“Well, the Parliament was shut down for almost two months,“ says Darija Ognjenovic, Partner at Prica & Partners in Belgrade. “Given that fact, it is clear why there have been no legislative changes of note other than those related directly to the COVID-19 crisis, instituting measures to protect public health and the economy.“
She notes that most COVID-19 public health-related measures dealing with the crisis were similar to those enacted in other countries, including a curfew, the mandatory use of personal protection equipment, maintaining social distancing, and so on. “As for the economic stimulus part,“ she says, “there has been a moratorium on the payment of social contributions and taxes on salaries as well as credit repayments for a three-month period, and there have been tax breaks.“
Additionally, legislative and administrative-proceeding deadlines have “either been frozen or extended, and most regulatory bodies are working under a special regime in which no parties are allowed to be present.“ Finding a silver lining where she can, Ognjenovic believes that the Serbian courts' caseloads are already so overwhelming that the deadline extensions are unlikely to have a noticeably adverse effect after the crisis passes. “The court system in Serbia is rather slow as it is,“ she says, “so these two months will not have a huge effect on it.“ And indeed, the country slowly started reopening on May 11, with courts resuming their regular work.
“As for the economic impact, the country's SMEs will suffer huge consequences,“ Ognjenovic says. “While enterprise players have systems that are used to having high turnover and have a structure that’s more easily adjustable to a crisis such as this, SMEs will need some time to come back around.“ She says that hospitality-orientated businesses such as hotels and restaurants have been “gutted“ and have had to lay off a lot of people, unable "to pay them even the minimum wage.“
Sighing, Ognjenovic says that the measures the government put in place “are what they are.“ According to her, “some of them are quite good, especially when it comes to protecting public health, but others are a simple reflection of the fact that the country is not very liquid.“ She feels that the rather quick reopening -- “so that the country doesn't go bankrupt“ — reflects this as well. Finally, she says, “also, this quick ’return to normal’ also has political connotations — we’re due for parliamentary elections in June, postponed from April – and any more prolonging on this front would have put more pressure on the government.“