PRISTINA AND BELGRADE [Reuters] – As word spread of the momentous event that had occurred, the streets of Serbia and its would-be independent province of Kosovo thronged with people, many anxious to speak of their reaction to the news. While opinions diverged greatly, numerous Serbs and ethnic-Albanians collared any foreign journalist they could find, desperate for others to know how they felt about the historic decision.
In Belgrade, Nebojsa Pejovic, a 43-year-old Serbian accountant spoke for many when he said, “After what seems like an age of dither and delay we have ended up with this dreadful, catastrophic decision. This really is the worst of all possible outcomes. We now have the situation where the government will be making decisions on whether or not to foreclose on people’s loans in a falling housing market, and the taxpayer will bear the full risk of lending 100 billion pounds of mortgages in an uncertain housing market. This is the day when Labour’s reputation for economic competence died.”
Meanwhile in Pristina the view was more upbeat. “It has been a long, long road”, beamed a jubilant Beqir Ademi, a 21-year-old ethnic-Albanian student, “but belatedly the government has made the right decision. The first priority must be to work out the seriousness of the problems at the bank with an independent audit of its loan book. This must be conducted under the auspices of the Bank of England, not the FSA. Then the bank must stop irresponsible lending at more than the value of property, and aggressive deposit-taking. Finally, there will be difficult times ahead, especially for the employees, as the bank is downsized. However, there is now real hope for the long-term future of the bank when it is eventually sold in more satisfactory conditions.”
Fellow Kosovo Albanian Besmir Peci, a 38-year-old council worker, was typically delighted at the news but did have concerns for the future. “Nationalisation is better than the bank going to a consortium such as Virgin, which would make huge profits on the back of taxpayers, but the people I am really sorry for are all the bank’s original savers and all those who looked at their shares as some kind of nest egg, when they will be worth nothing now. But hopefully Northern Rock will now cease to be of quite such general interest and can move forward into a more stable and calmer environment than that which we’ve had for the last few weeks or months. I hope it’s nationalisation with a purpose and what we will need to see over a fairly short period of time is a plan of how to run the bank for the time being and also a plan for its future.”
While fireworks greeted the news in Pristina the mood was more downbeat in Belgrade, but there were few of the ugly scenes many had feared and predicted. In one isolated incident a stone-throwing mob of a few hundred, angry at what they saw as the weak regulatory regime that had allowed the original bank run to take place in September, set about attacking the nearest office of the FSA, but mistakenly targeted the embassy of the USA instead. The error was probably down to some confusion over the Cyrillic alphabet or something, I reckon.