Around the world, Christmas lights are usually put up to cheer up people during the holidays, but in Belgrade, they are the source of endless controversy – writes the British daily, The Guardian.
The daily goes on to say that, last year, the Belgrade authorities put up Christmas lights and decorations on September 28th, that they were taken down only five months later, in March, and that the same is expected to happen this year too.
“Unlike in many other European cities, decorations in the Serbian capital are financed by the taxpayer – and since 2014, Belgrade’s municipal government has spent nearly 800 million dinars on Christmas lights, and approximately €83,000 on last year’s artificial Christmas tree”, the daily writes and adds:” In 2014, Belgrade’s Christmas expenditure was just under 3 million dinars, but that bill has grown with every passing year. This winter, it’s set to rise to no less than 340 million dinars which is a 40% increase on last year.
“Anti-corruption activists and Serbia’s independent media have condemned the decorations as a superfluous expense. They point out that the spending siphons much-needed funds from dilapidated services. The protests caused such outrage that Belgrade’s now-former mayor, Sinisa Mali, promised to cancel the tree contract and find a less expensive supplier”, the Guardian says.
The daily also writes that in the country where the majority of population earns €375, which is the average salary in Serbia, “Belgrade’s latest Christmas budget could be used to employ at least 638 additional bus drivers”.
The Guardian also compares the costs of Christmas lights and decorations in other cities around the world. For instance, Christmas lights on Oxford Street in London are financed by local retail businesses. Decorations in Rome have been funded by the luxury fashion brand, Bulgari in the past, and in Washington DC, federal mandate stipulates that the $500,000 plus spent on the US Capitol Christmas tree has to come from private donors.
The newspaper goes on to say that the whole business about Christmas lights is also prone to corruption in Belgrade, with the anti-corruption website Pistaljka reporting in 2016 that “there were irregularities in the public procurement process for the lights” and publishing evidence of it.
Belgrade authorities have defended the expense, arguing that the lights are a major tourist draw that earns the city a twenty-fold return on its investment through increased tourism.
Aleksandar Saničić, the CEO of YUTA, Serbia’s national association of travel agencies, doubts these claims.
“As far as I know, there isn’t a single institution that has performed any sort of analysis that indicates that Christmas lights have an effect on tourist numbers”, he says.
This post is also available in: Italiano