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On the pride of being Serbian in the 21st century.

Short research description on the changes made in Serbia following a latest research travel.

Following a research journey in several states of the South-East Europe, starting From Cyprus to Greece, then to Bulgaria, Austria, Hungary and finally Serbia, one can see the obvious but most interesting differences that exist out of the diversity of cultures but also civilizations. This in fact is the thing that makes this part of the world a quite interesting story teller, as these countries combine a diversity of opinions and judgments to what concerns NATO policies and actions, in the recent years that have passed.

The most interesting case of all, by those countries visited however, is Republika Srbija. It is a country that has not only known NATO, but rather has lived a period of great turmoil following the disintegration of Yugoslavia and following this, several years later, NATO’s operation in Serbia. It has been one of the very first countries that NATO agreed to react in its former out of area regions, militarily initially and post operations, now co-operatively. Serbia has been in the central political arena of international politics in the 90’s, known by all from NATO’s agreement to military action in 1999, due to what was named as ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians that live in the region of Kosovo. This region being considered by Serbians today still a part of Serbia, has nevertheless post NATO involvement, created its own government and institutions; a government that is not however being acknowledged by Serbia.  It has the support of many western states and has come to self-claim independence on the basis of self-determination, due to humanitarian, but not only, reasons. For this reason, Serbia has been a first-eye witness to the first out-of area operation of NATO, which was an air campaign. NATO considered that such action would prevent the then government of Serbia to continue on, with its paramilitary operations against the Kosovar Albanians. The attack was initially started on 24 March 1999. 11 years onwards however from NATO’s air campaign to Serbia and while an ongoing NATO operation in Afghanistan is still ongoing, while NATO seeks a new role via the creation of a new Strategic concept, I believed that it was about time to re-visit Serbia; to research the everyday life of the proud and dignified people, as we all, citizens of South-East Europe know about Serbia and its people; to interview people about their beliefs and examine their reaction, when asked about NATO yesterday, today but also tomorrow. 11 years onwards, Serbia has being integrated within NATO’s PfP (Partnership for Peace) and it seeks its own road map for a Euro-Atlantic integration to both EU and NATO institutions; while NATO but also the EU is looking to the South-East for a new round of enlargement procedures, it is good to know what the reaction of ordinary people, academics, entrepreneurs and diplomats be about the evolution of Serbia and its way forward as it stands today. In turn, what is to be expected by NATO when negotiating the Euro-Atlantic Future of Serbia and what to be expected by Serbia, when and if so NATO actually invites Serbia to join the Alliance?

This said, a preliminary assessment and agreeably first opinion, while entering the country by bus from Hungary, was that this is a country with rich history, a history however full of paradoxes and full of white, but also black pages in its modern times when it comes down to the 1990s.

Belgrade being its Capital, is a very lively Europeanized centered city. Its culture and people are very well equipped with a feeling of sincere and honest feelings. If they like you, they insist on talking to you and explain what means to be a Serbian and why are Serbians proud people. Initially, they keep the formal structures of politeness and again since all Balkans states share the same characteristic, meaning have “boiling blood vanes” as I mentioned to all while travelling, if you say something that is not of their understanding or belief, they react to it, immediately, without hesitation but letting you know the opposite. An example is NATO’s air campaign. All Serbians told me that I should not confuse the conclusions following the events in 1999. It does not represent that actual reality about Serbia as it stands today. All governments and agreeably all political parties I was told by almost all have made great steps forward. And this I believe also is a fact.

Following their strong sense of opinion shared with you, they will invite you for a drink as to show you that they are full of friendship and all about politeness not only in words but also practically.

Representatives of the state seem also to share the same opinion, as of course they seem to listen to what their people have to say. At the same time however they know that they have to get difficult decisions in relevance to the Euro-Atlantic integration to both the EU first and then maybe to NATO.

Changes are noticeable in the country and in the people’s minds. In this instance they are seeking to re-install good neighboring relations with all. At the same time they seem to be in need of an “ideological dogma” for which they seem to want to follow, towards their integration to the EU.

They understand that they need to adopt a new concept of understanding that is based on the European rules and ethics. Yet, again it does not seem to be very difficult for them, as they agree that they were always part of Europe.

Difficulties arise when asked about NATO’s engagement in Serbia and NATO’s will to enlarge in the Balkans and especially the case being, trying to engage Serbia in joining NATO. On the one hand they understand that this is a one way street, since the objective is not only military but also political. Therefore, they believe that Serbia needs to raise its voice in terms of political and diplomatic relations, especially when it comes down to the case of Kosovo.

They of course do not agree to what has happened to them in 1999 and of course have kept their bombed buildings, as they want to remind people that the operation was, as they say, just wrong. At the same time they are making sure to renovate all surrounding areas in the city and further on in the state, create and produce more and attract more investments as they portray the new face of Serbia for the 21st century.

As I went through several interviews and conversations with important people, I distinguished the feeling from their part, to show that Serbian people are trustworthy and not only that but they fulfill and the necessary moral, ethical and practical conditions to join the Euro-Atlantic values and norms. However, they want to negotiate several issues. Namely the case being security. At the same time, they just cannot, as they said, forget, that despite Serbia’s integration to the PfP, NATO still is a very, as they mentioned a “suspicious” organization.

However, I also distinguished that their level of information about NATO and furthermore, the new NATO that is to be projected, is very low. For my sense of understanding both about NATO and about Serbia, there might be a very strong link that has not been yet done, at its outmost. This is the level of information in all sociological sectors: meaning, information of the Press, of the people and of the politicians. NATO needs to portray to Serbia that NATO is a good international organizational basis for political but also military negotiation, co-operation and will to share the joined values and challenges. They need to be informed that challenges since 1999 have pragmatically changed. NATO is now about joined international security and projected co-operation organization if all fields of issues related with security. Moreover, NATO is a most valuable ally, when it comes down to initiatives for a viable solution to all issues concerned namely the case of Kosovo. Serbia needs to rise its opinion about the “for’s and against’s”, on what are considered mistakes of NATO. NATO on the other hand needs to portray to Serbia that the country and the people are valuable asset since they are truly Europeans. They share one way or another, directly or indirectly the same norms and values.

For I also believe that the entrance of Serbia to the European and Atlantic Values can only be a win-win situation; one that will allow Serbia to rise up its feeling of prideness; the pride to be a Serbian ally and good friend.

This article has been published by Dr. Efthymiopoulos on Europe’s World site (http://www.europesworld.org/NewEnglish/Home_old/CommunityPosts/tabid/809/PostID/1383/language/en-US/Default.aspx).