Serbia: Europe, looks good from back of queue

Some Serbs are reported to have found even Brussels impressive. (Presseurop, James Hill)
Some Serbs are reported to have found even Brussels impressive. (Presseurop, James Hill)
Politika (Belgrade)

Since 19 December, the citizens of Serbia are no longer required to apply for visas to enter the countries of the European Union. The change encouraged some Serbs to travel abroad for the first time in their lives.

Even the most hardened eurosceptics no longer believe the more extreme myths that have been circulating about Serbian accession to the EU. Once again, and for the record: Serbs will not be forced to abandon the cyrillic alphabet, and Brussels will not send special customs inspection teams to hunt down anyone who distills his own slivovitz. Even if conservative members of the Orthodox Church insist that they will, Serbs are no longer convinced that the EU will force them to set aside the three-finger salute — and even if 20% of them are concerned about losing their cultural identity, no one believes for a second that the people in Brussels will drive Saint Sava [Serbia's most important 13th-century cultural, political and religious figure] from Serbian hearts and minds.

Last December, shortly after the EU waived its visa requirement, a party of 50 Serbs embarked on a tour of Europe in the company of Deputy Prime Minister, Bozidar Djelic. All of them had won their seats on the tour in the "Europe for all" competition organized by the government, and all of them were on their first trip abroad. The tour included stops in Strasbourg and Brussels to visit European institutions. “It was not how I imagined it. Everything was so impressive,” says Zoran Djuricic, age 46, a fireman in his native region of Uzice (in western Serbia). On his return home, he is planning to encourage his daughter, who has just turned 18, to learn foreign languages and travel abroad. Hadzi Marinko Mijovic, also age 46, is from the town of Novi Sad, where he works as a bus driver. He too is impressed by what he has seen, notably in terms of technology. “Europe is progress,” he tells us. He is also hoping that his son and daughter, age 13 and 15 respectively, will derive full benefit from the exchange of goods and ideas to be established by Europe.

Memories of the war

Born in 1968, policeman Goran Joksimovic hails from the northern town of Sremska Kamenica. "There was a time when we couldn't travel because policemen were not allowed to have international passports. Then they lifted the ban, but it did not make much difference because you still needed a visa. And we didn't have the money to travel in any case. Everything I knew about Europe, I learned in the media. But it is quite different to see things for yourself.” As for Serbia's European future, the policeman has no doubts. “Yes, we should be in Europe. Geographically, we are already there. We just have to make a small extra effort,” he says. At age 70, Petko Zoric is the oldest member of the group. A retired physical education teacher and an occasional author of satire, he defines himself as a “eurosceptic.” Specifically, he blames Europeans for their role in the “destruction of Yugoslavia” and the bombardment of Serbia [in 1999, NATO embarked on an 11-week aerial campaign to halt the war in Kosovo]. So how does he feel about Serbia's future in the European Union? “It is like a foot race, like for example a race over a mile. The other countries are already two thirds of the way to the finish, and we are just starting out. We still have to run though…”

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