BELGRADE, Serbia (Vianews) – It’s a universally acknowledged truth that everyone dies and that there’s a whole industry profiting from it. Some people die in hospitals, others at home. In Serbian capital, Belgrade, if one is unlucky enough to die at home, chances are that the family of the deceased will have to wait 24 hours for paramedics to come and pronounce death. Unless they agree to “cooperate”…

According to testimonies of many citizens, both from Belgrade and other Serbian cities, as soon as they report death at home, strange things begin to happen. First, they immediately get a phone call from a publicly owned company “Funeral Services Belgrade”. If they refuse and decide to use services of some of the many private funeral homes in Belgrade, they are being “punished” by waiting 24 hours for someone to come, pronounce death, and take care of the body of the deceased.

Many citizens with this awful experience tried to find out how did “Funeral Services Belgrade” even get their phone number in the first place. The answer they got was that it is a standard procedure in line with regulations. The problem is – it is not. Every town in Serbia has a public “hotline” for reporting death at home. The standard procedure is that paramedics arrive as soon as possible and, if there are no suspicious circumstances (natural cause of death is obvious), they take the body to a public morgue. Then, the family decides if they want to use services from public or private funeral home.

But, death is certain in so many ways and one of them is a profit. And unlike death, fight for profit is eternal. Due to the situation described above, and the number of people with similar experiences, private funeral homes in Belgrade decided that enough is enough and went on strike. Not a normal strike, but several hours long blockage of the main entrance to the Emergency Room of Belgrade Clinical Center, a public health institution and the largest one in the country.

They set up to establish a Union of Privately Owned Funeral Homes and agreed that they have a problem. The representatives of the Union claim that the Paramedic service and the publicly owned funeral company have a “deal”:

Via News TV

“Six months ago, the Paramedic service hired three phone operators and some of them are former employees of the public funeral company. We have reasons to believe that as soon as someone reports death at home, phone operators inform the public funeral company and provide them with contact details of the family”, says one of the union representatives. So they blocked the ER for a day, which caused delays of almost all funerals that were supposed to be held that day in Belgrade.

Graveyard in Belgrade. Photo by: Institute for Belgrade's Monuments
Graveyard in Belgrade. Photo by: Institute for Belgrade’s Monuments

To make things even more complicated, all cemeteries in Belgrade are a property of “Funeral services Belgrade”, which could be easily changed by city regulations. But there is no sign that that will change in near future. This is a problem because citizens are practically blackmailed to use public funeral services and pay higher funeral costs than if they used the private funeral home. But also, if they refuse public funeral service, they are worried if the grave will be taken care well because when it comes to a cemetery, there is no choice, all of them are public.

On the other hand, even if the claims of private funeral homes and citizens in Belgrade are true, and that publicly owned funeral company does have a monopoly, the situation in other Serbian cities is reversed: privately owned funeral homes even rent offices from public hospitals. That is the case of two big Belgrade municipalities – Zvezdara and Zemun, but also in Nis, the third-largest city in Serbia, and many smaller towns. It’s easy to believe that there is a “deal” between medical staff and funeral homes, the only difference is who was faster to make a deal. Because death means profit.