emerged, with no communication links. The railways of Serbia and Montenegro have not been cooperating for years due to disputes between Belgrade and Podgorica.

Politics have overshadowed basic economic logic. And the logic says that railway companies must cooperate to be economically viable. Axel Horhager from the European Investment Bank was dealing with investments in the transport infrastructure in Yugoslavia before the war. Today he is trying to reconnect the broken links in the region.

Axel Hörhager, Balkans Project co-ordinator, European Investment Bank

”We had to insist rather strongly that the two railway companies, the railway company in Montenegro, and the railway company in Serbia cooperate, and cooperate very closely. That is: to agree to common pricing, agree to common policies and make sure that they present themselves to the outside world and to clients as single offer, to be economically viable.”

Thanks to renewed communication between the two railway companies, the journey from Bar to Belgrade is now easier. There's no swapping of locomotives and changing trains on the border. But there are still some difficulties:

Train Conductor

”We have to charge the tickets in Euros, while our Serbian colleagues take Dinars. So we can't sell tickets, you need two separate tariffs, it's hard to calculate all that. Therefore we charge for one ticket for the journey to the border, and then we sell another one when the train crosses to Serbia.”

Tihomir Marovic, Traveller

”In Serbia they won't take Euros. Therefore you have to ask someone to change them into Dinars for you, for you can't get off the train and wait eight hours for the next.”

Traveller

”Travellers were furious because they had to buy several tickets. This reflected the quality of the travel.”

Radojko Beslic, Traveller

”Before, there used to be just one conductor. When he would examine your ticket, you could relax and not think how far the border is, when is the other (Serbian) police coming, other conductors etc.”

n December last year, the railways of Serbia and Montenegro and the Port of Bar reached a final agreement on a common presence of the market.

Andrija Lompar Minister of Transport Republic of Montenegro

«There are not three partners anymore with whom you have to negotiate, but just one. Transport prices for certain goods became cheaper in order to attract business. The main problem is the lack of merchandise. The business is just slow.»

But better communication alone is not enough. Economy and investment won't flourish without adequate transport infrastructure. Gerlando Genuardi, vice-president of the European Investment Bank, says that's exactly why investments in transport infrastructure are the bank's priorities in the Balkans.

Gerlando Genuardi Vice-President European Investment Bank

«There is a clear need to upgrade the infrastructure network in order to reconnect the fragmented region and to connect the region with the rest of Europe. So, that is I would say, common interest – interest of the countries concerned and interest of the EU.”

Here in Belgrade, the airport is being modernised thanks to an EIB loan. The challenge for all governments in the region is to find affordable financial resources for expensive and long term investment projects.

Miroljub Labus Deputy Prime Minister Republic of Serbia

«In case we would take loans on the European capital market today, the interest rate would be between 12 and 15 %. With EIB's credit lines, that rate is between 4 and 4,5 %. That means that EIB is helping us to neutralize our bad credit rating and to obtain the necessary resources.”

As a European Union institution, the European Investment Bank runs in the Balkans the same activities as in the rest of Europe: it invests in projects that are part of the wider European transport network. That map goes beyond current EU borders. The Balkans are a natural part of Europe and the links inside the region must logically fit into the wider European transport network. Around eighty kilometers of the Belgrade-Bar railroad should be rebuilt this year, in the part that goes through Serbia. This is the most significant reconstruction project since the railroad has been built.

Zeljko Djordjevic Manager of Belgrade-Bar rail reconstruction

«It is also in the interest of other countries of the region that Serbia and Montenegro have adequate railroads because their trains going through Serbia also need and will continue to need in the future an adequate infrastructure.»

If you're lucky, the journey between Bar and Belgrade takes eight hours. Twenty years ago, it took only six. With a combination of political will, economic logic and financial support, Serbia and Montenegro should get back on track, and catch the train to Europe.