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  • Alex Kaplan

Serbia's quest for EU membership

Attaining membership to the European Union has catapulted many nations from ruin to recovery. For countries still recuperating from war, destruction, and worse, joining the EU can be a crucial step on the road to rehabilitation. This is very much the case for the Republic of Serbia. Attempting to move forward since the end of the Cold War, Serbia’s efforts to improve have recently been were rewarded. It was officially granted candidacy for EU membership in October 2011, and has been making steady progress since.

Serbia is rebounding from a checkered history dating back to the early 1990s. Before 1990, Serbia had been part of Yugoslavia, a multiethnic state made up of six smaller countries: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Wars broke out in both countries, but the damage did not stop there. Later that same year, former Yugoslav nations Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia both broke away from Yugoslavia. Bosnia became the battleground for one of the bloodiest wars on European soil since World War II. Then, in 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched a bombing mission against Serbia, lasting 78 days and killing more than 500 civilians. When the last bombs fell, Yugoslavia had gone completely, leaving all except Serbia and Montenegro. They formed a short lived union, but in 2006, Montenegro too declared its independence from Serbia, leaving the Republic of Serbia to stand on its own for the first time since the 1940s.

Today, Serbia is in a state of uniquely upward momentum. The unemployment rate has decreased nearly 5 percent since the beginning of the year and its GDP per capita is the third highest in the region of Southeastern Europe. Its EU bid has been official since 2011, and more acquis chapters are scheduled to be opened this year. The process appears to be moving forward smoothly. Currently, negotiations are open and ongoing between the EU and Serbia, led by their Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. The goal for accession was originally set for 2014, but due to complications from ICTY trials as well as EU regulation compliance, the estimated date for Serbia to become a full member of the EU is now 2020.

Nevertheless, there is still opposition to the move within Serbia. Support for the joining the EU is down since November 2010 from 63 percent to 51 percent. Many Serbs are resistant to the move since they view joining the EU as allying themselves with many of the countries that had a role in the destructive NATO bombing just two decades ago. Another source of opposition lies within the culture of Serbia, and its similarities Russian culture. For example, both Serbian and Russian use the Cyrillic alphabet. Many Serbs feel culturally closer to Moscow than they do to Western Europe. This makes for complications, as Russia and the European Union have fundamental disagreements. This continuing Russian connection has contributed to large scale skepticism amongst Serbs, particular the young nationalist population of the northern region of Vojvodina, about joining the EU.

Even still, the process moves forward. The accession talks continue and Serbia, led by Vucic and the Progressive Party, stay on course for membership. Within Serbia, an intense discussion continues about where loyalties lie and which allegiances are strongest. Many are engaged in the debate of whether to seek assistance from, and membership in an organization that had a direct role in Serbia’s destruction less than twenty years ago or to remain an outsider, faithful to the country’s Slavic roots.

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