Serbia has positioned itself as one of the next countries likely to join the European Union. Still, a simmering conflict along the border with its old nemesis Kosovo -- plus deepening unemployment -- put the candidacy at risk.
BELGRADE - "If you want to understand this land, look at the coat of arms of our capital," says Srbobran, a middle-aged guide and expert on Serbian history.
Designed in 1931 by the painter Ðorde Andrejevic-Kun, Belgrade's coat of arms includes images of opened doors, to symbolize the city's commercial soul, and towers, to represent its sovereignty and fortification against its enemies. Two wavy white lines symbolize the Sava and Danube Rivers, which surround Belgrade, and a Roman trireme marks the antiquity of the city, which has Celtic, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Magyar, and Slavonic roots. Belgrade was seen by many as the last rampart of the Western world against the Ottomans.
"Now we are at the start of Serbia's journey into the new millennium," says Srbobran.
The country is indeed at a crossroads -- and one of its possible paths leads straight through Brussels. On Oct. 12, 2011, the European Commission adopted its first response to Serbia's application for membership of the European Union, recommending the Council of Europe to grant it the status of candidate country of the EU, with talks on the candidacy slated to begin next month. The current 27 EU countries will have the final say.
Serbia's journey to Europe began more than a decade ago, in October 2000, with the adoption of democratic reforms after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, 20 years of war and the end of the Slobodan Miloševic dictatorship a decade ago.
"We still have the signs of all this," says Srbobran.
Many buildings in Belgrade remain damaged or destroyed. It is a city with many faces: young people wearing Nike and Prada, but also an occupied university and Orthodox Christian churches everywhere.
Economics and Kosovo
The country has moved on from its political crisis, but is now a victim of the world financial slide. Despite the market turmoil, the fear of default on the debt for some European countries, and the debate about the future of the euro zone, Serbia is as eager as ever to join the EU.
Srdjan Majstorovic, deputy director of the government's Office for European Integration, notes that Serbia has already obtained the visa exemption for travel in EU countries, a necessary prerequisite to EU membership. "We have begun important judiciary reforms and have normalized relationships with neighboring countries."
Serbia is working on economic reforms as unemployment has reached 20%. Among young people, the jobless rate is nearly 50%.
At the last elections in 2008, the pro-European coalition led by Serbian President Boris Tadić obtained 39% support, just edging out the conservative coalition.
Relations with Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia, are a serious issue, and spark a range of reactions, from both citizens and politicians. Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic quietly explains that the government is working with Italy and Germany to find a solution, while Interior Minister Ivaca Dacic threatens rallies to protest.
According to Marko Blagojevic, an official with the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, those opposed to joining the EU rose to nearly 50% during the recent unrest at Serbia's border with Northern Kosovo.
Borislav Stefanovic, leader of Belgrade`s negotiating team with Kosovo, admits there are forces on both sides that want to undermine the peace – and Serbia's EU candidacy. "We have been threatened, but our journey to Europe will go on," he says.
Read the original article in Italian
photo - rudlavibizon