Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.06.27

Floods in Serbia

In mid-May in the Balkans, several days of heavy rain caused flooding that seriously damaged Serbia and Boznia-Herzegovina. The Danube River flows from the northwest toward the southeast in Serbia and, in Belgrade, the capital, it converges with the Sava River which flows from the west. The floods occurred around the Sava River and most of the city of Obrenovac (about 50km west of Belgrade) was submerged. Most towns around the area suffered secondary damage, with roads and other infrastructure being destroyed.
Although it is difficult to comprehend with any accuracy the scope of this massive disaster, it was estimated that, as of around May 20, some 30,000 people had to evacuate their homes and about 300,000 households lost electric power.
The President of Serbia has stated that this was the worst disaster in the nation's history. The cost of the damage is about 1.5 to 2.0 billion euro, which equals about 7% of the country's GDP, and those costs are expected to rise.
Despite this, the scope of the disaster is not widely known. Probably, only relatively few people in Japan are aware of the situation. The reporting on the disaster is limited not only in Japan, but also in other countries. The well-known tennis player, Novak Djokovic, is lamenting this fact.
News reports on the disaster have been limited for several reasons. First, even though, for Serbia, the disaster was large and of an historic scale, in the eyes of other countries' media, it was, relatively speaking, not as big by their measures. Also, for Japan, an additional factor is that the Balkans are very far away. Even if, in terms of actual geographical distance, the Balkans are closer to Japan than is South America, psychologically, it remains quite distant and, therefore, interest is lacking.
Furthermore, unfortunately for Serbia, in the period from mid-May to June, many other incidents and events drew international attention, including the situation in Ukraine, Chinese vessels in the South China Sea, the Asian security conference (the Shangri-la Dialogue), the G7 summit and the 70th anniversary of landing in Normandy - all of which drew the attention of the media.
I believe that it is important that we take this opportunity to pay attention to the tragic disaster in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The imbalance between the Balkans and other countries, in terms of the attention each pays to the other, is substantial. I noted that the Balkans are psychologically far from Japan, but there are many Serbians who love Japan's martial arts and haiku, and Serbians have a strong interest in Japan. Japanese are unaware of this.
In the aftermath of the Great East Earthquake in Japan, the Serbian Government donated to Japan 50 million dinars (about 45 million yen) via the Serbian Red Cross and the total donation, including that from Serbian civilians, reached 0.3 billion yen. Proud Serbians did not make their donations with any expectation of receiving something in return, but we Japanese should not forget this fact.
The website of the Serbian Embassy in Tokyo and other non-governmental websites are asking for donations to Serbia. I would hope that you would take a look at them.