Fly little bird – the brain drain in Serbia

The unemployed youth in Serbia faces a desperate situation – should I stay or should I go? Serbia has the highest rate of brain drain in the Balkan region. The unemployment rate stands at 49,4%.  Many decide to flee the country in hope to find a job and the reality is that very few come back.

Leaving a life behind

Around 200 thousand of people under the age of 30 leave the country every year. Serbia is the second country in the world with the number of young and educated people leaving the country never to return. This phenomenon is not new. It has been going on for about 25 years now, yet the situation has escalated recently.

A decent employment          

Young Serbians struggle to find a job in their area of expertise. To find a job in a café might not be that difficult, but people might live years unable to work with what they want to. It is almost a given that young people live with their parents. The inability to find employment leaves people with a feeling of insecure future.


A Serbian story, a European story?

What is happening Serbia is, in fact, an amplified sample of what to the rest of youth in Europe faces. With the best intentions people gain education in an area that they are interested in. Yet, when finishing their degree they find themselves unable to find a job.

Make yourself employable

There are organisations and agencies that can help young people. In 2011, the Serbian government with the cooperation of a youth organisation KOMS, Krovna organizacija mladih Srbije, adopted a National Employment Strategy to increase the expansion of labour market. They are many partner organisations that offer employability programmes. The plan is to decrease the youth unemployment to 23, 3%, which many Serbians find delusional.

Maja Maletkovic – A voice of the affected

majaBut those young people affected by the unemployment don’t just simply sit and around wait for things to change. They are making their voices heard. Maja Maletkovic, a young Serbian theatre director, produced a play based on the employment improbability for young people in Serbia. The play, which has been gathering a lot of media attention, is called “What the Fuck Are We Still Doing Here”.

 The play brought together a group of young, and according to all parameters “successful” but unemployed, artists to address this critical social topic in the form of cabaret. The play focuses on the perspectives and expectations of young people in Serbia, including topics such as emigration, xenophobia, identity, and judgement in Serbian society.

She spoke to us about her motivation and the reaction she has been gathering.

You recently directed a play “What the fuck are we still doing here”, what made you work on that project?

The idea came to me when one of my best friends left Serbia to go live in Chile. I felt overwhelmed when I realized that half of my closest friends were not here anymore, and the rest are serious about wanting to leave. I wanted to take on this issue that is affecting my life and so many peoples’ lives here. So I decided to do a play on it.


What was the reaction of people?

I have to say that we made quite a stir with the play and the house every night was full to the last spot. Also, all the reactions were really well. The play resonates with both the Serbian and the foreign audience. In different ways, yet very strongly.

 Would you say you are voicing something people think about?

I believe we are. Although we are telling the story through our personal perspective, there is a very big part that seems to connect us all- be us from the EX YU countries or wherever else in the world. I guess we captured a feeling or a state of mind a lot of people share. It’s quite magical, actually.

Would you personally consider leaving the country?

I am not sure. I might. I’ll have to see. For the time being, it is a big possibility.

How would it feel leaving the family behind?

It would be strange but I think I would not leave them behind for good. They are a part of my life and will always be and I am sure we’ll find ways to manage.

How do you think that the government reacts to this and is it effective?

No. We are so troubled as a country and have quite some issues that to change the brain drain a lot of different things need to change. Most notably- the hiring policy and a bigger job market that needs to be created.

So how many people do you think saw your play?

900 in four days I’d say.

Did it get much coverage in the media?

Oh my, you cannot imagine how much coverage we got and are still getting. Just since Sunday I got 3 proposals to do an interview. We were headlining in both alternative and mainstream medias when it came to culture for 2 weeks. And we are still being contacted.


How relevant is the topic of brain drain for you?

This is a really important topic to me. A lot of my friends have left Serbia and are leaving all around the world. I myself am thinking if should I stay or go.



Julie Mahlerova

Susanne Gottlieb

Ljubica Kovacev


The article is part of the outputs of the European Youth Press’ project “Making Twitter Length News: media literacy in digital media”. The article has not been edited and it doesn’t necessarily represents editorial policy of the EYP.



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