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No holiday cheer for Belgrade’s 83,000-euro Christmas tree

An artificial Christmas tree in the centre of Belgrade has been getting more jeers than cheers this holiday season -- given that its reported price tag of 83,000 euros would make it one of the most expensive in the world.

The 18-metre tall (59-feet) tree, decorated with 200 red plastic ornaments and 40 candlewick red-gold ribbons, stands in the main pedestrian zone in Serbia’s capital and has sparked a furious public reaction and accusations of corruption.

“In the city budget for this and next year there are a lot of scandalous things, and the Christmas tree is only the tip of the iceberg,” Nikola Jovanovic, from the opposition People’s Party, told Beta news agency.

Jovanovic said the tree was just one example of financial abuse by city authorities after the investigative website Pistaljka revealed the cost of almost 10 million dinars (83,000 euros $98,000).

Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, a close ally of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, initially refused to talk to reporters about the tree, but later said he was going to cancel the contract — which Pistaljka reported had been signed three days after the tree was installed.

“I was surprised with the amount. We have been working completely transparently and publicly for three and a half years. We did not hide anything,” Mali told reporters.

The revelation about the tree’s cost has led to the public prosecutor’s office launching a probe into the case but that hasn’t quelled the outrage, with many mocking the price.

“Believe it or not: the city of Belgrade paid whooping 83,000 EUR for its Christmas tree!!! No, it does not boil eggs, it does not clean the house, and frankly it looks like crap,” Marko Kmezic complained on Twitter.

“Such a tree would be a reason for stormy protests anywhere in a normal world,” Uros Stojiljkovic wrote on Facebook.

The opposition Democratic Party (DS) also spoke out against the cost and invited Belgraders to leave “wishes” worth 83,000 euros near the pricey tree.

“We want cheaper Christmas trees,” read one message.

“I want to visit Thailand,” someone else wrote, while another requested a “raincoat XL size for my dog”.

All of the messages had the hashtag #83000wishes.

The tree was purchased from a company that has been renting New Year lighting to the city of Belgrade for years for very high prices, according to local media reports.

The city authorities, controlled by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, have regularly been criticised for installing the festive lighting in early autumn and leaving it on display until February.

But in the end the Christmas tree jeers have produced a little bit of cheer.

The company has agreed to cancel this year’s contract for the tree and said it will donate the proceeds to Belgrade “to contribute to New Year decorations for the capital”.

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