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
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
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.