AIM: start

THU, 03 JAN 2002 17:15:44 GMT

Euro Arriving in Macedonia

Fishing in Troubled Waters

Hardly anyone could have expected that the German mark which was for decades the European currency No. 1 in Macedonia, will sink so low and cause turbulence in the market just ten days before becoming history. Over here nobody wants marks any more. Those who still have them, either sackloads or small amounts, cannot exchange them for cash in any currency, because greedy dealers have caused an artificial deficiency of denars. The announced possibility of the appearance of forged euros is making the already existing uncertainty in this country even greater.

AIM Skopje, December 20, 2001

Quite unexpectedly, just ten odd days before the departure of the German mark from the public scene to history, problems arose in Macedonia. Crowds and long queues in business banks. Private exchange offices are practically empty. People are bringing sackloads of cash in notes of various denomination which they have kept in their own ways and confusing the authorities. They knew that the citizens had quite a lot of money in foreign currency, but they are nevertheless surprised by this phenomenon. They claim that they have made all necessary preparations for the exchange of marks for the new European currency in time and well and that there is no reason for panic. When the time comes, after the New Year's Day, there will be a sufficient amount of euros. How many and whether at all new notes have already arrived in this country is a state secret. For the reasons of security.

What confuses the citizens is that nobody wants to buy “its majesty, the mark” here any more. Their once most desirable and most valuable currency that they have carefully saved "for a rainy day" they must now deposit on savings accounts because that is the only way they can exchange it for euros without commission. For understandable reasons and lack of trust, but also for the sake of personal security, many would like to exchange their savings for dollars, Swiss francs or pounds. But as they missed the deadline, they ran out of luck. In the last days of December 2001, there is a shortage not only of the desirable currencies, but also of the national - denar!

That is why phenomena are registered that one can rightfully say are worthy of Guinness’ book of records. Believe it or not, the workers employed in private sector in Macedonia received their latest salaries from their employees in marks! Often merchants give back change to their customers in marks. Whether this is the matter of a wrong estimate of state institutions or of fabricated fishing in troubled waters organized by local foreign currency dealers is of no significance for the citizens. The important thing that bothers them a lot is that they, with no blame whatsoever, are paying the price of somebody's manipulations!

Ljube Trpeski, Governor of the National Bank of Macedonia, via electronic and written media, is convincing the citizens that they have no reason to worry because the registered anomalies will soon disappear. He categorically states that as of January 1, 2002 there will be a sufficient amount of euros and other convertible currencies for all those who are interested in buying them. Macedonian bankers as the Governor says, have excellent cooperation with their colleagues in Europe. They regularly deliver the collected amounts of the German mark as required and they do not keep most of the savings of the citizens in local banks but on accounts of respectable banks abroad. The crisis on the monetary market is artificial according to the chief state banker. The main argument is the fact that in the past ten years there has not been so much cash in circulation like nowadays. He lays the blame on private exchange offices which are calculating with the exchange rate of the mark. It has never been lower with less than 30 denars for a mark, which is a logical result of the increased offer and reduction of demand. For private dealers this means pure, double loss.

To accusations of the Governor, the owners of exchange offices reply with the allegation that the shortage of the national currency is quite real because the purchase of marks has increased by 100 per cent in the past few months. They state data that in the past two months they have exchanged about 50 thousand German marks each every day. Nowadays the daily purchase amounts to more than a hundred thousand. Their “business logic” is hardly acceptable if one takes into account that the citizens are asking not only for denars but are much more interested in other convertible foreign currencies, and that commercial banks do not have this kind of problem although they too are much busier than in the previous period.

And while the bankers are competing who will attract more customers and keep their deposits longer and offering so far unthinkable services and privileges such as high interest rates that are paid in advance, private foreign currency dealers are carrying on like before. Even laymen are aware that they are intentionally refusing to buy marks and keeping denars back. After the New Year’s Day they will buy euros and then sell them to their customers with a commission and make a bigger profit! Things become even clearer when one knows that pursuant the law exchange offices in Macedonia cannot order foreign currency from the treasury of the Central Bank, but like any other citizen, they must buy them at the windows of the bank. The catch is, therefore, in avoiding to pay the commission!

Plots like this are no novelty in Macedonia. On the contrary, one should say, and this is confirmed by the newly created situation, they have become an ordinary practice whenever something big is happening in this country, on the political or the economic sphere.

What is considerably contributing to the increase of nervousness and uncertainty is the warning of Europol about the activities of various criminals who have allegedly prepared large amounts of forged euros and set the stage for their placement in Macedonia and Kosovo. Referring to foreign intelligence services, newspapers carried reports that Macedonia would simply be flooded with high-quality forged notes of 100 and 200 euros after the New Year and Christmas holidays.

Through its spokesman Macedonian police promptly denied such information. Vasko Sotarov says that everything that is happening in the country is closely observed with increased attention and stresses that for the time being there is no information that any local smugglers possess any banknotes of the new European currency. This does not mean, he underlines, that forged euros will not be imported at a later stage. That is why Macedonian police has increased alertness of its members at all border crossings and of all its patrols in the interior of the country.

The bankers are also convinced that in Macedonia there is not enough money for organizing and carrying out counterfeiting of the new European currency. Economic power of the citizens is simply not big enough to enable the purchase of the expensive paper and machinery for such a complex operation, especially because it is claimed that the euro is so far the best made currency in the world with numerous specific protective elements known to the public and easily recognizable. Nevertheless, for the sake of security because you can never know what might happen in the Balkan, they are warning the citizens to buy euros solely in banks. The employees in them, it is specially stressed, have special devices for detecting the identity of all banknotes. Mrs. Jadranka Mrsic, director of liquidity and treasury of the Commercial Bank, one of the biggest in this country, says that all the bank clerks in Macedonia have been trained to recognize forgeries even with no devices and that the data with explanations of protective signs have been installed in all the computers in banks. Experts in banks agree that forged euros cannot make their way into banks and that the threat of this sort comes solely from exchange offices and street dealers.

But that will become clear in the days to come. Because of everything mentioned the citizens of Macedonia are parting with bitterness from the German mark that has been their favourite for decades and that the national currency has been connected to. They will quite certainly remember and mention it for a long time to come while they gradually become accustomed to the new European currency which they are expecting with impatience but also with a certain amount of suspicion.