With all of the talk of the global economy and media buzz about the global recession, I was very curious to learn more this denomination of Yugoslavian currency I bought at a market in Belgrade.
The bank note is real and it was issued in 1993 at the height of the hyperinflation during the chaotic times of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was the largest denomination of the ex-Yugoslavia and nominally worth 500 billion (US terms) dinara. At the time, it was virtually worthless by the time it was printed and released to the public.
I thought I had lived through tough economic times the past 6 years in Venezuela under the economy destroying policies of President Chavez. But the 30+% annual inflation and currency exchange controls pale in comparison to the craziness of 1990’s Belgrade. A bit of background…
When Yugoslavia was breaking up into the separate nations of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Serbia, it not only generated political chaos, but economic chaos. The economic output of Yugoslavia dropped 70% from 1990 to 1994. The government tried to compensate by printing more money and passing laws making it illegal for businesses to lay off employees. On top of this were the war and UN sanctions making it more difficult manage the economy. The result was an inflation rate that peaked at 313,563,558 % per month which comes to 851 with 78 zeros behind it. Amazingly, this was not the highest inflation ever! In neighboring Hungary during WWII, they had an inflationary rate of 4.16 trillion per month and they also had the largest bank note. Serbia does have the record for the longest sustained hyper inflation.
As you might have guessed, this made people’s lives very difficult during this time. People survived through a variety of creative measures. Thankfully, Serbia has rich soils and most people have relatives living in the countryside to feed their extended families. Eventually, the Dinar died as a currency and was replaced by the German Deutschmark. Today, Serbia has an inflation rate of around 10% and a stable Dinar currency. Tim Judah, in his book “The Serbs: History, Myth & Destruction of Yugoslavia” has an excellent detailed description of this time in Serbian history.
Pictured on the front of the note is the Serbian poet, Jovan Jovanović. He lived in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s and was born in Novi Sad. He is famous for his children’s poetry. Below is an example of one his poems,
You could think that darkness
is so scary strong,
powerful and dreadful,
and–you would be wrong.
Fortunately, it is
not at all this way:
You just light a candle
and it runs away.
Jovan Jovanović Zmaj
Translation: Dragana Konstantinović
Another translated poem can be found on Dragana’s website. On the reverse side, pictured below, is the Serbian National Library. The library is still open today and is located next to Saint Sava’s Cathedral in downtown Belgrade.