What are the Russians up to? Will Bosnia fall to pieces? Will Serbia and Kosovo exchange territories? What is the state of European integration for the Western Balkans? These are amongst the topics that analysts love to mull over when considering the Balkans. But actually, the single biggest problem,facing governments in the wider region from Croatia to Moldova is shrinking population. These problems are not unique to the Balkans but the data shows that it is mostly worse than elsewhere. By 2050, at current rates, Bulgaria’s already shrunken population will be 23.4% smaller than it is today, Serbia's 17.6%, Croatia's 17.3% and so on. What does this all mean? From Cluj to Croatia employers can't find enough workers. The statistics show that it will take decades for Balkan countries to converge economically with Western ones but, at this rate of emigration and falling populations, it will never happen. In the short-term governments are happy because emigration reduces unemployment and migrants send home remittances. But in the longer term, migration means that people will never come back. They want to see decent perspectives for their children including good healthcare and education. However, the more people that go abroad, the smaller is the tax base left behind to improve them. What does all this mean? Migration is already dividing the EU, but this type of migration, certainly one factor among many in the Brexit decision, might make the region a giant social security case forever.
Tim Judah is a journalist and author. He is the president of the board of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and a member of the board of the Kosovar Stability Initiative. He has worked across the world for The Economist, The New York Review of Books, and others. He has reported extensively from Balkan countries but also from Madagascar, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Darfur, Haiti, France, and Armenia, among others. In 2009, he was a senior visiting research fellow at LSEE, the Southeastern Europe research unit of the European Institute at the London School of Economics, where he developed the concept of the “Yugosphere.”
Judah is the author of three books on the Balkans: The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (2000), Kosovo: War & Revenge (2002), and Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know (2008). His most recent book is In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine (2015). For much of 2022 and early 2023, he covered the Russo-Ukrainian War for The New York Review of Books, The Economist, and The Financial Times. He was shortlisted for the 2022 Bayeux Calvados-Normandy award for war correspondents.