Serbia shifting West, away from Russia

Taboos are falling fast in Serbia. It has opened talks with Kosovo, the cherished breakaway province Serbs consider the cradle of their culture.

Last Updated: Nov 23, 2010, 19:47 PM IST

Belgrade: Taboos are falling fast in Serbia.

It has opened talks with Kosovo, the cherished
breakaway province Serbs consider the cradle of their culture.
It has stepped up efforts to capture Ratko Mladic, the war
crimes suspect many here idolise as a hero. And it has
apologised for atrocities committed during Yugoslavia`s
violent breakup.

Suddenly, the once fiercely nationalistic country is
focused less on pride than on its deep economic problems, and
that means turning away from traditional mentor Russia and
building bridges with Europe and the United States.

The prize of EU membership is at the root of the
transformation: Serbia has come under a growing realisation
that the path to prosperity is through reforms that will allow
it to join the continent`s club of responsible Western
democracies.

It was just a few years ago that Serbian nationalists,
angered at Kosovo`s independence, attacked the US and other
Western embassies. Serbia`s leaders scoffed at the idea of
joining the European Union and instead courted Russia, the
country`s traditional ally.

Now, under reformist President Boris Tadic, Serbia is
striving hard to leave behind the stigma of being cast as the
key fomenter of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

It has reached out to the West in other ways as well.

At a recent gay pride parade, police protected marchers from
rampaging thugs, a decision that until recently would have
been unthinkable in this deeply homophobic country. The shift is already bearing fruit.
The EU agreed last month to review in detail Serbia`s
long-standing request to join the 27-nation bloc, even while
conditioning entry to how serious the country is in pursuing
Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb army commander charged with
genocide by a UN war crimes tribunal.

Mladic is accused of orchestrating the massacre at
Srebrenica, the slaughter of some 8,000 Bosnian men and
boys in Europe`s worst carnage since World War II.

Change was slow in coming, nearly two decades after
the end of communist rule and Serbia`s central role in the
bloodshed unleashed by the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Under the slogan of national pride, late strongman
Slobodan Milosevic stirred up losing wars in Croatia, Bosnia
and finally Kosovo, redrawing the map of Europe and leaving
much of the region mired in ethnic distrust.

If Serbia continues on its new path, it will follow in
the footsteps of other ex-communist countries, including
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
Today, all are members of the EU and NATO, and count
themselves American allies.

PTI