Genex Group, also known as Generalexport was Yugoslavia’s biggest export company. At its peak, Genex reached sales exceeding 4 billion USD. The company existed for 46 years and was, at one time, one of the biggest foreign trade companies in the world. Its offices were once based in the iconic Western City Gate, or Genex tower, in Belgrade.
But by 1998, Belgrade started bankruptcy proceedings against Generalexport upon the request of the National Bank of Yugoslavia.
The Generalexport company was created in 1952 by the Government of the National Republic of Serbia. Under the Director Vlada Visic the company evolved rapidly in post-war socialist Yugoslavia.
Genex thrived thanks to Tito’s international diplomacy – signing agreements with the Soviet Union allowing Yugoslavia to trade with Soviet markets whilst maintaining political freedom. This allowed Yugoslavia the autonomy to trade with the east and the west.
The Soviet Union
By 1989 Genex controlled 12% of the Yugoslav foreign trade.
The USSR did business by exchanging or bartering goods. The Soviet Union would produce a list of goods they offered to exchange (largely natural resources). Genex sourced goods produced in Yugoslavia that the USSR needed and exchanged them with the USSR. Genex would then sell the goods obtained from the USSR. The money from the trade went to pay the manufacturers of the Yugoslavian goods that were originally traded with the Soviet Union. Genex would pocket the difference.
In other words, Genex supplied the USSR with Yugoslavian built products in exchange for USSR fuel and metal.
The Croatian Spring refers to the political movement of the Croatian communists who called for economic, political and cultural reforms to allow Croatia higher autonomy to self-govern Croatia within Yugoslavia. Accusations were that the foreign currency from Croatia’s coast ended up in Belgrade.
Between 1973 and 1990 Milorad Savicevic was managing director of Genex. During this time the enterprise was extremely important for the Serbian and Yugoslavian economy and grew into a billion USD company. Miki Savicevic became a victim of political settlements of accounts and Slobodan Milosevic personally sought his replacement.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a significant problem for the future of Genex. It was unprepared to adapt to the downfall of its principle market. Genex attempted to reignite barter trading with the former USSR states but was met with economic sanctions.
Employees fled the company taking cash, contacts and knowledge with them. By 1998 Genex was bankrupt.
Many of Yugoslavia’s best businesses of the 1990’s and 2000’s had some origins in Genex. It was synonymous with Yugoslav trade and a symbol of a state which refused to change or to adjust to changes in the world.