Serbian citizens opposed each other and divided into two groups as protesters on Sunday, after the government signed the $3.5 billion-worth deal with investors from Abu Dhabi.
With the deal between Serbian government and Eagle Hills Company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Eagle Hills will spend $3 billion for building hotels, buildings, apartments, and a shopping mall within the 30 years by the River Sava in Belgrade.
Along with the investment of Eagle Hills, the Serbian government will pay for all the infrastructure.
People who supported the new project gathered outside the Belgrade Cooperative building in which two parties signed the waterfront project, and greeted the investors, ministers and those who participated in the project.
The opposing party also gathered in the same spot on the same day, chanting “Treason!” They also wrote ““Let us not drown Belgrade” and “Belgrade does not want a bourgeois waterfront district” on their posters.
Among protesters an unemployed journalist criticised this approach of the government. "It's like having a leaking roof and, instead of fixing it, deciding to build a swimming pool in the backyard," he said.
Serbia as a country has suffered from inflation, high unemployment rates, and low incomes since 2014. To develop and sustain the economic and social prosperity, the Serbian government needs to make economic reforms while dealing with the growing budget deficit.
Serbian prime minister mentions the importance of the agreement in terms of economic prosperity.
“The project will put Belgrade on the map as unofficial capital of the Balkans. It expects up to 20,000 workers to be employed in the construction,” he said.
Belgrade’s Mayor Sinisa Mali said the country has to develop with these kind of investments.
“After that, people will stop talking about wars, about Kosovo, but about Serbia as a new place to live, to reside, to do business,” he said.
One of the board members from the Eagle Hills mentioned the importance of the collaboration between the UAE and Serbia. “We should celebrate it as the beginning of closer ties and the beginning of better economic cooperation," he said.
Before the waterfront deal, Serbia and the UAE have also signed deals on agriculture, airlines and weapons.
One of the deals between the UAE and Serbia was in the Airlines sector. Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi invested in Serbia’s indebted JAT Airways with $40 million.
The two parts also participated in another agreement on agriculture. One of the largest food producers of the UAE loans $400 million for leasing bankrupt farms.
Production of microchips and aircraft parts was also another topic of agreement between the two governments. Moreover, Serbia signed arms deals with the UAE in 2013, including armoured personnel carriers and surface missiles.